Strangers love talking to Daniel Portman about his dick. And at this point in his life, he’s pretty cool with it, but that wasn’t at all what he expected when, at the age of 19, Portman was cast in the small role of Podrick Payne in the second season of Game of Thrones.
“Pod was just meant to be a ‘we’ll see what happens’ kind of character,” Portman tells me, lounging in a Manhattan VIP room, working through a hangover from the previous night's Game of Thrones Season Eight premiere after party.
When we first met Pod, he was a dumb sweet puppy of a squire. He wasn’t good at fighting, nor was he smart or really very useful in any of the duties required of him. In fact, he was so worthless that Tywin Lannister assigned him to be Tyrion Lannister’s squire as a punishment for both of them. As we later learn, Pod had worked alongside a lesser known knight in the Westerlands. That knight-Ser Lorimer-got drunk and stole a ham, for which he was sentenced to death. But Tywin learns of Pod’s noble heritage (he’s related to Ilyn Payne, the executioner who took Ned Stark’s head) and sends him to Tyrion as a penalty.
What he lacks in physical prowess, Pod makes up in loyalty. Bravely, he follows Tyrion into the Battle of the Blackwater in the penultimate episode of Season Two. During the battle, Ser Mandon Moore betrays Tyrion and attempts to murder him, but Pod steps in, stabbing Mandon in the back of the head with a spear to save his lord’s life.
But that wasn’t the defining Pod moment for fans-the one that would make him one of the most beloved characters in Game of Thrones, and inspire the writers to keep Pod around in a bigger role. In the third episode of Season Three, as a reward for saving his life, Tyrion sends three prostitutes from Littlefinger’s brothel to sweet, unsuspecting, virgin Pod. To Tyrion’s surprise, the women refuse payment, which Pod shyly reveals, saying he did “lots of things” to the women. As it turns out, our dear Pod is so good at sex that the women wouldn’t take his money.
From that moment Portman’s character was known lovingly as Sex God Pod, or, as a Deadspin headline later read, “Podrick The Magic-Dicked Teen Is The True Hero Of Game of Thrones.” In a show so obsessed with dicks and sex, this unassuming boy had suddenly become the Stallion of Westeros, and in the process won the hearts of fans.
“It just kind of felt like there was something there, so they wanted to keep writing for me,” Portman tells me of why Pod has stuck around when far more competent heroes have died. “That's a huge compliment to have writers say that, ‘We just want you around because we write you and we think that what you bring to it is important.’ That's very touching, very very touching.”
Now 27, Portman has spent his nearly all of his 20s on Game of Thrones, fielding questions from strangers about his penis and, more disturbingly, dealing with over eager fans who seek to grope him in public. As the show makes its way through its final season, Portman's character has a powerful moment in the second episode of Season Two. It's the calm before the massive battle of Winterfell to come, and Pod eases the nerves of our heroes with a Tolkien-esque song ahead of the fight that will certainly take the lives of some of Thrones' most beloved characters.
Why, exactly, is Pod so good at sex? Is his dick that big? Does he just know how to use it? Is it literal magic? Fans have written entire essays trying to figure it out. Amazingly, Portman brings up his dick before I do. I ask him how he interacts with fans when they recognize him in public. They want to know about the brothel scene, he tells me. I ask him what he usually tells fans.
“A magician never reveals his secrets,” he says, laughing. “If I fucking knew my life would be very different. I was 20 when that happened, so it was kind of like a kid in a candy shop. When you tell a 20-year-old actor, who’s sort of stumbled onto this big TV show, that all of a sudden you're meant to be Casanova, people all over the world wonder whether or not it's true. I would be lying if I said that that hadn't been fun.”
But there have also been moments where fans cross the line.
“I’ve been grabbed by so many… like the amount of like older, older women who are very...” Portman says, cutting himself off to make a grabbing hand gesture.
What do you do? I ask.
