'Game of Thrones': "Battle of the Bastards" Victim Revisits Filming His Death Scene

The first person killed during the legendary 'Thrones' battle looks back on his demise, ahead at what could have been, and at memories from the earliest days of the show.
Courtesy of HBO

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

When people reflect on their lives, wondering if they should have zigged where they zagged, they probably don't think about it in such literal terms. But the morning after "Battle of the Bastards," fans are looking at Rickon Stark (Art Parkinson) and wondering why he didn't zig or zag as he attempted to outrun Ramsay Bolton's (Iwan Rheon) rain of arrows.

But there's no use in nit-picking Rickon's final run, considering the outcome. Like so many of his family members before him, the young wolf is no more, cut down on the battlefield with only seconds to go before reuniting with half-brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Now Ned Stark's nuclear family has lost its patriarch, its matriarch, and the eldest and youngest siblings — a grim monument even in the face of the family's victory in winning Winterfell away from the horrible House Bolton.

With his time on Thrones now complete, Parkinson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about his final days of shooting, what the future would have looked like with Rickon as Lord of Winterfell and more.

How long did you know about Rickon's death before shooting the scene? Were you told at the start of the season?

No. When I was originally told I was coming back to the show, I didn't actually know. But before they sent me the script [for "Battle of the Bastards"], they filled me in. They said, "Listen, just so you know and don't get too shocked, you do die this season." It was sad to finally let the character go. But at the same time, they explained how Rickon was going to die, and it sounded really cool. I was happy that it was going to be such a great death. 

What went into bringing Rickon's death scene to life?

The whole scene altogether, I think it took about three and a half weeks to shoot the Battle of the Bastards. At first, I was a little bit worried. I knew it would be a hard scene to shoot. I knew it would be an awkward scene to shoot as well. They explained to me some of the ways you can get an arrow through you, and stuff like that. I was excited to learn more about that. But the scene basically consisted of two days of rehearsals. We blocked it out, and eventually we got the scene going and it involved a lot of running. That field is actually really, really, really long. I would say the length I was running was about a football field and a half. It was a lot of work, and it definitely took a lot out of you. It was very fun to shoot, but it was very emotional as well, working through the aspect of running to Jon and seeing Jon.

Earlier in the season, you described Rickon as wild, feral, and ready for anything. Is that how you played him in his final moments, or is he experiencing fear as well?

It's quite an emotional scene. At first, Rickon's feeling disbelief. There's no trust there between Rickon and Ramsay. When I threw that look back to Ramsay, I imagined Rickon was questioning whether Ramsay was being truthful and was actually going to let him free. He couldn't believe it at first. So that's the first emotion. Then there's a seriousness. He decides, "Okay, I really need to go," as soon as he turned around and saw Ramsay being handed the bow. That's when Rickon started understanding the game. Then, it's pure determination. After that, whenever I was finally shot, it was just…almost a sad release. It was disappointment. But at the same time, I think Rickon knew he put everything he had into that final run.

The Internet wants to know why Rickon didn't zigzag during the run.

Yeah. (Laughs) That's more of a question for the writers. I just stick to the script! But in the moment, I really wanted him to make it. I put everything into it.

How difficult was it to actually execute the death — both technically and in terms of the emotion you felt in heaving Rickon Stark's final breaths?

Physically, it was very straining. It was two or three days of pure running. Emotionally, it was also quite straining. Whenever you put yourself in the mind-set of running to your brother who you haven't seen for so long, and you've been so far away from for so long, I think he really believed he was there. Had he gotten to his brother, he would have been safe. Whenever you're put in that kind of position as an actor, it's quite straining trying to understand what Rickon's going through. 

What was the atmosphere on set during your final day? Did Iwan Rheon apologize for killing you?

He was jokingly apologetic. But whenever you're doing these kinds of scenes, you have to be very intense. Iwan is a very intense actor. When the Umbers handed us over, and he's staring down at you, it really is intimidating. He's very intimidating in the way he portrays Ramsay, so it was great that day to work off of him. It was great having him opposite me, helping to work things out.

Earlier in the episode, Sansa remarks that Rickon is Eddard Stark's true-born son, which makes him Ramsay's biggest threat. If Rickon survives the episode, he becomes Lord of Winterfell. How do you see his reign playing out?

I think he would do everything he can to avenge his father and his brother Robb. He would definitely be more of a wildling sympathizer, like Jon. Between Rickon and Bran, there was a lot of sympathy for the wildlings. One of the lines Bran says [to Osha] is, "The first time I met you, you held a knife to my throat." I think that portrays the way we all needed to stick together to get rid of the Lannisters. So I definitely think Osha had a big part of what would have been Rickon's sympathy for the wildlings.

We didn't see Rickon's reaction to hearing about Osha's death. How do you envision that scene playing out?

She was like a mother figure to Rickon, and also kind of like the fun auntie. But she was also his protector. It would have been like losing a big sister. At first, it would be sadness and disbelief, then confusion and anger that he was handed over and betrayed. Then it would be nothing but anger at Ramsay.

Rickon has plenty of reasons to be angry with Ramsay. But do you take some comfort knowing Ramsay dies even worse than Rickon in this episode?

Um, yeah. (Laughs) Definitely. Revenge is beautiful. 

What's your earliest memory of shooting Game of Thrones, something you'll never forget about the experience?

I think it's the first day we were filming. I remember going down to breakfast in the morning, and we met Maisie [Williams]. She was needed on set a little bit earlier than me; I don't remember why. But we traveled to set together, and my first memory of being on set was Maisie walking me up to one of the Winterfell walls and knocking on it. Instead of it being stone, it was plaster. I'll definitely never forget that.

It's been such a long time since then. How do you feel you've grown as an actor in that time?

Since the start of Game of Thrones, I think I've progressed more as a method actor. I put myself in my characters a lot more. I've had a lot of larger roles where I've had to put myself in the character. And I do a lot of work with my own stunts, like on Dracula Untold, and on Game of Thrones as well. I was asked if anyone wants to do the rolling for me. Edward Upcott, who is a Britain's Got Talent winner, was there, and he helped me as my stunt double. So there was a lot of help from people, but I also think it's great to do my own stunts and put myself in the mind-set of the character. I've just learned a lot about different kinds of acting and different methods used, and how best to get into the mind-set of a character, to truly understand them and place myself in the character's situation.

Looking toward the future of the show, Rickon is gone, but Jon and Sansa have won back Winterfell. The show rarely sees happy endings, so do you think it's too much to hope that House Stark is back on the rise?

I think that's way too optimistic for Game of Thrones. (Laughs) But maybe Rickon's death is a turning point, and that was the storm before the calm, to flip it. Maybe his death was a sign that things have gotten bad, but they're about to get better. Things always get worse before they get better. Hopefully this is a turning point for the Starks.

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