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'Game of Thrones': Maisie Williams: 'You are either a normal person or a sexist'

‘Thrones’ star candidly talks feminism, fan outrage and Arya’s season 6 journey

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MARC HOM for EW

Maisie Williams enters the London hotel’s coffee shop in a furry-ish jacket, ready to talk. She’s been out all night, but still has more energy than anybody in the room. During our annual chat about Game of Thrones, our candid conversation jumped from teasing her fan-favorite character Arya Stark’s action-filled storyline in season 6, to fan outrage, to her intriguing thoughts on feminism, to Jon Snow’s fate. As you’ll see below, the 18-year-old Williams comes across as youthful and mature at the same time; switching from exuberance to profundity in a snap. Here’s Williams

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So it’s season 6…

MAISIE WILLIAMS: Every year I think, “This is really cool.” But this year, as I opened the scripts, it’s so exciting because nobody knows what’s happening. They’re going to hate it, but love it, and I can’t wait.

Why do you think people are going to hate it?

Just that they don’t know what’s going to happen. I know the showrunners don’t take [criticism] personally any more and that’s nice. People are outraged by last season, but they secretly love it too — because they don’t know what’s really going on.

Ah, yeah, the outrage meter went to 11 last season. What’s cool is the showrunners do not care.

Right. They’re going to make the show they want to make, they interpret the books they way they interpret them, and that’s okay because that’s all they set out to do. They didn’t set out to make a replica of the books. I’m in love with the work they’ve done and I’m in love with the work George R.R. Martin has done — they’re different things. People are like: “I’m never watching again!” But they so are.

And the ratings back that up. The Leftovers showrunner Damon Lindelof made the same comment about Thrones — that some people swear they’re never going to watch again when something happens, but it’s a false threat.

But I used to get so upset by that! “No! Keep watching the show!” I’d get really upset that people would feel like that. But now I see through it and it excites me a little.

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Any thoughts on that Thrones feminism debate? I don’t think I’ve seen you asked about that before…

I got asked in one of my first interviews: “Is Arya a feminist?” I didn’t even know what a feminist was.

You were like 12!

And then someone explained it to me. And I remember thinking, “Isn’t that just like everyone?” And then I realized everyone is not a feminist, unfortunately. But I also feel like we should stop calling feminists “feminists” and just start calling people who aren’t feminist “sexist” — and then everyone else is just a human. You are either a normal person or a sexist. People get a label when they’re bad. Because it works the other way, as well. A lot of men have it hard too. On the show specifically, it’s always been a constant debate because women are treated badly on the show, and they’re treated well on the show. But it’s the same as the boys and the girls and the men and the animals. The themes are very dark. I get it that people don’t want to watch scenes like that. I understand, and you shouldn’t have to. But that’s the show that we’ve made, and I have no control over what’s written. I think it’s upsetting that so many people have found it upsetting. But I find a lot of things upsetting to watch. I get upset when animals get slaughtered. And lots of people are like, “But this is worse than that” — and I never understood that. I think everybody’s allowed to be upset about what they’re upset by. And once people are angry about something, you start worrying about saying the right thing instead of just saying what you mean. It’s very easy to have an opinion. Everyone’s got one. But it’s very difficult to speak up about difficult subjects when people are angry with you. People say: “Why don’t you speak up!” [and I’m thinking], “Because you all got pitchforks and you’re ready to kill us!” It’s scary if you say something wrong.

When people are upset, it sometimes doesn’t matter what you say — if don’t agree with them, you’ll just make them more angry.

Exactly. And I don’t want to be like, “Oh, people love to be angry,” because people have a right to be upset about scenes that upset them — just as much as people have a right to laugh at things that made them happy. Maybe I just have to get a backbone. I’m going to say this in this interview, but I wouldn’t say it with anyone else: I sometimes really worry about speaking up about feminist subjects out of fear of being bashed by women on social media. And there’s something not right there. Yeah, sometimes it’s men too. But there are women who are just nasty. I’m trying to do the best I can. I got a voice. I believe in equality and I know I have more power than the average person to reach people. And I just get petrified in case people are rude. You don’t want to put yourself through that. If people are angry about [the Sansa Stark scene last year] you have to watch [the season 5 DVD] commentary because [writer-producer] Bryan Cogman speaks about it in depth and it’s from the heart. I’m a very sarcastic girl and can sound like a dick in interviews — people are like, “Why are you so annoying?” In this you can hear his voice and it’s so full of emotion. So watch the commentary because you’ll get all your information there.

