'Game of Thrones' Season 6: Young Ned Actor on the Finale's "Epic" Jon Snow Reveal

Game of Thrones Ep 3 - Robert Aramayo  - H 2016
Courtesy of Helen Sloan/HBO

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six finale of HBO's Game of Thrones, "The Winds of Winter."]

Remember that extraordinary whirring noise that whipped across the world on Sunday night? That was the sound of millions of Game of Thrones viewers watching the season six finale, simultaneously jumping with Joy.

At long last, the Emmy-winning fantasy series unearthed one of its greatest secrets, if not its best-kept one: Jon Snow's parentage. For years, the story presented Jon as Eddard Stark's bastard son. Not so. In "The Winds of Winter," Bran Stark traveled back to the Tower of Joy and followed the young version of his father inside. There, he saw Ned's sister Lyanna, lying in a bloody bed, having just given birth to a baby boy — a boy we know today as Jon Snow. Though it's not revealed, it's heavily implied (and backed up by fan theories) that Rhaegar Targaryen is the father, putting Jon right at the intersection of two of Westeros' most historic houses.

The reveal changes everything we know about Jon Snow, and what's more, it boasts enormous possibilities for the future. What does this mean for his reign as King in the North? Does he have the strongest claim for the Iron Throne of all available players? How will Jon's true heritage factor into his inevitable meeting with Daenerys Stormborn when she and her army make landfall?

Lord Snow's secret origin casts a long shadow across Game of Thrones, but it also shines new light on a long-gone hero: Ned Stark, who raised Jon as his own son, protecting his secret identity from the realm at the cost of his own honorable reputation. Robert Aramayo, the actor (and self-professed Game of Thrones fan) who plays Ned in the Tower of Joy visions, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the game-changing reveal, and how it reaffirms what viewers already know about the late, legendary Lord of Winterfell.

Were the two portions of the Tower of Joy sequence shot together, or did you come back to the character for the finale?

I came back to the character. We shot it in December, the later piece. The other one was much earlier on, a couple of months before. 

What was it like returning to Ned Stark?

It was good! I think the interesting and cool thing is that he's walking through that door with so much behind him. Not only Robert's Rebellion and the culmination of the fight with Arthur Dayne, but the physical exertion — everything he's been through leading up to the moment that he walks in that door. It's a lot. It was fun to put myself back in that place and think about what had just happened the moment before, and what you're bringing in the door with you.

What's he bringing through the door?

Well, he doesn't know what he's going to find, does he? That's the interesting thing. He thinks perhaps that his sister is being tortured or something, that something very horrible is going on behind the door. And what he actually sees isn't actually seeing anything different, really. He walks in and sees his sister on the bed with blood everywhere. He doesn't know what's going on, but he knows that something bad is happening. He's drawn to her. It's totally unknown, when he's walking through the door. He doesn't know what to do.

Ned is minutes, maybe even seconds removed from this tough battle against Arthur Dayne. But when he kneels beside Lyanna, he softens up.

Oh yeah, absolutely. There's that line: "I missed you, too." He has missed his sister. Part of him is happy to just see her breathing. He has no idea how bad it is. I think a lot of that exterior toughness drops away, and he's just here with his sister now, and he loves her so much. 

What were you and Aisling Franciosi, who plays Lyanna, drawing on for the relationship between Ned and his sister? Did you speak about their history, who they were before this scene?

One thing that was very important for us to speak about was how deep the love is between these siblings, and how much they love each other, and what they're willing to sacrifice for each other. There's a great deal of respect and love from Ned toward Lyanna. We spoke about that. When you're brother and sister, you've been through so much together. And he's her older brother as well, which of course means something also. It was very important for us to show the love between these two people. It's caused so much, and it's all culminating in this moment.

The reconnection is short-lived, once Ned realizes that there's some urgency here. He snaps into the realization that Lyanna is not doing well.

Yeah. Here's the thing: Ned's lost in that moment of connection at the beginning, and perhaps the facts of their circumstances and where they are and what's going on is not apparent to him, because he's just with his sister. I think it's the moment where she says, "I'm going to die." He looks at his hands, and realizes her blood is all over his hands. Suddenly, they're back in the room. Then it's about trying to save her. There must be some way, something they can do. He has no idea where this blood's coming from and what's happened to her, but there must be something that somebody can do. I think that's his frustration with the handmaidens: "Why are you just standing there? We can do something here! We can get somebody!" It's that desperation, just trying to save her life.

Lyanna whispers in Ned's ear, and while some of it is obscured for dramatic value, we can put some pieces together. Can he make sense of what she's telling him, or is he as mystified by this as the viewer?

Yes. Because I think she's boiling down this information to its most concise elements. I think she realizes she doesn't have long left. She's just giving him the information he needs to know before she dies. It's all kind of a whirlwind for Ned. She pushes his head toward the baby, and that's when it all clicks together. Certainly before that moment, he's still in a place of, "What is she talking about?" She's giving him all of this information, but none of it feels fully connected yet, until the moment he lays eyes on the baby, and everything drops into place.

What's rushing through Ned's mind as this child is put in his arms?

