Performer of the Week: Thrones' Michelle Fairley

Game of Thrones Michelle FairleyA weekly feature in which we spotlight shining stars

THE PERFORMER | Michelle Fairley

THE SHOW | Game of Thrones

THE EPISODE | “The Rains of Castamere”

THE AIRDATE | June 2, 2013

Over the past three seasons, portrayer Michelle Fairley has played each new layer of Catelyn’s despair (widowhood, war, the loss of home and family) like another heavy cloak flung over Lady Stark’s highborn shoulders.

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So on the occasion of Edmure’s make-peace nuptials, we welcomed the opportunity to see Fairley play small degrees of relief. With Walder Frey’s ring kissed and Robb once more seeking his mother’s advice, the actress allowed her character to lose a little of her long-standing dread. She smiled. She chatted up Roose Bolton. She even allowed herself a happy recollection of her own wedding night with Ned. Catelyn couldn’t forget that there was still a war to fight, Fairley’s subtle shift said, but she was beginning to think that Robb might just win it.

Of course, that was the exact moment that everything went south for the Starks – and Fairley was glorious in her character’s descent.

With an arrow lodged in her torso, Catelyn resolutely held a knife to Frey’s wife’s throat and demanded an honorable trade: the girl’s life for Robb’s. Fairley’s angry tears made Cat’s desperate diplomacy so hard to watch, especially as she urged her dying son to walk away. And when Bolton stepped in to finish the King in the North, Fairley’s anguished scream made us feel like we’d taken a dagger to the gut.

Fairley said nothing – but communicated everything – as her dead-eyed character matter-of-factly cut Lady Frey’s throat and then didn’t even fight as a Frey loyalist did the same to her. Rest in peace, Catelyn. If you had to go, at least you did so in Fairley’s talented hands.

HONORABLE MENTION | Veep‘s Tony Hale, who, as Vice President Selina Meyer’s primary lackey Gary, walks a fine line between pitiful sycophant and the one person who truly understands the insecurities and outbursts of America’s second most-powerful person. In Sunday’s installment, as Gary independently found a private waste-management firm to remove Selina’s trash during a government shutdown, Hale managed to play both hapless (his high-pitched squeal upon seeing a rat had the Secret Service seeking out a frightened woman) and cutthroat (he coerced White House aide Jonah to help him pick through foul rubbish until Selina’s incriminating — yet never specified — garbage could be repossessed). Somehow, Hale  repeatedly served as the butt of the joke and remained a character whom it was impossible to root against.

What performance knocked your socks off this week?