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Kit Harington: Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow Learns to Fight Dirty

Hunky British actor Kit Harington on playing the courageous emo-swordsman on the HBO fantasy epic and the real coldness we'll see this season in the most famous bastard in Westeros.

Helen Sloan/HBO

When we last left Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the bastard son of the late Lord Eddard Stark, he was serving as a spy, marching South towards Castle Black with the Free Folk army and Mance Rayder. After losing his virginity to Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a redheaded wildling woman, and barely scaling the Wall, Snow is ordered by (a very jealous) Orell to kill an old man. He refuses, kills Orell, and escapes the wildling bunch.

Later, his wildling love shoots his back full of arrows—intentionally leaving him alive—and Snow barely makes it back to Castle Black.

In the Season 4 premiere, “Two Swords,” Snow is tried before five sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch, and confesses to killing Qhorin Halfhand, living as a spy amongst the wildlings, and sleeping with one, thereby breaking his vow of celibacy. But Snow also warns the Night’s Watch about the wildling army on its way, and is allowed to keep his head.

Harington is currently abroad shooting Testament of Youth, a biopic of poet Vera Brittain, who will be played by Alicia Vikander. The Daily Beast caught up with the 27-year-old British star to discuss Snow’s journey during Season 4, sex scenes, and much more.

There’s a big moment in the premiere with Jon Snow where he stands up to the Night’s Watch, who are mulling his execution. He’s becoming more Machiavellian and learning how to play the game better, so to speak, and becoming a leader.

That’s a major thing for him this season. This season, he really starts to learn from his father’s mistakes. He starts to realize that if you want the world to be the right place, you have to fight dirty at times, so he’s entering the world of politics this season, and entering the world of being a leader. He’s a good man, a good warrior, and a good leader, but I don’t think he’s naturally born to talk, or convince. But this season is the first time Jon has more than like three lines in a piece of dialogue.

Right. Jon Snow isn’t a political animal like Tyrion, and often, his passion gets in the way of his politicking.

He gets far better this season at controlling that, and I think you see that in Episode 1. He returns to Castle Black, where we haven’t seen him the last two seasons, as a very different man than the one that left. He’s learned a lot about deception, and playing people against one another, and has a mission to accomplish. He can’t be standing by and putting up with other people’s bullshit. This season, he learns very much to fight dirty.

Seems like he’s got a bigger pair of balls on him. You’d never see him stand up to the Night’s Watch in a previous season and say, “Do you intend to execute me, or am I free to go?”

He’s learned to control himself. If he’d been placed in that position in the first season he’d probably explode, like in the scene where he attacks Alliser Thorne and tries to knife him. This is a very different Jon. He’s in front of the council and basically says, “Kill me, or get on with it,” and doesn’t lose his temper. That’s what he’s learned from essentially being a spy for two years.

What else do you see happening to Jon Snow this season as far as his development goes?

I think the biggest development that’s ever happened to him happens at the end of this season. There’s a specific scene at the end of this season where you see a real coldness in him, and that comes from various things that have happened this season—not least by the start of the season where we learn that his whole family is dead. He really chooses his side and grows up in a way where there’s no sentimentality left. I think he’s been quite sentimental in the past about things, but this season, there’s no fucking around with it. By the end, he’s a cold person.

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Last season, we learned about Jon Snow’s magical skills with the ladies. Where do you think he got it from? Or are all the Stark’s just “gifted?”

I like to think of that scene and what he does as being the true essence of who Jon is. He’s a person who is tender and loving—at the very heart of it, that’s who he is—and he’s not out for himself. I think what he does for Ygritte, without going into graphic terms, shows that he’s someone who likes to give pleasure rather than take it.

Do we get to see Jon Snow flaunt his skills with the ladies in Season 4?

That would be a massive spoiler alert! He’d be breaking his vows quite a bit if he does!

Season 3 must have been pretty tough on you because you shot a lot of it with a boot on after shattering your ankle.

Season 3 was a tough one. I loved it because of some of the things it entailed, but looking back on what season I didn’t like the most, it would’ve been Season 3 because of my incapacitation. I absolutely hated letting anyone do fast walking or running for me, and had to let a body double do that. It’s weird to give your character over to someone else, even for the smallest part. It’s almost sacrilege to you.

But you did get out of going nude during your sex scene with Ygritte.

I did, but—and I don’t say this lightly—I was desperate to show my bum on TV, so that pissed me off as well! But it was my own stupid fault. But we got it done, and by the end of it, I was right as rain.

