'Game of Thrones': Michael McElhatton Reflects on Roose Bolton's Legacy and Red Wedding Memories

The wicked Warden of the North's death mirrors his traitorous turn against Robb Stark.
Courtesy of HBO
Michael McElhatton, left, with Iwan Rheon on 'Game of Thrones.'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the second episode of Game of Thrones's sixth season, "Home."]

There's no word yet from the Lannisters, but someone certainly sent Roose Bolton their regards, and then some.

In Sunday's episode, "Home," Roose — played by Michael McElhatton, a staple of the show since season two — received the welcome news that his wife Walda had given birth to a baby boy ... and the new heir of Winterfell. Rather than celebrate the news with friends and a smoke, Roose instead received a blade through the chest, wielded by none other than his own legitimized bastard, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). Moments later, Ramsay claimed his step mother and half-brother as his next victims, feeding them to his ravenous hounds.

It's a brutal end for three-quarters of House Bolton, but for Roose, it was a long time coming. Before becoming the narrative heir to the cold and calculating villainy of Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), Roose was an ally of House Stark, riding alongside Robb (Richard Madden) through numerous war campaigns. In the end, Roose delivered the fatal blow at the fabled Red Wedding, figuratively stabbing the King in the North's back by literally stabbing him in the heart.

Now, it's Roose who feels the cold blade of death slip between his ribs … but it comes at the expense of Thrones veteran McElhatton's time on the show. Before moving on from Westeros, McElhatton joined The Hollywood Reporter for one last look back at Roose, the nature of and fallout from his death, memories of the Red Wedding, and more.

How long is the journey from Castle Black to Winterfell? Because there's a certain red woman on The Wall who would would be very useful for Roose right about now.

Oh… (Laughs.) I don't think she really cares about Roose Bolton, does she? I think she's got other things on her mind right now.

When did you learn about Roose's demise, and what did you think about the way in which he goes out?

I learned just before we filmed last year. I got a call from [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] in early July, and I accepted it graciously. I thought it was a great mirror to one of the most iconic moments of the series, when I killed Robb Stark. Obviously, that was very deliberate on David and Dan's part, to have me killed in that way. I suppose it was quite fitting, really, that that's the way I was to bite the bullet. That's what I love about death on Game of Thrones. Nobody has dying speeches. Nobody has anything like that. Once you're gone, you're gone.

You don't always get to send your regards.

No, you don't! (Laughs.) You don't always get to send your regards, or anything. You're just gone. That's the way it is. It's shocking and it's over and you're gone. That's the way you hear about people, isn't it? You just hear, "They're gone. They're dead. You'll never see them again." And look, it could have gone either way in that scene, really. A lot of people have been asking why Roose left himself open [to die], but I think until the news that his baby is a boy — it would have all been very different, if the news was a baby girl. I think Ramsay was a little bit quicker, and that it was a spur-of-the-moment decision on Ramsay's part. He was no longer useful to House Bolton, or of any need. He was definitely not going to be Roose's heir at that point. I think there's a flash of fear and madness, and he was deeply shocked with his own actions afterward, really. I think, bizarrely, he did love his father. And I think there was an affection from Roose to Ramsay, too, even if it was rarely shown. I think [Iwan and I] had to find that in the scenes that we had; you can't just play these as one-dimensional characters. We always felt there was something there, but because they were so psychologically damaged, they just didn't show it.

Do you believe Roose would have come after Ramsay, given the chance?

Yeah. I mean, who knows? It could have been written differently where I turn around, click my fingers, and 10 guards could drag him down and kill him. That could have easily happened, if he hadn't been done in earlier. At the same time, there were many opportunities where Roose sent Ramsay out to fight, and he could have been killed in battle. He wasn't necessarily protecting his own heir. He used Ramsay, and Ramsay proved very useful to House Bolton at the time. He was good on the battlefield.

Your death scene is shot in such a way that at first, it's not immediately clear who killed who. There's initially some confusion, because you can easily see either one of these men killing the other in this moment.

Yeah, totally. Totally. From my point of view, I think my last line was, "You'll always be my first born." It was in the profile shot, I think. I remember saying it with such warmth and conviction and honesty, really. I really believed that he meant it. At the same time, I could see him turning around and saying, "You are my first born, I do love you, that's why I didn't kill you… but now? You're of no more use to me." That was always one of the much more interesting dynamics of Ramsay and Roose. It was their relationship. They didn't get to show it much. They're not big huggers, obviously. (Laughs.) But there was something more there than just using each other — definitely for Ramsay, anyway.

