Jon Snow faced the first major test of his leadership as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch on Sunday night’s Game of Thrones. His lethal decision marks a hard evolution for the character, but filming the scene was also uncomfortable for star Kit Harington.
In the episode, “HIgh Sparrow,” the newly elected Snow was publicly challenged when cowardly schemer Janos Slynt refused a direct order. Snow wanted Slynt to take charge of Greyguard (an abandoned castle located along The Wall) and fortify the position. Slynt repeatedly refused, so Jon Snow had Slynt hauled out to the Castle Black courtyard where he personally beheaded him.
“There’s a great juxtaposition there from when [in season 2] Jon’s captured Ygritte and he knows he should kill her but he can’t do it because he’s too good of a person,” Harington tells EW. “He had that moment again here. He’s thinking: ‘Can I kill a man in cold blood?’ And this time he does it. That’s a big change for Jon.”
Harington also pointed out that Jon is getting some justice for his father Ned Stark in that scene, even though he doesn’t know it (since Slynt was leading the King’s Landing City Watch, and betrayed and arrested Ned, in season 1). “I feel like somehow Jon knows, somehow deep down, that Slynt is an unjust man who’s done bad things and that’s what gives him the power to do that,” he says.
Yet filming the scene was difficult. Videos of Islamic fundamentalists from ISIS beheading prisoners were featured frequently in media reports late last year while Thrones was in production. Harington says this real-life horror made pretending to behead a prisoner in front of a camera more uncomfortable.
“It felt really dark because of the current news, what was going on in the news at the time,” Harington says. “And I’m doing this on camera. It really didn’t sit well.”
Thrones is inspired by medieval European history and execution via beheading is a regular occurrence on the hit drama—in fact, the previous week’s episode had a similar scene. And Harington is quick to point out he doesn’t believe Thrones should not have done the scene. “You can’t shy away from horror in drama and the things that you see on the news ever day,” he says. “But to have Jon doing it—whatever the right or wrong reasons he’s doing it—this is a character I love and he’s very good in this story, and to have him committing this murder in cold blood, that for me was the most controversial bit this season.”
Read more: My deep-dive recap of last night’s ‘Game of Thrones’ episode, plus an interview with the showrunners about that Sansa twist.