I’ve always viewed Jon Snow as the complete foil to Theon Greyjoy.

That’s absolutely right. The interesting thing from the books is they absolutely hate each other there, but on our show, you don’t really see that develop because they don’t speak much. In the books, Jon sees ambition in Theon which is going to turn rather nasty, and Theon sees Jon as someone who’s obsessed with honor and duty, and finds that to be egotistic, and they hate each other for that reason.

What were the most exciting moments for you to film during Season 4?

I don’t know how to answer this without spoiling it! There was more fighting in this season than there’s ever been, and I love the fight scenes. I came back from doing Pompeii and that had helped me with my fighting skills. I really love the action sequences this season. You really see Jon show his stuff this season.

Jon Snow is kind of the last acceptable hunk left on Game of Thrones. Jaime Lannister is a good-looking guy, but he’s sexing his sister.

Oh, I think there are plenty of hunks left on Game of Thrones. You’ve got Gendry, he’s a good lookin’ bloke. There’s Pedro… there’s plenty of men in there that I think women fancy.

How were you cast in Game of Thrones? It was your first big screen role.

I came off War Horse and decided that I wasn’t going to keep carrying on there, since I’d done it for a year, and then auditions started coming in. Game of Thrones was one of those auditions and I hadn’t even finished War Horse and somehow landed the pilot—a principal role in an HBO drama pilot. I was jumping for joy. It’s stepped up year-after-year, and has continued to surprise me how big it gets and how successful it’s become. I’ve been a bit spoiled. My first theater role was War Horse and my first TV role was Game of Thrones. They say you shouldn’t find success too early, and I’m seriously worried that might be true!

Did you have short hair back then?

I did. I had a short World War I haircut. For the pilot they wigged me, and then they said, “If this goes to series, can you grow it out?” And I said, “Yes.” So in the meantime, I had a play called Posh and for that, I had to have relatively long hair, so I just grew it. And now, I contractually can’t cut the fucking thing! So it’s a part of me now…it has to be.

Do you feel different with the long hair?

It really does change someone’s image, face, and everything about them. It sounds very vain to say this, but as an actor, you go by what you look like day-by-day for roles, so to always be this longhaired guy is quite strange. I thought I’d be a chameleon always changing my looks, but I’m stuck in this look for a while. It’s great, but I sometimes feel the desperate need to want to change it up.

Do you think Jon Snow has a confidence problem? He initially seemed very meek, probably due to his bastard status.

I don’t think he has a confidence problem at all. It was a chip on the shoulder, but I think he’s always had a certain sense of confidence about him because he’s always had the ambition to prove himself as more than just a bastard son. He has a certain introvertedness due to the nature of who he is.

So, on an entirely different note, I read that you wanted to be a journalist?

No, that’s kind of true. I had my sights on drama and being an actor from a relatively early age, but the idea of being freelance—being my own boss—always struck me as something interesting, and in that realm, being a journalist seemed like a great place to do that. I like writing and analyzing things, and being a journalist still appeals to me, actually.

I have a bit of a strange name myself. Where does “Kit” come from?

I was thinking this as I read your name, Marlow, and my mom loved the name Christopher “Kit” Marlowe, the playwright, so it’s kind of from there, and the priest that married my parents was called Kit. I think they just liked it. My brother’s called Jack, and I they quite like one-syllable short names.

My name’s not from the playwright though or the detective, it’s actually from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

No way! That’s really funny you mentioned that. I have that book in my bag and I’m about to start reading it.

Back to Game of Thrones. What’s the weirdest request you’ve received from a fan?

I’m used to a bit of fan mail and I’m terrible at replying, so to all the fans: I do fully intend to reply to all the fan mail that I’ve got, I just haven’t gotten to it yet! The weirdest thing was when someone showed me a picture of Jon Snow tattooed on his arm. That was weird—to think that someone had an image of my face on their arm for the rest of their life.

What’s up next for you?

I go straight from Testament of Youth to a film called Spooks, which is based on a British TV show that ran for about ten years and finished about two years ago. I’m playing the lead in that so I get to do spy-thriller-gun-shooting stuff.

Spooks sounds fascinating. It’s different from a lot of the sword-and-sandals stuff you’ve done.

Yeah, I want to move to hoodie-and-jeans. I’ve done a lot of sword-and-sandals stuff, and I think Thrones is enough to whet anyone’s appetite, so I’m moving away from that genre.