'Game of Thrones' Star on Final Season Death: "Some People Just Want to See the World Burn"

The Hollywood Reporter speaks with actor Pilou Asbæk about his final act of defiance as Euron Greyjoy.
Courtesy of HBO

[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode five of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Bells."]

Game of Thrones' final stand between kraken and dragon came down to two other animals entirely: the scorpion and the lion.

For his last act, actor Pilou Asbæk's Euron Greyjoy did his level best to shoot Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) out of the sky. Heading into "The Bells," the Iron Islander's track record was a good one; just one episode earlier, he struck the fatal blow against Rhaegal, one of Dany's two remaining dragons. In the rematch, however? Not so lucky — and even less so when matched up against Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Euron's romantic rival. The kraken and the lion squared off in a final sword battle on the beaches of King's Landing as Daenerys fired down upon her foes. At first, it appeared Euron won the day, stabbing Jaime twice in the side; the Kingslayer would go on to die a few scenes later, but not directly from those wounds, and not before fatally skewering Euron.

"Another king for you, but I got you," a bloodied Euron spits out, simultaneously dying and cackling as Jaime walks away. He turns up at the sky, satisfied: "I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister."

One assumes Euron died shortly after those parting words. Not even Asbæk can argue in favor of his character's continued survival. But the Danish actor did his best to keep Euron's frustratingly alive fire lit all the way through his death scene, spurred into an act of defiance against Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss. Ahead, Asbæk speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about why he tried to fill Euron's final moments with so much life, why he hasn't watched Game of Thrones in years, why he views the Iron Island's pirate king as the Westeros equivalent of the Joker and more.

What is dead may never die.

What is dead may never die … except unfortunately when they do.

How are you feeling, having watched the episode back?

Well, I'm going to be brutally honest: I haven't watched a single episode since season five. 

Oh, wow.

There's a very logical explanation. I was and am a massive fan of Game of Thrones, and I have been since day one. But I'm also one of the guys who, when the Red Wedding aired, I was just blown away. I was just like, "This is magical. This is the best TV ever made." I've seen everything. But the moment I became a part of it? It's not that the magic disappeared, but I got behind the curtain. 

Are you going to catch up on what you missed since joining the series?

Absolutely. I'm going to watch it. I have to watch it. It's the biggest show ever made! But it went from being a passion to becoming professional. It's a very logical way to feel. You're so in love with it, and then you become a part of it. It needed to become my job. When it wasn't my job, I was discussing it with my friends. "Who's going to be on the throne? Who's going to die? Who's going to survive?" Then, all of the sudden, I knew! I didn't know everything, because I only got my scenes in season six, but in seasons seven and eight, I became a series regular, so I read the scripts. I read my scenes [first], because I'm a selfish bastard. (Laughs) But I knew what was going to happen through all of season eight, because we had the table read-through a couple of years ago, in September [2017]. It was very emotional for everyone, and it was very emotional for me. Even though I was such a newbie on the show, they had still embraced me personally and the character so much. I really felt like I was part of the Game of Thrones family. It was crazy to sit at that table read-through. It was wonderful and horrifying at the same time.

Which of your final season moments stood out to you most during the table read?

The normal answer would have been the moment I read my death scene. When you die on Game of Thrones, it should be a horrifying moment, because it's the moment where you're out; you're out of the show. And it really is that simple: either you're in or you're out. That's the storyline on Game of Thrones. Except for Kit Harington, apparently, who can be resurrected as Jon Snow. Aside from that? When you're dead, you're out and you're gone. But for me…David and Dan came up to me after the read-through: "Hey, Pilou, now that you're gone after episode five…how does that feel?" Because they want to tease me. They love teasing people. You know that if you talk to the other actors. I was like, "You know what? I'm not going to give them the pleasure of teasing me, a Dane." So I told them, "Guys, I'm not going to die." And they laughed: "Ha, that's funny." And I said, "No. I'm not going to close my eyes." And they said, "What do you mean?" I told them, "I'm going to keep my eyes open. I know you guys will have to cut away, and you will never see me die." I thought that was fun. Because of course I died, but you don't see it. Anyone would die from that wound; it's not just a flesh wound, like a Monty Python sketch. 

No, he's dead. But it's a fair point. Even his last line — "I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister" — makes it feel like Euron views his own death as a moment of triumph.

It's always difficult, because what is the reality of a show? Sometimes, the reality with Game of Thrones has been that it takes time for people to travel. Other times, you need to skip the reality and get from one place to another in the space of an episode. The reality of Euron Greyjoy is a fictional reality. It's a fantasy. It's a fantasy show. There are dragons, for crying out loud. If you want reality, watch The Wire, you know what I mean? I love both shows, but the premise for both shows is very, very different. You have to say, "What am I watching?" If I was playing a one-on-one, realistic dogma of acting, I would be on a different show. I thought it would be fun to do this over-the-top character, where you don't know if he's going to fuck you or kill you, pardon my French. We had already seen those archetype villains with Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). How can you over that kind of evil? It's impossible. And in only five to ten scenes? It's impossible. We had to do something different with Euron Greyjoy. We had to give him swag, make him more rock-and-roll: "I'm just enjoying myself." When you discuss terrorism, there's often a political agenda, but you know what's the most frightening thing? Some people just want to see the world burn.

Like the Joker.

Exactly. Euron is one of those guys. Don't go into a long, logical discussion of what he is and why he is. Just accept the premise that he wants to see the world burn, and he wants to be in the first row.

You and Nikolaj are friends in real life and have been for a long time. Did you enjoy killing each other?

I used to work at a kindergarten, and his kids were at that kindergarten. I was some kind of a nanny before I became an actor. So I've known Nikolaj for 20 years. We've done some work together in Denmark. He's been working very, very hard to get where he is now. All the success he's having now is so deserved. Regarding the fight, it was fun! It was Nikolaj's last scene. I had to do something with the scorpion a couple of weeks later, but it was wonderful to be there, as a fellow Dane, on the biggest show and being a part of that final day for Nikolaj on his final day of shooting. It's a decade for these guys. For me? I'm a tourist, and I mean that with the deepest respect for the show, but I haven't been a part of it since season one. I came on in season six. My job was different. My job was to make an impact with the things I got and then fuck off. But to be there with Nikolaj? It was very emotional — even though we Danes don't have emotions. But we got to kill each other. It wasn't just me. He died a little bit as well.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Read all of THR's Final Path series, featuring character-by-character predictions:

1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
13. Varys
14. Melisandre
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
17. Bronn
18. Tormund Giantsbane
19. Beric Dondarrion
20. The Dragons
21. The Night King
22. Across the World of Ice and Fire
23. Final Predictions

Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage all season long.