THE BATTLE OF WINTERFELL
Game of Thrones’ Night King Believes Arya Stark Is No Mary Sue
Vladimír Furdík, the Slovak stuntman who played the Night King, opens up about why Arya Stark was the ‘best’ person to kill him—and much more.
Vladimír Furdík may be the only Game of Thrones player with more faces than the god of death.
The 49-year-old Slovak stuntman is known for playing the Night King in Seasons 7 and 8, but he’s appeared all over Westeros in a number of roles over the years. He’s doubled for actors or played anonymous swordsmen in 14 episodes, spanning series-defining moments in the Battle of the Bastards, the Loot Train attack and Cersei’s destruction of the Sept of Baelor. He also played the first White Walker Jon Snow killed at Hardhome, and that’s him in “The Door” as the shirtless First Man the Children of the Forest tie up and transform into the Night King, the supernatural Big Bad who threatens to wipe out humanity and plunge the world into endless darkness.
That was the Night King’s plan, anyway, until the Battle of Winterfell brought the show’s longest-running storyline to an abrupt halt. In a thrilling last-minute reversal, Arya Stark single-handedly eliminates an army of 100,000 wights and White Walkers by stabbing the Night King with Valyrian steel, shattering him into icicle dust for good.
But who was the Night King? A long-lost Targaryen? An ancient Stark? How did he come to be who he was, and is the threat of the Long Night—an existential event the show has teased from its very first scene—really all over? Just like that?
We turned to the man under the ice spikes for clarification. Be warned: he’s about as concerned with the difference between Starks, Lannisters, and Targaryens as the Night King himself. And he’s definitely not here for the guys labeling Arya Stark a “Mary Sue” for killing his character—in his eyes, she was the “best” choice.
Were you surprised by how early in the season The Night King dies?
No, I’m not surprised.
Did you ever learn anything about who the Night King was when he was human? Some people thought he might be a Targaryen or a Stark.
No, no. But I sometimes see people asking who he is and where he’s from. For example, I put on Instagram a picture of some fight that I did for the Tower of Joy when I stunt-doubled for one of the actors [Luke Roberts, who played Ser Arthur Dayne], and I’m in the same costume as him. And I put this picture on Instagram and people said, “Ah! So the Night King is…” I think they started saying he was part of Jon Snow’s family—or somebody’s family, I don’t know which. I’m a little bit lost with who’s who. (Laughs.) They said I’m a Targaryen, or with the Lannister family, but I am also lost between these families.
Did you want to learn more about who he was before he went?
Really? Why not?
You know, I can wait for another time when somebody makes a book or something about who the Night King was. It will be interesting to see. But at the moment, maybe one day somebody will say who he was exactly and where he comes from.
He smiles up at Daenerys in this episode after Drogon tries and fails to burn him up. Do you think the Night King’s fatal mistake was getting too cocky?
Yeah, I think Miguel [Sapochnik, who directed “The Long Night”] wanted to show people that inside the Night King there is a little bit of humanness, like he was part of… He’s not just a monster—he is actually monstrous, but he also thinks. He’s not stupid. Through this smile, I think Miguel would like to show that he knows what he wants, you know? He’s not just walking into the country and killing people. He has some target.
The smile did make him feel human. Were you given direction on giving him a personality?
Yes. I think on the day we did three versions [of that scene]. We did like a cold face, we did a big smile—which is not easy to do under the mask because then the smile is not really nice—and then we did a couple where I moved my mouth only a little bit on the right or left side. So we shot three versions and they took this version.
The big grin must have looked hilarious.
Yes, it was. Miguel wanted me to have some kind of smirk. But not too big.
Is there more to the Night King’s story coming even though he’s gone? I feel like we still only know part of his deal.
You know, I don’t know. This is not a question for me, maybe for somebody else. (Laughs.) Me, personally, I would like to know one day. Why not? To finish his story. Let’s see.
What was it like filming this battle? I’ve read it was an extraordinarily tough shoot.
Everything was so difficult, I think for every actor—for me, for Jon Snow, for Arya, because of the rain, cold, snow, and fog. It was a three-month night shoot, and then we did a couple weeks shooting inside. I’ve said before, this was one of the harder shoots of my stunt [career] and actor life, over the last 30 years. One of the hardest jobs of my life.
Some guys online don’t like that Arya was the one to kill the Night King. They think it should have been Jon Snow. How did you feel about Arya dealing the death blow?
I think this was a good decision. Because nobody’s waiting so much for [Arya to surprise him], not many people knew it would happen. Maybe ten minutes before Arya jumps on the Night King, we don’t know where she is. We see Jon Snow and other actors, but we don’t know where she is. Maybe somebody can predict it, but I think it was a good decision. Who else can kill him and how? It was the best, I think.
Now that your run as the Night King is over, looking back, do you have a favorite scene you shot?
My favorite scene as the Night King for me was in this last episode, when I walk into the fire and Jon Snow runs behind me. I loved it. Miguel said, “OK, now you should stop. You should turn your head, and you know he’s behind you. And then I would like to see you turn and look at him like, ‘Hey. What do you want?’” I loved this, you know? And on the day on set, I loved it too because for me, it was easy. We did this scene maybe 20 times and Kit Harington had to run on every take, about 100 meters. And I just did my 15-meter walk. (Laughs.) And he would just run, run, run. You can imagine how difficult it was for him in the mud in the winter. But for me it was an easy, good moment.