'Game of Thrones': A Salute to Season 6's Breakout Star, Lyanna Mormont

"From the moment she came in, she was on it: She was professional, and she was just brilliant," actor Liam Cunningham says of the Lady of Bear Island.
Courtesy of HBO
Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) on 'Game of Thrones'

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

Jon Snow's mother isn't the only important Lyanna in the North, and not even the only important Lyanna of "The Winds of Winter," the final installment of Game of Thrones' eventful sixth season.

Near the end of the episode, Lord Snow attempts to solidify the North behind his cause against the White Walkers, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. The tide turns only after a rousing speech from Lyanna Mormont, the Lady of Bear Island, no more than 10 years old and in command of no more than 62 soldiers — at least that's the number she gives Jon back in "The Broken Man," but there's no telling how the figure has adjusted in the wake of "Battle of the Bastards."

"Your son was butchered at the Red Wedding, Lord Manderly, but you refused the call," she says, the ice-cold toughness of a world-weary warrior in her young voice. "You swore allegiance to House Stark, Lord Glover, but in their hour of greatest need, you refused the call. And you, Lord Cerwyn, your father was skinned alive by Ramsay Bolton. Still you refused the call. But House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark. I don't care if he's a bastard. Ned Stark's blood runs through his veins. He's my king from this day until his last day."

From there, it's a short leap before all those in attendance lift their arms in favor of Jon Snow, King in the North, the White Wolf of Winterfell — and on the other side of the television, more than a few million viewers were pumping their own fists in support of Lady Mormont, rallying an entire region of Westeros more effectively than Jon Snow himself. Indeed, while she may not have served Frey pies, Lady Mormont delivers the show's version of one of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire books' most iconic lines: "The North remembers." Lord Manderly owns this line in the source material; on the show, not only do those words belong to Lady Mormont, she pairs them with an epic tongue-lashing toward Manderly and his fellow Northerners. 

It's not just the characters on Game of Thrones and fans at home who were impressed with the ruler of Bear Island, either. The cast and crew on hand for actress Bella Ramsey's scenes were similarly impressed by the young star's work. 

"From the moment she came in, she was on it: She was professional, and she was just brilliant," Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth, told THR about working with Ramsey during the season. "There's an old adage about how actors should never work with children or animals, but that's B.S. When kids are as good as this young lady is, it's a joy to play opposite. She was absolutely amazing. When somebody comes in and is that good, it makes your job that much easier."

Mark Mylod, who directed Ramsey's Game of Thrones debut in "The Broken Man," remembers shooting the character's first scene and immediately recognizing her instant hit status.

"She walked in for the casting reading, and we were knocked completely sideways. It was one of those moments where you go, 'Oh my God, what a star.' You could not wish to meet a more delightful young lady. It was a four-and-a-half-page scene where we first meet that character, with Jon, Sansa and Davos all meeting her on Bear Island. We had a rehearsal day, and I think we were shooting midweek. The cast agreed to come in on their day off to work with this young actor, Bella. She's so young that she still works on child hours, so we had a limited amount of time with her. We knew we had to work fast, and she had so much dialogue, as you may remember from the scene. We all came in on a Saturday morning to the set, and everyone was having a jolly day, thinking we would be coaxing this shy young child through the scene. We all had kid gloves on for the day.

"After the first rehearsal, I remember thinking, 'OK, this is going to be a very short rehearsal. She's note perfect.' The accent was awesome, her inflection and her professionalism. … We ended up rehearsing for only a half hour because she was so on it," Mylod continued. "And of course, the rest of us felt deeply ashamed, because she knew every single word and every single inflection. We all went home feeling a bit deflated. (Laughs.) But also excited! Because the level of talent there is so ridiculous. She's someone we're going to look back on in 20 years, and she's going to be ruling Hollywood. She's just amazing."

It's not just a big episode for strong women named Lyanna, but also for strong children with deep ties to Davos Seaworth. In the finale, Davos finally confronts Melisandre about her role in burning Shireen Baratheon alive, an exchange that results in the Red Woman's banishment from House Stark's service, not to mention tearful rage and grief from Davos himself.

"I loved that girl like she was my own," Davos cried. "She was good, she was kind, and you killed her!"

While there's no replacing Shireen in Davos' heart, perhaps the Baratheon princess remains on the man's mind as he gets to know Lady Mormont. First, that's going to require Lyanna's future involvement with the series, according to Cunningham: "We don't know what's coming in the next season or if she'll be part of whatever happens next; we just don't know." But whatever the case, Cunningham can speak to what it is about Lyanna Mormont that speaks so deeply to Davos, and probably to viewers as well.

"I think he likes straightforward people," he said. "I think it's fair to say that Davos is an equal opportunity decent guy. He doesn't care if it's a 12-year-old girl or a hardened pirate like Salladhor Saan. He's attracted to decency and straightforwardness. I think he appreciates the nobility of Lyanna. She's a leader. He likes decent leaders. Jon is one, and Stannis was, for a long time. You can tell Lyanna Mormont has fantastic leadership qualities, and has a good and decent core. It's what he thinks the world needs: decency, honesty and a sense of fair play."

Indeed, in a world filled with wildfire and blood, decency and honesty are hard to come by, but when it comes to both Lyanna Mormont and Bella Ramsey's play, "fair" is an extraordinary understatement.

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