RELATED: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 First Look

I read that Guillermo del Toro wants you to be in Pacific Rim sequel?

Totally random, totally amazing. Guillermo was [in London] promoting Crimson Peak and he said he’d like to take me to lunch. You meet a lot of people in general meetings that don’t go anywhere. But they’re a little bit curious, like: “Who are you?” I didn’t come from a family of actors, so I get it — people want to find out for themselves. I go to this meeting and we were chatting about the usual stuff, but this time it was different. A lot of the time I speak to adult male directors, they’re all, “Have you seen this film?” And before you’ve even said “No,” they’re like, “Probably not, it’s really great.” I feel awful because I’ve seen hardly any that were made before I was born. And I haven’t seen lots of films that were made after I was born. 

Of course, you’ve been working.

I need to watch so many things! You feel so underprepared for a meeting you didn’t know you were going to anyway. I just want to impress, or I don’t know why I’m there. I was expecting a meeting like that again, but it wasn’t. He had the most amazing advice, and was really normal. He’s got daughters who are my age and he saying they struggle with everything in life, and he said, “You have to do all that too, and be famous.” And I was like: “Yeah!” Everyone’s got their struggles, but I only know what I know. I didn’t know if it was leading anywhere, but he said if Pacific Rim 2 ever happens, he’d like me to be in the Jaeger. So that’s really cool, but it’s a big If.

How many times have you been asked if Jon Snow is still alive?

An unbelievable amount.

What’s your stock answer?

I’ve been just saying “No.” I can say that with an honest heart. 

This year, fans were in the bushes with cameras trying to find spoiler footage.

It’s amazing and sh–ty. But there’s no point in getting caught up about every little thing. Because then you get caught up in yourself, about every bad thing that’s written about you, and you carry that around. Then there’s no point in doing this job at all.

What kind of reactions did you get to the end of last season?

People don’t realize last season Arya went blind. Last season people asked: “Is she dead?” I’m all, “No, she’s blind.” It’s too easy to kill her. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Game of Thrones it’s that death is the easy way out. They’re gonna keep her and make her have a s–t time. Look at Reek. I was so up for the contacts. I love having something weird going on on the set. There’s never a day where I just sat and did dialogue there’s always something going on. Then I realized they were the most painful things ever. And I hate saying that because I hate hearing people complain about things like that, and I’m like “It’s not that hard.” You hear about Jennifer Lawrence and her blue paint [in X-Men] and I remember thinking, “That can’t hurt.” Now I’m like, “Holy sh–, I’m sorry I ever felt like that because these little things in your eyes are so thick, they’re the most painful things ever.” I didn’t anticipate they’d get so sore after such little time.

I remember that last year you were like, “Yeah, let’s do contacts instead of CGI, old school!”

And now I realize why people do [CGI] instead.

RELATED: 17 Biggest Changes from Game of Thrones Books to TV

So if you’re teasing the new season…

I feel like I got a good one this time: Arya is being more physical again, but she’s blind. So her training has progressed even more but it’s on a more physical level and a more technical level because she’s lost her eyes.

She gets more action scenes this year…

And I love doing stunts. I’m so happy I’ve got some again. Last year, people have been like “Arya’s sweeping floors!” And everything I tweet they’re like, “Oysters, clams and cockles!” It’s part of the training okay? It’s what goes into that. And this year there is more of that, but it’s also more exciting.

Any final season 6 thoughts?

This year is so great because we’ve whittled it down. You can see the final storylines forming. We lost a lot of people last year and that makes it really exciting. There are fewer people on Arya’s list. But there’s also fewer people to fight for the throne.

For more on Game of Thrones season 6, get the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly, which goes behind the scenes in Northern Ireland and Spain, plus profiles six of the show’s female stars. Follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT coverage, subscribe to our Thrones email newsletter, and bookmark this page for our latest GoTstories.

Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 24.