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His past year of playing Jon Snow was one of rebirth for Kit Harington. The Game of Thrones character returned from the dead after being killed in 2015’s season five finale, forcing Harington to keep his continued involvement in the most buzzed-about show on TV a secret from the world. Add to that startling revelations about his character’s past (just Google “R+L=J”) and the “Battle of the Bastards” episode featuring one of the most ambitious fight scenes ever staged on TV, and it’s no overstatement to call this the most challenging season Harington has faced. His Emmy nomination for supporting drama actor — his first — was welcome acknowledgment for what he went through.
With HBO announcing that the fantasy series based on George R.R. Martin’s acclaimed books will end in 2018 after two more abridged seasons, Harington, 29, now faces the reality that the role of a lifetime is coming to an end. He spoke to THR about all of this from the Montreal set of his upcoming feature The Death and Life of John F. Donovan.
How did you approach playing Jon as a man who has returned from the dead?
Having died at the end of the fifth season, I was told I’d come back, but they didn’t tell me anything about how. And I thought, “Is it going to be some seismic shift in Jon? Is he going to come back as a nasty person? Is he going to come back as fundamentally changed and altered?” And he comes back, and he’s the same. And then I thought, “Oh.” Sort of what he comes back with is the knowledge about life that very few people have, which is, there is nothing after it. And that’s terrifying for a young man who probably is religious in some ways and thinks he’ll see his father after he dies. He goes to the other side and there is nothing there. That is going to fundamentally change him inside. And it does.
What went through your head when you learned of your first Emmy nomination?
I was more thrilled by it than I thought I would be. There’s something about a group of people turning around and saying, “We liked what you did.” It made me very happy. I wept. And that wasn’t at all what I expected. I expected to be a lot cooler about it.
What would you say it was about this season that got you recognized?
The “Battle of the Bastards” was a lot of my season in one episode. It was quite physically challenging. I was so happy that episode did what we wanted it to, because we spent so much money on it and so much time and effort.
From left: Gwendoline Christie, Sophie Turner, Harington and Ben Crompton in a key scene from season six.
One of the most stirring scenes in the episode shows Jon buried alive in a pile of bodies. How did that come about?
That piece came about with me and director Miguel Sapochnik having a conversation. Everything had backed up a bit and we were running out of time to shoot what we had intended. Miguel and I talked about what my greatest fears are. And as it happens, one of my greatest fears is a human crush — those horrible stories you hear about stadiums where people literally suffocate to death because they can’t get out of other people panicking. I thought if we could do that in this sequence, that could be really terrifying for the viewer.
Do the events of that scene change how you play Jon going forward?
Strangely enough, without even thinking about it too much, when he breaks free and climbs his way back up, in a way it’s like a rebirth for him. He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t stay down. He fights his way out. It looks a lot like the shot when Daenerys [Emilia Clarke] is being held aloft by the free slaves. That was a happy accident. We didn’t realize how those two would be compared.
Winter is finally here. Do you have any thoughts on how that changes the game for the different players?
It’s important to stress at this point that I haven’t had any scripts, so this is all guesswork for me. I think it’s going to get very bleak before if there is a happy ending. If there’s any sort of win or heroic moment for Jon and everyone else. I think it’s going to get very dark before it gets better. I think what we might see this season is those White Walkers and that Army of the Dead really come into force. So that’s going to be exciting to see. I don’t know what it means. I think with the whole “winter is finally here” business, it means everyone is going to have a really bad time.
Have you thought about Thrones ending and what that means for you?
It has been in my consciousness a lot. This mammoth, Goliath event in my life, which has so much of what my 20s are, is going to come to an end. I think I’m going to really make the effort in these next two years to enjoy every moment of it, because I don’t know when I’ll get something like this coming around again.
A version of this story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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