The Scottish actress turned archer on the battle royale at Castle Black, Kit Harington dating rumors, and criticisms of the violence on Game of Thrones. [Warning: SPOILERS]
The Battle of Castle Black, which saw the remaining members of the Night’s Watch clash with Mance Rayder’s wildling army and the Thenn, was the most action-packed hour in Game of Thrones history.
Directed by Neil Marshall, who also helmed the show’s Battle of the Blackwater and the cult horror flick The Descent, “The Watchers on the Wall” boasted wildling giants, wooly mammoths, volley after volley of flaming arrows, and a hammer to the head. Amid the chaos and carnage, star-crossed lovers Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ygritte (Rose Leslie) meet on the battlefield.
For the better part of a season, Ygritte has been talking up how she’ll relish killing the Stark bastard. “Don’t ever betray me,” she once told him, “Because I’ll cut your pretty cock right off and wear it ’round me neck.” Well, Snow did betray her. After she forced him to break his Night’s Watch vows by sexing Snow in a cave, he turned around and killed Orell, thereby proclaiming his loyalty to the Watch. As he rode away, the redheaded wildling filled her lover with three arrows, sparing his life.
Now, they finally meet. Ygritte has Snow in her crosshairs, aiming an arrow directly at his heart. He smiles, succumbing to his fate. Then, an arrow lands in the archer’s back. Snow embraces her.
“Jon Snow…do you remember that cave? We should have stayed in that cave,” she tells him. “We’ll go back there,” he says. She looks him dead in the eye and, one last time, utters, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The action slows, and the camera pulls away as Snow cradles the slain Ygritte in his arms.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Rose Leslie opened up about her death scene, the Battle of Castle Black, her favorite Game of Thrones memories, and much more.
What was it like shooting your death scene at the Battle of Castle Black?
It was emotional. Kit and I didn’t rehearse that scene at all because we just wanted to allow it to flow organically on the day, as it were, and that tackled the whole emotional side of things, and then when we were done shooting, that’s when I started to cry like a baby girl. The crew was so lovely and surrounded me in a circle and presented me with a wrap gift—Ygritte’s bow—and I popped from crewmember to crewmember and told each and every one of them how much I loved them. And they replaced the grip that I’d hold the bow with white leather and an engraving that said “Rose.” It was wonderful.
“My favorite one is when she threatens him: ‘His balls are going to be hanging around my neck.’ It’s just so empowering and crazy.”
Why did you and Kit feel it was important to go into the scene unrehearsed?
For me, it felt slightly more organic because you’re allowing it to play out in its own way, and then by the third or fourth take, you’re sure about the way it’s going. It was exciting not to rehearse, and since we’d worked together for a few years, we understand exactly how one another works. It was an interesting way to approach it, but I’m glad we tackled it that way.
What was it like shooting the Battle of Castle Black? That looked strenuous.
There’s so much going on! It wasn’t strenuous at all because we were all in it together at three o’clock in the morning, and perhaps it was raining—maybe it wasn’t—and you’re all there trying to make the best battle sequence ever. It was incredibly exciting to do it. I think it took about 10 days for me to shoot on and off, myself. But the whole scale was just phenomenal. I remember walking in to that Castle Black set for the first time and being blown away! It was very, very cool.
Did you get nicked at all?
I’m a lucky girl, I didn’t get nicked! But I was paranoid I might nick someone with my archery, but luckily I didn’t hurt anyone.
How good have you gotten with the bow? Could you give Jennifer Lawrence a run for her money?
Ah no, I wish I could! But I do love archery in my day-to-day life because I find it very therapeutic, and I’ve trained every season with the bow and arrow. It’s such a fluid movement when you get into the swing of it, and I’m going to keep up with it now that I’m off the show.
Did the showrunners ever discuss an alternate fate for Ygritte with you, or was this one always in the cards?
It was always envisioned the way it played out because I read books 1-4 before I started shooting the series, and David and Dan are incredibly loyal to what George R.R. Martin had written. That’s how it should have played out, like the books. If it didn’t play out that way, I have a feeling the fans would have been upset. They’re very passionate.
What do you think draws Ygritte to Jon Snow?
I think that Ygritte, looking at Jon Snow, she’s incredibly drawn to just how loyal and dedicated he is, and also intrigued by the fact that he’s so narrow-minded in his belief and doesn’t want to waver in anything, and doesn’t want to question the rules. She’s in awe of someone like that who isn’t free, but thinks that he is. It’s that that draws her to him.
How did you and Kit establish such great onscreen chemistry?
Well, we tried! That’s why we’re there and hopefully convincing the audience that these two are attracted to one another, and I think it’s also dedicated to the writing. It’s a wonderful perk when you’re able to get on with your costar, and Kit is a wonderful, wonderful man. He’s very lovely, charming, sweet, and incredibly funny, so having that dialogue off-screen certainly pushes for the relationship they have on-screen. And if you’re willing to trust the other person and allow them to play on-screen with the scene, it’s a lovely attribute to have.
One of your character’s biggest moments is the one where you take Jon Snow’s virginity. What was it like shooting that scene, and were you two dating at the time? That was the rumor.
No, we never have! That was certainly my first sex scene, and that was a bizarre experience, to say the least—taking off your clothes in front of 20 men in a cave—but I was incredibly well-looked after, as I was throughout my time on Game of Thrones. But it was pretty terrifying!
What is it you’ll miss the most about making Game of Thrones?
I think it will be the experiences of going off to these beautiful countries like Iceland, and going there and being able to experience this vast landscape that I had never before seen in my life. It was breathtaking going there for the first time—truly magical. I will miss that, above all!
Looking back, what was your favorite scene to film on the show?
Hmm…Oh, I know! It would have to be the scaling of The Wall scene. That was truly wonderful and took about 10 days to shoot, and we were all harnessed in and hanging on, and there was a wind machine and snow machine blowing in my face! It was on a 50-foot wall they constructed that was surrounded by green screen, and you were halfway up it and you’re harnessed in hanging on with your own body weight. That was amazing and I kept thinking, “I’m such a lucky girl to have this job!”
Do you have a favorite line? Everyone always quotes, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
That is a lovely one, but my favorite one is when she threatens him: “His balls are going to be hanging around my neck.” It’s just so empowering and crazy.
Game of Thrones reminds me a lot of Braveheart. As a Scotswoman, are you a fan of Braveheart?
I remember loving Braveheart, and I still do! It was one of those films my family had on video and we watched over and over again. Not to speak on behalf of the country, but I think the Scottish are extremely proud of William Wallace, and that’s a really good film.
One of your first big roles was on Downton Abbey, which couldn’t more different from the world of Game of Thrones if it tried.
I loved my experience on Downton Abbey. We shot it in six months, and it was the first time I’d ever been on TV, and I was surrounded by my friends. It was a wonderful, wonderful time. But yes, couldn’t be more different. [Laughs] There weren’t as many horses as there are on Game of Thrones!
There’ve been some critical pieces of late about the surfeit of violence and rape on Game of Thrones. It’s an interesting conundrum because the show also features very strong female characters.
That’s the world of Westeros, and David and Dan are just staying true to the incredible imagination of George R.R. Martin. And these women in the show are fighting back and are not to be suppressed. I think that’s a brilliant thing and can only be a positive.
What’s one of your biggest Game of Thrones regrets?
I never witnessed Christian [Hodor] DJ… I’m very, very sad about it!