Beyond his feelings toward Ramsay, how much joy is Roose feeling about the birth of his son in this scene? Again, he's not the most sentimental individual.

I did smile the minute I got the news. I have tremendous pride, I smile, and then I look to Ramsay, and within that, my playing of that was absolute joy that it's a boy — fantastic that I have an heir to the throne who isn't psychotic, hopefully. But then, it's straight back into Ramsay: "How do you feel about that now? I want you now to bend the knee and congratulate me." So there's that twisted thing going on with Roose. But there's immense pride and joy, as a human being and as a father. But I think it's also pride that it's not a girl. Girls in Westeros aren't of much use to him, because she's not going to sit on the throne, and she's not going to be the head of House Bolton. The primary goal, and I always say this about Tywin Lannister and Roose and all the heads of the houses, is the longevity of the house, above all. Above everything else. That's their rule and role in life. That's what that moment gave us.

Speaking of the Lannisters, Roose's most iconic moment on the show — and arguably still the most iconic moment on Game of Thrones to this day — is the Red Wedding. What do you remember about creating that sequence, both in terms of the build-up to the moment, and the actual shoot?

I will always remember it, as an actor who has been doing this for a long time, as an amazing week of filming. It was directed by David Nutter, and we rehearsed it like a play, which is very unusual. You normally direct in segments and all of those things. As actors, from the very start with the camera panning up toward us, with me talking to Catelyn (Michele Fairley) smiling, and Walder Frey (David Bradley) talking, right up to the death of Michele, we ran the whole scene. It was all blocked out. That took a day to work out. That was to show the actors and to show the crew what was going to happen. It was a very rare thing [to be] done on film, and a huge advantage. We knew where we were in the story and how it was going to unfold. Each day, David said, "We're going to do it up to this point on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday." It was a tremendous advantage. The last day, of course, is the day that Richard Madden and Michele's characters were killed. They gave it their all. It was very dramatic. It was very, very emotional, and very palpable in the studio. I remember that very clearly. It was particularly emotional for Michele and Richard. I was there for the beginning of it, but then I run away as the battle starts, and slip back in for the very end. But it was quite palpable. You could feel it. You knew it was going to be something very, very special. I remember Alex Graves, one of the directors, saying, "Wait until that scene hits the internet. They're going to go crazy." And they did. (Laughs.) I showed it to some friends who don't watch the show, and it's just a brilliant thing within its own right, even if you know nothing about the show. It's a riveting scene to watch, the way it's shown, and what isn't shown. It was a real honor. I'll never forget doing that particular scene. Who would?

What's the final word on Roose, ultimately? What was his story, from beginning to end?

I think he was one of the smartest, coldest, pragmatic and political characters in Westeros. I think he was a guy who would stop at nothing to get power. I think that was his ultimate goal — getting House Bolton back on track, and getting Winterfell, and becoming Warden of the North. It's his lack of feeling for anyone else that made him impervious in a way. When you have a child or you love somebody, that's your Achilles' heel on Game of Thrones, because your enemy will find it. They'll use it again you. But Roose would easily dispense with Ramsay, or any of his children. He would just find another one. When you're dealing with somebody like that, it's a pretty formidable opponent, really. I think that was his modus operandi, really, just getting power. The fact that he was always looking over his shoulders. He never rested on his laurels.

Roose is a loathsome individual, but he leaves a villainous void in his wake. Do you think viewers will miss him more than they realize?

Listen, I certainly hope they do! (Laughs.) I've heard some people saying it's a shame he's gone. They did keep him in the background very much in season two. I think in the books, he's a much more obviously creepy guy. But on the show, he's kept in the background as a loyal bannerman to the Starks, to preserve the shock of the Red Wedding. I hope people do miss him. But I had an amazing time on the show. It was an amazing character to play. He was a joy to play. I had some really fantastic scenes and some great actors to work with.

Seeing as he ended your story, how would you like to see Ramsay's story end?

Wouldn't it be nice to see him get some of the treatment he's given to other people, really? Maybe tied to a cross and flayed, getting bits of him chopped off. (Laughs.) Seeing as I died after killing someone famous, it's only fitting that the killer dies the way he killed his own victims. That would be good.

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