Millions of things. (Laughs.) I don't think there's any sort of plan formulated at this point. This is the "on the cliff" moment, the tipping point. Everything's just exploded. He hasn't formed a plan. He doesn't know how he's going to deal with the situation at this point. I think he just knows that he's made the most important promise of his life, and he's going to figure out how to maintain that promise. But in that moment, he's got a baby in his arms and his dead sister next to him. It's epic. It's huge. I don't think he knows what the next step is.

How was baby Jon? Good kid?

Yeah, man. He was great. I was absolutely terrified, to be honest with you. Holding someone else's baby and all that is actually quite scary for me.

That must have helped you stay in character.

Yeah! For Ned, the last thing he was expecting was to hold a baby in his arms once he walked through that door. 

You were a big Ned Stark fan even before playing the character. What do you think it means for Ned to have fostered Jon, at the expense of his reputation? Is this the transformative moment for the character?

In a weird way, yes. One thing I was always attached to when playing Ned at this age is that we aspire to hold the principles and morals that Ned Stark does as an older man. But you don't just say you are those things, and then you are. You have to learn those things. You have to go through things in your life that lead you to becoming a man of principle and honor and everything we know about Ned. I think this whole sequence is one of those moments where he learns many different things that set him on the course to becoming the man we know. But you can't learn something until you learn it. That's what he's doing in this moment. He expected a certain thing, and it's all blown up into a million pieces, because he never expected that this would be the outcome of what would happen today. I'm sure he thought he might die. I think the things he learned, in devising a plan for how he's going to treat this situation, he learned something about honor and principle and where that lies for him as a man. 

Does that bring things full circle, then, in terms of this very awful day in Ned's life? He has to defeat Arthur Dayne in a somewhat dishonorable way in order to get to Lyanna, and now here he is with Jon, on the edge of an incredibly honorable decision.

Definitely. I think that day in his life is all about honor. That's the operative word of that day. The variations, as you say, in beating someone in battle dishonorably, the death of a warrior he admired so much, the death of his sister, who was one of the most loved people in his life, and then the responsibility of taking care of a brand-new life that's absolutely and completely in his hands. Sometimes the honorable thing to do is putting yourself on the firing line to protect something greater than yourself. That's something he learns right [then]: To be principled and honorable, sometimes you're the one who has to suffer. That's exactly what happens, because nobody forgets this event. Nobody forgets this kid and the bad rap he gets for putting that story [of Jon being his child] out there. I think that lesson of honor and realizing that sometimes things supersede you is an unlearned lesson at this point in the story, but one he'll learn over the course of deciding what to do with the baby.

This moment clearly recolors everything we know about Jon Snow; lots of questions are raised about who he really is and what impact that might have moving forward. But for Ned, does this recolor anything, or does it just reaffirm the noble image of Ned we knew in season one?

I think yes, it does reaffirm that. I think that's part of what's so cool about splitting the Tower of Joy up. In the first half of the sequence, it shows a very different side to Ned. He doesn't have time to observe the proper rules of engagement in the battle against Arthur Dayne. He just needs to get past him. It's not about this epic battle for Ned and getting into that tower. I think a lot of people responded in a way that it made them feel differently about Ned; they had ideas about who Ned would have been as a 20-odd-year-old kid. But there's just certain things he doesn't know yet; he's a young man. Then when he's in the tower, and the decisions he makes within the tower, it definitely affirms what we know about him. 

What was your emotional journey throughout this sequence? It must have been a very intense place for you to visit with this character.

It was. But the great thing about the two Tower of Joy sequences is that the intention is so clear, do you know what I mean? In the first sequence, he has to get past Arthur Dayne in order to get to the tower. Once he's in the tower, the intention is he just wants to be with his sister and save her life. When those intentions are interfered with, you take that as it comes. But the main intention when he rides up on his horse, and when he runs through the door, is to get past Arthur Dayne and to save his sister. Whatever that means will be revealed to him after he walks into the room. I always feel that as an actor, that really helps when the writing is so good and the intention is so clear. Then you just need to get on and go for the ride.

Going back to the first part of the sequence, now that we know Bran can actually interact with the past, can you share how you played Ned's reaction to Bran calling out for him?

To be honest with you, from Ned's perspective, he heard something. That's what I said at the time, and I stay true to it now. He heard something. But it's interesting that that event happened. His perspective isn't any different because of what the audience knows. He just turned around after hearing something, and looked to see what it was.

You were not the only person to play Ned Stark this season. Do you have thoughts on the Braavos play, which mocked Ned a bit?

That's right! I'm not the only one. I have to say that I'm an enormous Game of Thrones fan, but I have a group of mates and we all watch it together. That's always the rule. Right now I'm in America a lot, so if it's on, a couple of my friends will wait and we'll watch it together. So I have a lot to catch up on on Friday this week. (Laughs.) I'll be back home and I'll be doing an epic marathon. I'm very excited for it.

Do you feel there's more for you to explore with Ned?

What I enjoyed so much about playing the character is it serves a purpose in the story. The Tower of Joy sequence and what it reveals moves the story forward in a way and it's necessary. I don't think there's another necessary moment to see young Ned Stark in order to advance the story in any way. That's my perspective. But I have to reiterate that this is the only show, and really probably the only thing that I watch this religiously. As I've said to you before, this character is my favorite character. To have played him in these two short scenes, I can't actually form words to describe how privileged and honored I feel to have been a part of this story. It's a total gift.

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