'Game of Thrones' Actor Talks Jon Snow Twist

Actor Owen Teale previews Alliser Thorne's response to the turn of events in Sunday's episode.
Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO
Owen Teale in 'Game of Thrones'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode two, season six of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is back from the dead, but not everyone's jumping for joy.

Look no further than Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) as the party least likely to cheer at the news of Jon's resurrection. After all, Thorne is the man who took Jon out in the first place, organizing an assassination plot against the Lord Commander to stop him from "destroying" the Night's Watch by allowing Wildlings into Westeros. Thorne's plot worked for about half a day, before he was placed under arrest, and before Jon's condition reversed, thanks to Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and her magical powers.

Now, with Thorne incarcerated and Snow alive, what's next for their feud at Castle Black? The Hollywood Reporter turned to the actor behind Thorne, Owen Teale, a staple on Thrones since the very beginning, for the answer.

What was your reaction when you found out about Jon Snow's resurrection? 

I felt, initially, was it a disappointment that it resorted to a little bit of magic in order to bring a popular character back? But then I thought, "No, they're handling it with much greater depth than that." Surely, to actually come back is also as much a curse as it is a blessing. I think my character, he has a certain integrity in his life. He is who he is. He's not going to change. He's taken that job on The Wall, and it's for life. He has very few options, and so it is, I would say, a cynical outlook on life. But within that, there's a little bit of poetry. Is "life at all costs" really what it's about, or is it the quality of life? That's an interesting thing that I had thought about. It's much deeper than a superficial choice to bring him back because he's a popular character.

When did you learn about the twist?

Not from the moment I was involved in [Jon's death], but I knew about — it must have been a year ago now. They phoned me up and told me what the story was going to be, and I wanted it to be as strong as possible. I think this is a very strong story. When they explained it to me, I could see it wasn't just some soap opera. I would see people wondering, "Is it going to be like Bobby Ewing [from Dallas], waking up in the shower, and it was all a dream?" No. No, no, no. That's ridiculous. It's much better-quality drama. It gives much more insight into what it means to be alive. That's what they'll do with that storyline.

Alliser Thorne is a mutton-and-potatoes kind of guy, not someone who strongly believes in the supernatural. How will something like Jon Snow's resurrection shake up his worldview?

It's going to take a little while to sink in that it's really true, that this has happened. Once he takes that on board, I think the things I just mentioned to you are the things he'll dwell on: "Would you want it? Would you really want to do this again?" I don't think he has that sense of joy about life. He doesn't have a belief in a great maker he's going on to, that he's ever moving to a better world beyond this. That's a bit stark and a bit bleak, but I think it's been a very powerful thing to play. It's quite scary, and it has upset me playing a character like that, because I'm a father with children. I do have hope for the future. I do have a sense of joy about life and what it is to be alive, what it is to make the most of the moment. To play somebody who has had all of that removed has affected me. It's quite an upsetting character.

Was it difficult aligning yourself with Thorne's decision to assassinate Jon, then?

I thought it was great, the writing on that. There was a lot online about Thorne's speech on why he did it. It's bleak, yes, to say that by fraternizing with the Wildlings … You can make a metaphor out of this with the modern existence that we're in. Thorne, in his mind, was justified in what he did, because Jon Snow was putting everyone at risk. In the last season, he does warn him: "You have a good heart, Jon Snow, but it'll get us killed." For him, he has to take it, though. He won't shirk the responsibility of what he's done. That's not Alliser Thorne. He's solid like that, ultimately. He's a solid guy. He's done what he's done.

In the premiere, Thorne offers amnesty to Davos and the other Jon Snow supporters. Davos tells the men in the room that it's a lie: "I've known men like Thorne, and he means to kill us." Is that right? Is Thorne the kind of man to offer one thing, and then storm through the door and deliver something drastically different?

I don't think he has sufficient humanity to live and let live at that moment. He's giving Ser Davos a chance to not be adversarial, but the very fact that he won't open the door, that crossed a line. It'll change within that timeframe, giving him until the end of the day, and if he doesn't give in, then it's confirmation that Davos has no intention of working with Thorne. "You're against me." I think he's like that. It's very black and white for him. 

Over the past year, fans have obsessed about Jon's possible return from the dead. For you, as a representative of the cast right now, how difficult was it to sit on this secret?

Well, I'm relieved that I now don't have to evade that question. (Laughs.) What it's been like for me is, I've been really touched. As my storyline has come to the front, people have wanted to talk to me more. It's quite clear that it gives an awful lot of not just enjoyment and entertainment, but an awful lot of serious discussion. It's become a cultural phenomenon, this series. I have thought, "Who am I to spoil it?" Even if they ask me, and I'm on a train, and someone says: "I bet he's coming back." I'm not going to spoil it, because this is an amazing thing in my life, to be part of this. I'm a good actor, I get on with it, and I do my job. But every so often you're in something that takes off a bit. This [show] is enormous. It's around the world. I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I've often said that to people when they ask me. I'll say, "You don't really want to know. You want to watch the story. You pay your subscription for a reason." (Laughs.) Get your money's worth. I think HBO has delivered hugely on that.

Do people approach you upset about your role in Jon's death?

They do. They go, "Why? Why did you do it?" I'll say, "Well, you have to see the world through his eyes." And they'll say, "Why? What is it, underneath it all?" And I'll say Jon represents everything Alliser Thorne either lost or never had, and that's a sense of joy about humanity. He sees good in people. Alliser Thorne doesn't. It's a joyless vision of the world. Alliser Thorne believes that the human being is born sad and greedy. It's about survival. If that means killing someone in order to survive, then so be it. This man, Jon, is on a different plane, and Alliser can't bear it. He just can't bear it. That's what's underneath it.

Given the extraordinary circumstances of Alliser killing Jon, and then Jon returning from the dead, is there a possibility for middle ground between them? Can there be a reconciliation between these two adversaries?

Yes. I think there can be. I can't say any more than that, but I think so. It may be brief! But they will come to an understanding of each other in saying, "Yes. I hear you. I hear you."

You have been with Thrones since the very beginning, and you were there to witness Kit Harington's earliest days as an actor. What are your thoughts on how he's progressed over the course of the series?

It's a huge pressure. When I first met Kit, he was obviously a very handsome young actor who was very dedicated to the job. He was incredibly [hopeful] that the show would go on and on. As a much more experienced actor, I would say, "I hope it does, but you never know." You just never know what takes and what doesn't. And I did think it was too soon after the Lord of the Rings trilogy; there's something about that medieval fantasy world that maybe the mainstream would think, "Oh, we've done that. We're moving on to something else now." It'll be the Avengers films, and the Marvel thing. In other words, [Thrones] would fall afoul of fashion. I could not have been more wrong.

I watched Kit as I came back in seasons four, five and six, and his life had changed, because he was now a very well-known actor. He understands that to become a star, he has to support that with other things as well. I see his bravery in that. I see the pressure on him, that everything he does, everyone is waiting. He's put enormous pressure on himself. His options are much more now, but within that comes choice. He's a great guy. He doesn't seem to have fallen into an area where he now believes he's above anybody else. I think he'll take each project as it comes and hope for the best, and throw himself into it with great courage. 

What's the next step for Alliser Thorne?

Coming to peace with Jon Snow. That's quite something, if you think about it, coming to peace and understanding with Jon Snow. I can't say more than that.

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