Some on the Game of Thrones team avoid the f-word. The HBO hit is a complex grown-up drama about human relationships, they say, that just happens to take place in a world that’s a tad different from our world.

But John Bradley, who plays kind and oft-abused Nights Watch member Samwell Tarly on the show, supports Thrones owning the fantasy label. “A lot of people involved with the show say this isn’t really a fantasy, and that it’s mainly about humanity, and that’s all great,” he says. “But if you do like fantasy it is a fantasy. And if you like it, the show is going to cater to the parts of you who like it. We shouldn’t distance ourselves from fantasy too much.”

HBO is letting its geek-flag fly a bit more this season too. The network was concerned before launching the show that marketing its expensive drama as a fantasy would alienate mainstream viewers (and female viewers in particular). But after using images of Sean Bean on a throne and a fist grasping a crown to promote the first two seasons, this season is promoted with the shadow of a flying dragon — there’s really no escaping that Thrones is a fantasy now. “Fantasy fans are incredibly loyal and passionate,” Bradley adds. “Other people don’t want to be seen as passionate about things, they want to be cool and laconic. The great thing about fantasy fans is they’ll really get behind a show.”

In season 3, Samwell’s motivation shifts. When he first staggered into Castle Black, his character was merely trying to survive as the weakest  member of the Night’s Watch. “I was just given my sword and told, ‘Be useless with that,’” the actor recalls. “I’m useless with a sword in real life. So the fact I can barely pick it up and don’t really know what I’m doing with it, that’s perfect!”

Now Samwell’s affection for Craster’s off-limits wife/daughter captive Gilly (Hannah Murray) is starting to become a driving force. “He didn’t really have a reason to live before, he only had a reason to exist,” Bradley says. “He’s totally consumed [by Gilly], the way it happens when you fall in love. He probably didn’t think ever think he would experience that and he’s confused by it.”

Bradley says Samwell’s thimble-giving scene to Gilly last season was his favorite moment to shoot so far. He also notes his character is unique in the harsh Thrones universe because he’s hugely emphatic toward others. “Of all the characters in the show, he’s the most good has the most human empathy,” he says. “He’s not out to get anything over on anybody or even get anything for himself. But he’s starting to realize the world is a complicated place and not just about heroes and villains.”

Since you’re not expecting it any more, let’s give away another two of those fancy Thrones box sets. Code phrase: “It is known.” Fulfilled (first two)! I’ll give away another two between now and the premiere, and then another two in Sunday night’s season premiere recap.

17 DAYS OF THRONES

12. Lena Headey on Cersei’s season 3 fears
11. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on casting Mance Rayder, Lady Olenna
10. Jack Gleeson on Joffrey’s season 3 romance
9. Maisie Williams talks Arya’s season 3 adventures
8. Richard Madden teases Robb Stark’s season 3
7. Sophie Turner on fans bashing Sansa
6. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks Jaime’s season 3 struggle
5. How ‘Game of Thrones’ conquered Kit Harington’s injury to keep Jon Snow fighting
4. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on season 3 dragons: They’re not cute anymore
3. EW Cover: ‘Game of Thrones’ wildest season yet! Jon + Dany, an ice and fire pairing
2. Rose Leslie: You know nothing about Ygritte’s catchphrase
1: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne

ALSO:
– Buy EW’s Game of Thrones cover story issue
– EW’s exclusive ‘Thrones’ portraits 

– ‘Game of Thrones’: 23 amazing season three photos
Latest S3 trailer

THRONES NEWS!: EW is rolling out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn for our Northern Ireland set visit last fall. EW’s Thrones countdown will feature a new Game of Thrones story (#EWThrones hashtag) with original (non-spoiler) interviews in the Inside TV blog leading up to the March 31 season three premiere. After that, we’ll have recaps (see the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews after each episode airs. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.

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