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'Game of Thrones' transitions from gutwrenching to action-packed in new season

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TORONTO - While the much buzzed-about Red Wedding episode delivered a gut punch to "Game of Thrones" fans, the new season of the fantasy epic appears poised to do more of the same with the potential for plenty of fresh plot twists.

"Some people thought that after the Red Wedding that that would be a major pinnacle of the action," said Kristian Nairn, who portrays Hodor in the hit series during a recent interview in Toronto alongside co-star Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark).

"But it doesn't let up, the action doesn't let up, and season 4 is definitely non-stop."

Prior to the April 6 season premiere on HBO Canada, fans can revisit or catch up on the world of Westeros with "Game of Thrones: The Complete Third Season" now available on DVD, Blu-ray and for digital download.

The newly released compilations feature all 10 episodes and plenty of bonus materials, including deleted and extended scenes, audio commentaries with the cast and crew, introductions to new characters and several featurettes.

The Blu-ray showcases bonus extras, including an in-episode guide with backgrounders on the characters, locations and relevant histories, as well as a comprehensive feature on the creation of the penultimate episode, "The Rains of Castamere," with nearly two hours of never-before-seen material and fresh looks at the Red Wedding.

Nairn said "it feels like ages ago" when filming wrapped on season 4 last November.

Dressed casually in a hoodie, T-shirt and jeans with miniature tattoos of stars dotted above his right eye, the affable actor is strikingly different than his "Games" character Hodor, the simple-minded servant for the Starks. Hodor becomes a trusted companion to young Bran, tasked with carrying the boy who is paralyzed after being pushed from a tower window.

The onscreen kinship between Nairn and Hempstead-Wright has translated away from the cameras, as the pair share a laugh prior to their interview looking at a photo of a dog on a mobile phone sent in from a fan.

"We're definitely close in real life — and we didn't really have a choice not to be close. We were sort of forced into each other's proximity. I hope it comes across on camera," said Nairn.

"I'm very protective of Isaac — even in real life. I would like to think that that shows in the character."

Still, despite relishing his role, hoisting Hempstead-Wright on his back for lengthy shoots — often with several retakes — has become a bit of an occupational hazard for the six-foot-10 Nairn.

"Painful. I've got numerous back injuries because of it," said Nairn. "He's literally three times the size he was when I first met him."

He looks at Hempstead-Wright: "You were four stone (56 pounds) when I first met you."

"I think I'm twice that now," the 14-year-old replied.

"Maybe more," countered Nairn. "I'll bet more."

"What have you got against my weight?" asked Hempstead-Wright, teasingly.

Nairn lets out a hearty laugh.

"On my back, I've got against it," he replied, jokingly. "He's definitely grown quite a lot."

For Hempstead-Wright, who lives in a secluded rural part of Kent in the U.K., he said life remains very much the same as when he first joined the acclaimed series, filming the pilot at age 10. Given the show's very adult subject matter, he admits his mother "didn't really want to watch it at all."

"It was a process, but in a sense that the violence wasn't so much a problem because you knew that it was all fake. You'd be walking around with dead bodies on the ground and taking pictures of them," he said. "My mum found the sex a bit more of a problem, and she just gave me equally inappropriate talks about it all."

Nairn said season 4 will be interesting in terms of story arc as the duo are joined by Jojen and Meera Reed (Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ellie Kendrick) as they journey beyond the Wall along the northern border — and into potential danger.

"We're doing the completely sort of illogical thing because everybody else is trying to run as far away from the north as possible , and we're running straight into it," said Hempstead-Wright.

"It's not the most sensible thing to do. But it's definitely interesting," added Nairn.

Neither of the stars have read the George R.R. Martin books on which the series is based, with Hempstead-Wright noting a preference for factual books versus fiction.

"For me, I'm just not a big reader. And I'm lazy also. And also there's Wikipedia," said Nairn. "Also, my mother reads the books, so it's kind of been our dinnertime conversation for the last four years. She's kind of been telling me what happens."

Still, both are keen to read the scripts and admit there are inherent advantages to being a part of such a large ensemble.

"They need to have a big cast and the introduction to new characters to counter the huge loss every 10 minutes of different characters," said Hempstead-Wright.

"The characters make the show what it is because they're rich, there's intrigue, you never know what they're thinking or whether they're going to completely change tack. They interweave, and when you think one is completely miles away, they suddenly collide and you get this whole new storyline."

———

Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.

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