In a show with as sprawling a cast as Game of Thrones, it can be hard to keep track of every main character, let alone those who fill more minor roles. But thanks to the Game of Thrones: The Last Watch documentary that aired on Sunday, one battle-tested extra is finally getting the fan recognition he deserves.
Although Irish actor Andrew McClay’s frequent appearances on Game of Thrones had been noted by some viewers prior to the documentary’s release, the behind-the-scenes look at the making of Thrones‘ final season seemed to truly endear fans to the man behind Aberdall Strongbeard.
Referred to as both the “Unnamed Soldier” and “Longbeard” by fans before he revealed his character’s name in The Last Watch, McClay first appeared in Thrones as one of the soldiers in Stannis Baratheon’s army who was present during the emotional burning of Shireen Baratheon in the penultimate episode of season 5. After that, he joined up with Jon Snow’s forces and apparently remained a loyal Northman for the rest of his days.
To his credit, Strongbeard not only fought in the Battle of the Bastards, but was the third man to shout his support of Jon being named “The King in the North” in the season 6 finale. In season 7, he was present at Winterfell when Meera Reed brought Bran Stark home from beyond the Wall, and in season 8, he fought in both the Battle of Winterfell and the Battle of King’s Landing.
Viewers seemed to be particularly touched by a scene in The Last Watch in which McClay gifted Kit Harington with the customized Stark sigil jacket that he had been given to commemorate his work as an extra. “We all have extras jackets and I managed to give Kit Harington one today,” McClay said of the exchange. “And what’s happened is he’s now trying to give me money for it. But I won’t take the money because I just want to give Jon Snow his jacket, big time.”
Harington then wore the jacket on his last day of filming, prompting McClay to offer to get him the season 8 version of the gift as well.
In addition to being a part of the show, McClay is also one of Game of Thrones‘ biggest fans. After watching Harington’s emotional reaction to filming his last scene, McClay tearfully spoke about how much the show has influenced him.
“It’s what Kit was saying,” he said. “Even though I’m just an extra in comparison to him being the main star, it really has changed my life…I didn’t think I was going to get this emotional…It’s been the best five years of my life. So, I will miss it. But it’s always something that I’ll be able to look back on. So, absolutely brilliant.”
And if you’re still feeling sad about the show’s end, McClay is working to help fans continue to experience Westeros as a tour guide for Game of Thrones Tours. The company is based in Northern Ireland and will take you to see top filming locations like Winterfell, the Twins, Robb’s Camp, the ruined abbey where Robb’s bannermen pledged fealty to the King in the North and the forest where the Starks found the direwolf pups.
Sounds like McClay’s fans’ watch has only just begun.