Game of Thrones came under quite a bit of fire for how it treated its female characters, as well as the actresses who played them. Early seasons were heavy on rape scenes, and the backlash — including from its own cast — was such that they eventually started rewriting such moments from the books. But there was one instance where they over-corrected, resulting in a scene where an actress found herself being waterboarded for 10 hours on set.
Hannah Waddingham now appears on Ted Lasso, but she spent eight episodes of in the fifth and sixth seasons as Septa Unella, the religious zealot best known for the “shame” meme. She talked about her experiences on Collider Ladies Night, and they weren’t pretty. There was one torture scene that was as written had her being raped by Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson’s Gregor Clegane, a.k.a. the Mountain. But when she got off the plane and arrived on set, she discovered it had been suddenly rewritten so that she underwent the kind of water torture the George W. Bush administration inflicted on prisoners during the Iraq War.
“I think they’d had so many complaints about the rape of Sansa [Sophie Turner] that they chose not to go with it,” she said during the chat. “Unbelievably, they changed it quite at the last minute. I think they possibly changed it when I was mid-air flying to Belfast because suddenly I got sent these new sides that said I would need a wetsuit top. I thought they’d sent me the wrong bits.”
When she asked the filmmakers for assurance that they weren’t actually going to waterboard her, they said, she claimed, “No, no, no, we are.”
And so Waddingham spent 10 hours bound with “proper big straps” to a wooden table as Lena Headey’s Cersei poured wine over her face, over and over and over again.
“Definitely other than childbirth, [it] was the worst day of my life,” Waddingham said. “Lena was uncomfortable pouring liquid in my face for that long, and I was beside myself. But in those moments, you go, ‘Do you serve the piece and get on with it?’ Or do you chicken out and go, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.'”
When it was all over, she said, she walked past the episode’s director, Michael Sapochnik, who asked if she was alright. “Not really,” she said she told him. When she arrived back at her hotel, she said she was so traumatized that she could barely speak above a whisper and that there were “bruises already coming up like I’d been attacked.”
As anyone who’s been unfortunate enough to be waterboarded will tell you, its effects are long-lasting. “It definitely gave me claustrophobia around water,” Waddingham said. “It’s quite full on being waterboarded for 10 hours — and then, for only one minute and 37 seconds to be used on camera.”