“What can you do? You know? Obviously tell them not to do it,” Portman says. “It hasn't happened for a while. In this day and age you’d think that people would be able to separate reality from fiction. I don't want to say it comes with the territory, but, you know, people are crazy about it. It's certainly not cool.”
Those problematic instances aside, Portman feels lucky to play a character like Pod.
“It's really not a bad thing, to be tied to your character,” Portman says, pointing out the fate of another character known for being well endowed, Theon Greyjoy. “Some guy had his dick cut off. Then you've got a guy who's meant to be this fucking stallion, out of nowhere.”
Although it’s his most famed physical attribute, Pod’s penis isn’t the only defining characteristic that makes him such a beloved character. There’s little pure good on this show. Even our heroes, like Arya Stark, are guilty of horrifying brutality. Jon Snow, who has emerged as the show’s lead protagonist, is guilty of bad decision-making that’s gotten a lot of good people killed. Sweet Samwell Tarly has shown instances of selfishness and self-preservation.
But not Pod.
Pod has spent five seasons wandering in and out of this story, surviving on sheer goodwill alone.
“It's the innocence, it's the honesty and the sweetness in a world where there isn't a lot of that,” Portman tells me. “There's a lot of Machiavellian tactics and underhandedness, and to have a guy who is none of those things and is just as honest to the core and selfless and loyal-people like when they see something good happening to him, you know?”
And good things often happen to Pod because he unquestionably does good things for other people.
That's exactly the attribute we see come full-circle in the second episode of Season Eight. As our heroes ready themselves for the battle of Winterfell, Pod sings a folk song composed for Game of Thrones. For Portman, it calls to mind the famous scene in Lord of the Rings when Pippin sings before the battle of Minas Tirith. It's a pivotal moment in the show, as some of the most beloved characters in Game of Thrones prepare to die in battle. And Portman had no idea he'd be called upon to sing.
"They just put it in the script and they didn’t really tell me," Portman says. "I was terrified to be singing in front of all these people with this camera in my face. And something like a billion people have seen the first episode. So thinking about that many people seeing me singing was terrifying."
Though he's been musical his whole life, Portman says he has no idea how the show's writers knew he could handle singing a song like this. Knowing Game of Thrones fans, it's likely to be a song that's turned into a meme immediately after the episode, Portman jokes. But he also thinks it marks a clear completion to his character's arc.
"He doesn’t sing for himself he sings for other people. And that’s been the whole thing about the character for me. He never does anything for himself," Portman says. "Pod has a real everyman quality and that’s why people connect with him. In these moments of stress, music can be a great comfort to people. In the world of Westeros, music has been an important thing. Like the 'Rains of Castamere'."
And at the beginning of this episode we also see Pod training younger soldiers for the battle to come-another great moment to see this character finally have some power.
"I love to see someone who has absolutely no hope turn out to lead the way, who can train people how to fight and can be on the front lines with Brienne," Portman says, noting how his character has been shown in early trailers for this season. "It feels like he’s been promoted. He’s not just a squire anymore."
Spending time with Portman-even when he’s recuperating from a late night, one in which he hung out with Game of Thrones superfan Dave Chappelle-is as refreshing as a Pod scene on the show itself. He's well aware that he's lucky to be paired with so many talented actors. After nearly a decade on the show, his sense of awe remains palpable, which, I imagine, is what helps make his portrayal of Pod so genuine.
He’s also aware of his good luck for having survived on a show that has brutally killed off far more important characters than Pod. The fans, he says, are pleasantly surprised by his survival skills. “I think there's a sense of relief,” he says. “People kind of expect him to die, but I think he brings a warmth and a happiness.”
In a show about dragons and magic and the dead rising up to attack the living, Pod is actually relatable, according to Portman. “I think everybody's been in that situation, where they feel like the useless guy, or maybe they don't quite fit in,” he says. “Maybe I don't deserve to be here. He kind of sanctifies that. I think that's why people connect with him. Everybody's been that awkward, uncomfortable person before, and he makes the best of it. He doesn't have all the tools and he doesn't have all the experience, but he's willing. That's all you can really do, isn't it?”
