Now that we’ve (somewhat) recovered from the outrageously gruesome trial by combat between Oberyn “Red Viper” Martell and Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ fourth season, titled “The Watchers on the Wall,” focused our attention on the long gestating conflict at Castle Black.
For weeks, we’ve watched as Mance Rayder’s wildling army, rumored to be 100,000 strong, has slowly marched towards Castle Black. Along the way, they’ve reluctantly joined forces with the cannibalistic Thenn, and slaughtered a brothel of belching prostitutes at Mole’s Town—with Ygritte sparing the life of Gilly and her weeping baby.
“How do 102 men fight 100,000?” the remaining members of the Night’s Watch, led by Jon Snow (Kit Harington), wondered during last week’s episode.
“The Watchers on the Wall” showed us how—and then some. With all due respect to the Battle of the Blackwater, the highly anticipated Battle of Castle Black was arguably the most violent and grand battle sequence we’ve witnessed thus far in Westeros, and one that saw our bastard steward-cum-hero, Jon Snow, rise to the occasion.
The Daily Beast spoke with Kit Harington, a.k.a. Jon Snow, about his massive episode, the death of his virginity-snatching love, Ygritte, and much more.
What was it like shooting the Battle of Castle Black, and where did you film it?
It was all filmed in Belfast, split between a set and the studio—the studio being the top of the Wall, and the set being the Castle Black set, which we know quite well by now. It was two solid weeks of night shoots on-and-off for about a month, which puts your frame of mind into an emotional place anyway without doing scenes where you’re saying goodbye to actors you love. It was one of the most physically and mentally demanding things I’ve done in my life—for all of us, I think—but it really paid off. It felt like shooting a Game of Thrones movie within Game of Thrones, and Thrones is movie-like anyway, and quite cinematic. We all became very close during the time filming it.
Did you get injured at all, or come out relatively unscathed?
[Laughs] Yeah, you always do if you’re doing the fight scenes—you get a little bruised and battered, and we all did, but that’s part and parcel of it. It’s all part of the fun!
The Battle of Castle Black really sees Jon Snow emerge as a true leader. He’s been slowly building up to this point, including that scene where he stood up to the Night’s Watch Council, but here we really see him play the hero.
As the seasons progress, Jon hardens quite considerably. He loses a lot of family and friends, even from the start, and at the beginning of Season 4, he’s lost his brother and stepmother. People keep dying around him. For me with Jon, it’s never been about wanting to be heroic or trying to be a leader, but that he’s lost so many people he’s become cold inside.
Did you have any favorite kill scenes during the Battle of Castle Black?
There’s the moment where I smash a hammer through someone’s head. That was quite cool. You see him in the shortest amount of time kill more people than Jon’s ever killed, but this is what he’s been trained to do from day one. He’s been fighting and training to be a warrior from the moment he was born, so it’s payoff for him—getting to finally do what he’s been waiting and training to do.
What did you use as the hammer during that kill scene, and were you just hitting a dummy that spurted blood out?
We had a fake head on the actor, and it’s mostly cutaways and special shots, but at some point you do get to run the whole sequence when you want to really kind of hit it, but the guy playing Styr—Yuri—is a fantastic actor, and we trained for the fight at Castle Black for a long time trying to get it right. Getting to kill him was another satisfying moment, I think.
Was the hammer scene, for you, like that strength game at the carnival where you hit the block with the hammer?
Exactly like that! [Laughs] It was exactly like that. You pinpointed exactly how I felt about that, actually.
Speaking of wild kills, there is this crazy moment during the throwdown at Craster’s Keep where one of the prostitutes saves you by shoving a sword through the back of the sadistic Karl Tanner’s head.
It was one of those moments that we all watched on playback and went, “Ahhh!” We were all pretty happy about that one! On Thrones, you either want a good way to kill someone or a good way to die, and that was a good way of killing someone. Plus, Karl deserved to be killed. He was an absolute fuckin’ prick!
The death of Ygritte during the Battle of Castle Black is a big moment for Jon Snow, because this is his first love, and the one who took his v-card. They are these star-crossed lovers, in a way.
“When she dies, what I wanted post-Ygritte’s death was for Jon to be stone cold.”
It was never going to end well, was it? He knew it and she knew it. It wasn’t going to end happily, as most relationships tend to do. When she dies, what I wanted post-Ygritte’s death was for Jon to be stone cold. It’s the last thing that tests his emotions, and for me and Rose, it was a really emotional point as well because we’d grown very close as friends over the years, and to see her leave the show really helped the scene. It’s been such a pleasure working with her, and having Rose leave was emotional enough, really.
You two have such great chemistry on the show, and during that death scene, did you two discuss how you were going to play it?
Not really. We didn’t even go through lines or discuss it at all, and throughout the whole of Thrones, we’d discussed scenes and gone through them in great depth, but that scene just felt a little bit sacred, and something that we didn’t want to touch. Also, we’d spent the whole season apart after spending two seasons very close—we’d been filming separate bits over the whole season—and we just had this one scene together, this one moment, when we’d been used to having lots during Season 3, so it we didn’t discuss it, talk about it, or even try to see each other on the set that night. We just wanted to leave it as a scene.
We’ve discussed how last year was particularly tough on you because you shot a lot of scenes with a boot after shattering your ankle, including most running or fighting scenes, so it must have been satisfying to be able to give it your all in this huge battle.
It was incredibly satisfying because, like you said, the one major fight I had during Season 3 I had to do while pivoting on one foot, which was incredibly frustrating. In this scene, I had a lot of fighting so thank god I didn’t break my ankle before this season! It was wonderful, and it’s some of the fondest memories I have of filming anything—ever. Regardless of how people see the episode, or whether they like it or not, I really did have the best time doing it.
Where do you think we’ll see Jon Snow moving forward? He’s colder now, but he’s also won the respect of everyone around him, and he’s always been striving for respect his entire life.
He’s always been searching for validation—some kind of validation of who he is, being a bastard, and he proves himself somehow. But the longer it goes on, the less it is about him wanting to prove himself, and the more it’s just about him wanting to do what needs to be done. That’s the person he’s turning into. He’s losing his ambition and is discovering that life isn’t really about being the hero, it’s about surviving and doing right by the people you love.