Spoiler alert: This story discusses a major revelation from Game of Thrones, season 6, episode 3, “Oathbreaker”…
A Game of Thrones character who has been with the show since the very first episode met his end on Sunday night.
Ser Alliser Thorne, played by British actor Owen Teale, was executed by the resurrected Jon Snow along with the rest of the Night’s Watch mutineers (yes, Olly, too). Below we speak to Teale about his time on the show, Snow’s revival, and his final episode.
Entertainment Weekly: You’ve been on this show since the beginning, and that’s a not a huge group at this point. Did you expect Thorne to last this long given his clashing with Jon Snow right from the very start?
Owen Teale: It’s no secret that another actor did the pilot and then they replaced him with me. I had worked with HBO before. I had done this film for HBO about 10 years ago, Tsunami: The Aftermath. I didn’t know what I was arriving into. And I thought it was too big, that I’m only in one part of the story, trying to make itself real and believable, and that it will overextend itself and it won’t be credible. There’s loads of programs that try to copy Game of Thrones, and you can see it in the background with the CGI. And my story is pretty bleak up on that wall in Castle Black.
Was there any particular key for you to playing the character?
In Thorne’s boots is not a nice place to be. I found the most important thing when playing the character was to just get rid of a whole section of feelings that I have as a human being — like joy, for instance, that’s just gone. Once I achieved that, in my mind, to look at Jon Snow, who has the world before him and talent and is this personable human being, to look at him while you’re feeling joyless, then Snow presses all the wrong buttons — that really helped to be able to react to him as a character and not as me.
What I love about Thorne is that we really want to hate this guy. But there are moments you just can’t — like his leadership during the Battle at Castle Black. And sometimes he says things like, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It will get us all killed,” where you find yourself torn over him.
Well, thank you. He wasn’t a very fully fleshed character to begin with, and I take it as a great gift that [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have given me these bits and invested in the character.
When you received the finale script for last season and saw that Thorne kills Snow, what did you think that was going to mean for your character?
I thought that I’m loving this because they’re pushing my character — something is happening, we’re not going to repeat and fade. I thought they’re either going to really invest in Thorne and he’s going to take over Castle Black, or it will mean his end — and I liked either of those options. I guess I would prefer they explore his character with Jon Snow gone, but it’s not as interesting as what they’ve chosen. They give him a death and a speech.
I know Kit had to convince everybody that he was truly leaving during season 5. What was that like on your end?
I was quite close to Kit. I remember thinking that I hope he really is dead because if you play the card of the magic too much then the credibly of the whole thing drops a little. Death is not heartbreaking anymore, and part of what you love about this series is it will break your heart. But then I was immediately impressed when I realized what they were doing with bringing him back was investigating what it means for that to happen — they’re not just bringing back Jon Snow like he never died. I think they’ve done the right thing, and it’s farewell for me.
How did fans react to you after Thorne killed Snow?
When it aired, I was in Greece making an independent film. It was warm; I was wearing shorts and sunglasses, but still people seized upon me as this guy who had done this thing. Jon Snow represented hope and humanity and he’s a very lovely guy, and I thought people would just hate me, but I have to say that wasn’t true — most just thanked me for bringing such drama to the show. They hated the moment, but loved it, as well. And although we were a collective that killed him, they laid the blame at my door because of the ongoing…“hate” is a strong word, but I guess he does hate Jon Snow. Once a drunk came out of a restaurant with a knife in his hand, and I thought: Which way is this going to go? Then he offered me the handle and said, “Oh no-no-no, I just want a photo — you hold the knife to me.” I got used to that. People want me to look very mean for a second and say, “For the watch…” I’ve really enjoyed doing something as an artist that provokes such a reaction.
Did you ever think you’d say the word “bastard” on camera so much?
A guy came up to me once when I was with my wife. He was walking back and forth, and eventually he came up and said, “Would you do me a favor? Would you call me a ‘bastard’ into my phone? I said, “Don’t be silly,” and my wife said, “Oh, go on!” I grabbed his phone and said, “You f—ing bastard.” He was so excited. It’s become part of the culture.
When did you discover your character’s fate?
I wasn’t sure what was going on, and I kind of demanded a bit more openness because I was about to do my deal for season 6. I refused to close my deal until they told me. I wanted them to be clear with me. It was all quite close to filming. It wasn’t a very long conversation; it was a bit of mutual appreciation society. I felt a great sense of achievement and a sense of loss. Thorne was never an easy guy to be with.
What was your reaction to the “Oathbreaker” script and how Thorne goes out?
There’s a line in Macbeth, “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving did.” This story plays into such a huge section of religion — resurrection. Confronted with Jon Snow, Thorne does not shy from it and is not in awe of it, but he lucidly sees the implications of what must it really be like to live with that responsibility, the sense of duty to yourself and all those mistakes that will be repeated. I think the writing is great — okay, you’ve been brought back to life, but do you really want to live forever? You’ve failed in your dream, and yes, you get to try again with your humanity, with the whole thing with the Wildlings. Alliser Thorne thinks Snow is going to be knocked down every time. Because Alliser sees human beings as being born bad — they’re needy, greedy, and selfish. It’s survival of the fittest. And if you open yourself and weaken yourself, you will be taken out by somebody else. Therefore Thorne also accepts it’s all over for him. But for Jon Snow, he’s going to repeat and repeat, and as this carries on, it’s like he’s now cursed.
What was your final day on set like?
I guarded myself not to get too emotional. I had done the end scene, the hanging; then we had the rock slide, so there was quite a [delay between filming Thorne’s death and finishing the other scenes]. You try to be professional about it, but inside I realized it was the end of a very important chapter in my career, and probably the biggest thing I’ll ever work on.
Anything lined up next yet?
I’m trying to make some decisions. I’ve been offered a very high profile theater job. I’m going to wait and just see about what might come my way.
What was your favorite scene that you shot in the series?
The battle scene, coming down into the courtyard. That was my Henry V moment. I’ve never played Henry V, and that really was “once more unto the breach” as the Wildlings were coming over. That ticked a few boxes. The rain that was pouring so hard that night, it was like Blade Runner. They put some boards coming down like a boardwalk so you can walk into the courtyard because a huge amount of water was falling into a small area. But in the few minutes before we shot so much water had come down the boards had floated away. They said, “Just keep going!” There was something really exhilarating about it.
MORE: Check out our recap “Oathbreaker” where we eulogize Thorne and look at everything that happened in the latest episode. We also have a brief interview with Kit Harington, where he explains Jon Snow’s decision to quit the Night’s Watch. Be sure to check out our full cover story going behind the scenes on Jon Snow’s revival, online now. And below the video we have the latest episode of our GoT podcast breaking down “Oathbreaker.”
Below is Ser Alliser’s big “Tonight we fight!” moment (note: the rain Teale referenced during production typically doesn’t show up on film. When it does, the Thrones team usually digitally removes it in post-production).
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