Hell, both of us agree that it should be Pod who takes the Iron Throne in the end.
“Can you imagine what a benevolent leader he’d be?” Portman asks. “Just wine and cake for everyone.”
It’s part luck and part modesty that has helped Pod survive to the final season, when Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Oberyn Martell, etc., have been gloriously murdered. When he parts ways with Tyrion in Season Four, Pod finds himself tied to Brienne of Tarth for another odd couple comedic paring that once again produces some of the most touching Game of Thrones moments. Though he can hardly ride a horse, Pod sets off with Brienne to help save the Stark children, and eventually completes this quest when they fend off Ramsay Bolton's forces to help Sansa escape to Winterfell.
Throughout these middle seasons, Portman developed a close friendship with actress Gwendoline Christie. “With Gwen, we were sort of thrown into the deep end,” he tells me, explaining that the first scene they shot together was their fight with the Hound, which came at the end of Season Four. “We had to sort of form this season long bond,” he says. “We always knew, I guess, that we were going to get on, it was like a party from day one.”
“She's astonishing. She's such a positive force,” he continues. “She's incredibly energetic and charismatic, intelligent, warm, loving person. To have the opportunity to have hung out with her so much, it really never felt like work.”
Portman and Christie still keep in touch regularly, he says. And, of course, they hung out the night before at the Thrones premiere. In fact, Portman and Christie have so much on screen time together that fans often think he’s much shorter than he actually is, considering he’s often paired with the 6-foot-3-inch-tall actress.
At the end of Season Seven, Pod and Brienne have made their way to Winterfell to help take part in the inevitable battle with the White Walker Army. That battle, which likely comes in Episode Three of the final season, is reportedly one of the biggest fight sequences ever filmed. And Pod is there, as always, lending a hand in any way he can.
“It was very intense. A lot of it was quite scary-there were so many people and it was dark and we were working in the cold. It's fine the one day, and then you do it the next day, and then you do it for weeks and weeks and weeks, and it starts to take its toll on you,” Portman said of filming the battle of Winterfell. “It all becomes, kind of real. You are exhausted, and it does have an effect on you. You're not sleeping well, you don't have time to do anything else. It's just all-consuming.
“But yeah, Pod is there, man. He's there and he's not a waste of space. He gets stuck in it. “
In the end, Portman says he’s “hugely satisfied” with how things conclude for Pod. And, his final scene, he says, was “very weird.”
“There was a sense of relief and excitement at the opportunities that were going to lie ahead. Obviously as an actor you never want to play the same character forever. It's certainly not why I got involved with it. I wanted to play and do a lot of different things, but also, very very sad to be saying goodbye to this fucking phenomenal show-and mostly the people,” Portman says of the show ending. “The experience was so important to me that that was the saddest thing for me. The idea that I wasn't going to see these people for six months of the year, every year anymore. We weren't going to dress up and have fun and do this cool shit together anymore. That's kind of hard to take.”
After playing this role for the better part of a decade, Portman is proud to have become something of a hero in his native Glasgow, Scotland.
“For me, whenever I go back home-my mom and dad still live in Glasgow-I get recognized by people, it feels like I'm talking to my family,” Portman said. “They're so proud. It's that boy from that town, he's gone and done this thing.”
The Game of Thrones series finale airs in the U.S. on May 19. In June, Portman will be in New York for an off-Broadway play from his native Scotland, called Square Go, written by Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair. Beyond stage acting, Portman says he wants to pursue writing and, one day, establish his own production company, which is inspired by Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
But he’s also fine with Pod always being a part of him. I ask if he thinks he’ll still be known as Pod, and whether people will still be asking about his dick 10 years from now.
“I mean, if they do, I hope it's because of this show. I hope it's not because of any fucking leaks or something,” Portman jokes. “I don't know. Maybe. Probably. Yeah, yeah, I think so, maybe it's going to stick with me for a while. Could be worse.”
Yeah, it could be worse, we both agree.
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