Game of Thrones co-star Kit Harington came home to his London flat last July after a night of partying and realized he lost the keys. No problem. He’d just climb into his first-floor window. Then he fell.
“Everyone always says you must have done it on set horse riding or running across glaciers or something cool,” sighs Harington about his shattered ankle. “I was an idiot. The ‘invincibility of youth’ and all that. I couldn’t even blame it on a film set. And I had avoided skiing for ages because I thought I’d break my ankle!”
The timing of his injury could have been worse. Season three, with Harington resuming his role as heroic Nights Watch member Jon Snow, was set to start production a couple weeks after his mishap, though the bulk of Harington’s scenes — particularly those shot in Iceland — weren’t scheduled until the winter. “I looked at scripts this year and there was a lot of action, more than last year,” Harington says. “But we could have been in more trouble had it happen [later in the year].”
To get a sense of the his injury’s importance, it’s helpful to have a sense of the Game of Thrones production machine. It’s larger than any TV show and takes longer to shoot each year than most feature films. There’s 160,000 square feet of sets and 27 series regulars. Season 3 had a trio of production units shooting in five countries (Croatia, Northern Ireland, Morocco, Iceland and a few scenes in the United States). When fans ask why HBO doesn’t order more than 10 episodes per season, producers say it’s the maximum number this whole operation can really handle while maintaining the show’s quality.
So what happens when key piece of that complex production machine gets temporarily benched?
Harington says the producers were “really great” about the situation. After all, with so many actors on the show, such unexpected challenges are pretty much inevitable. “I’m sure they were cursing my name behind my back,” he says. “I bought the line producer a nice bottle of whiskey because I felt so guilty.” Actors’ schedules were rearranged to give Harington maximum time to recover, and the Iceland shoot was pushed back a couple weeks. The production also occasionally used a double for a few scenes, such as showing Snow walking in the distance (the actor having “such distinctive hair” helped with the illusion, the producers semi-joked).
Harington is typically not the sort of image-conscious actor who checks his own performance on the director’s tent monitors after each scene, but in Iceland he would frequently watch the playback to look at his gait to make sure audiences couldn’t notice a limp. “By time we got to Iceland he was moving well enough so you couldn’t really tell,” says showrunner David Benioff.
Yet watching somebody else play Jon Snow required a bit of patience. “I had ownership issues,” Harington says. “Even if it was just somebody walking I had a problem not going up to the guy and telling him how to do things differently. You don’t think you create a walk for a character, but you [do].”
That said, since production wrapped Harington says, “I’ve seen a lot of the footage and it looks great.” (And from what we’ve seen of season three, fans shouldn’t notice any difference).
So what can we expect from Jon Snow this season?
Plenty. With Snow having infiltrated the Wildling camp, expect the bastard-born Stark to meet the impressive Wildling leader Mance Rayder (Rome’s Ciarán Hinds) and wrestle with his own loyalties — with his Night’s Watch vows tested further by the comely Ygritte (Rose Leslie).
“He’s having to become a spy to go amongst Mance’s camp and find out when they’re planning to attack,” Harington says. “He has to convince the Wildlings that he’s not a spy, that he doesn’t want to be part of the Night’s Watch anymore. He faces a lot of suspicion. He has to continue to prove himself. Amongst that he has other tests that make him start to question whether he does want to be a part of the Night’s Watch. He has a lot of turmoil. It’s a very tempting way of life for him to join.”
17 DAYS OF THRONES
17. 16. 15. 14: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.