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A girl is no one — and no one is no more.
At the end of the eighth episode of Game of Thrones‘ sixth season, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) finally conquered one of her greatest adversaries yet: the Waif (Faye Marsay), one of the Faceless Men’s most loyal killers, and someone with no love in her heart for Arya. Indeed, the Waif went out of her way to make the young wolf suffer, stabbing her multiple times in the gut at the end of “The Broken Man” despite being told to kill Arya painlessly. The Waif’s ruthlessness and recklessness ultimately led to her demise at Arya’s hands, her bloodied face now hanging inside the House of Black and White.
Marsay spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about the Waif’s death, her hatred toward Arya, and the exhausting work that went into bringing such a relentless killer to life.
The Waif is no more. How do you feel about how she went out?
I think it’s brilliant. I’m a huge fan of Maisie Williams as a person and a huge fan of her character, so I think it was done really well. As much as I’m sad that I’m now off of the show, I think that storyline needed to be concluded that way. I’m rooting for Arya and Maisie as well. Even though I won’t be able to hang out with everyone again, I think it was done right and done properly. I think Arya deserved to rip off her face and stick it on a wall. (Laughs)
It’s a pretty intense final image.
Yeah! And it was so much fun to do. We had such a laugh out there. We get on so well in real life. I remember us running through the streets, and we were both exhausted. You don’t do just one take; you do, like, a hundred million takes of running up and down pavement, jumping off walls, and all sorts of things. We had so, so much fun. It was intense. They started calling me “The Terminator,” and I hadn’t made the connection that the Terminator does that in the Terminator movies — it had been a long time since I watched those films — but maybe she is a bit like that! It’s just really fun. I’m sad I’m no longer there, but I feel like it was the right move in terms of the storyline.
The Waif was so mysterious. We never even learned her name. Did you have a backstory for her in mind?
I kind of did, but I kind of didn’t as well. One of the things about where her character comes from is that mystery. You don’t know where she’s from. You don’t know those background details. They’re not discussed. I thought it would be a good idea to just play her very present. I wanted to be as mean as possible. I wanted the character to have a dislike towards Arya, and not have much else around it. I didn’t want to figure out where she came from and how she came under the tutelage of Jaqen, or anything like that. I just wanted to play this badass mystery about her.
Actors playing antagonistic roles often talk about finding ways to empathize with their characters. But considering that the Waif is supposed to be “no one,” does that mean you didn’t necessarily have to empathize with her?
My empathy was more about, and what I connected with her on, is that from the word go she had this dislike towards Arya. I guess it was kind of played as if there was a jealousy there. In my opinion, it wasn’t so much jealousy. It’s that the Waif has a very one-track mind, and that’s getting the job done, and doing it right and doing it quick. I know it ended pretty nasty, and I really went for Maisie’s character in the end, but I think it was easier because I had one objective: “I don’t like this girl, and I’m going to do everything I can to teach her a lesson and destroy her.”
Jaqen H’ghar tells the Waif to kill Arya but not let her suffer. The Waif doesn’t listen, of course, proceeding to stab Arya multiple times in the gut, drawing it out in a very painful way…
Right! And that’s one of the things I wanted to come across with the character. It’s less about jealousy and more about: “Attack this woman.” She doesn’t like her. I don’t think the Waif was ever really threatened by Arya, really. There was that episode where Arya starts fighting back really hard, and the Waif gets very pissed off. I don’t think it was jealousy, but it was, “You’re in my territory, and I don’t like you.” I tried to keep it quite simple. I just wanted to complete the objective of destroying her. But you’re right, she does go against Jaqen a little bit. She makes Arya suffer and bleed out. I guess…I guess that’s a little bit of revenge on the Waif’s part, right?
Just a touch.
Just a touch. (Laughs)
How did you view the Waif’s relationship with Jaqen H’ghar?
He’s not a father figure or anything like that. He’s just the boss. The Waif has a strong want to carry out the job properly and get it done. Maybe she does have a sadistic streak in her. The more I’m thinking about her, the more I’m thinking…because nobody has ever asked me these questions before. But now I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I was more sadistic than I realized. (Laughs) I think Jaqen is the man she respects and wants to work for, but she does have this sadistic side of her that causes her to rebel. He’s the leader of this entire place, and she serves him, and that’s what she wants to do. I guess Arya coming in and getting credit for stuff, the Waif just does not like that. Interesting. I’ve already shot it and it’s already been on air, and I’m only now thinking about these things!
There were a lot of theories about Arya and the Waif coming out of last week’s episode. For instance, some fans were wondering if they were actually two different personalities of the same person…
Right! I saw that. Wouldn’t that be cool?
At the very least, do you see them as two sides of the same coin?
I think so. I think that’s why the theory took off so well. It was interesting. It was a new way of looking at it. I think there are similarities there. The Waif must have been through a similar struggle in order to be where she is, within the grand scheme of things. Obviously it’s not the case that the theory is true, but I thought it was very well thought out. Whoever came up with it, that was a pretty cool idea. Maybe they’ll do it with another character. I thought it was a very interesting theory. It made me laugh a lot, because I knew it was not the case. But that’s what’s wonderful about the show, and why I feel so honored to have been in it. It has such a dedicated fan base. And I’ll be completely honest: the people who work on the show are so lovely. I know a lot of people say this, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it. They really are. I came into this in season five, and I felt like part of the family instantly. I felt really well looked after. What an honor to be on that show. And the fans are cool. I haven’t had too much hatred. There have been a few people on Twitter saying, “I wish you’d die.” And I’ll be like, “Dude, that’s not me. I’m just acting.” And they’d be like, “Yeah, well, I still wish you’d die.”
The Internet is a scary place.
It is! It is a scary place. (Laughs) But I only see it if people tweet at me. I would never go searching for it. I’m quite sensitive, paradoxically! It’s probably a good thing to stay away.
We never see how Arya defeats the Waif; she cuts the candle right before that final fight. Have you imagined how that fight played out?
It would have been amazing to do a final fight scene, but the creators of this show are so good at making people second-guess things. You don’t see what you want to see. You see what you don’t want to see sometimes — like last season, with Jon Snow’s death and everything. I would have loved to have done it, but I also like leaving it up to the audience’s imagination on how exactly did Arya rip that girl’s face off. By the looks of it, there was a lot of blood. Jaqen finds her there in the hall, and Arya says, “You told her to kill me!” It’s clear that she really ripped the Waif’s face off. That’s pretty cool. I’m rooting for Arya, even though I played the Waif. I’m like, “Hell yeah! Kill her, dude!” Even though I’m out of the job now, it makes so much sense in the story. I would have loved to have done a scene with swords out, kicking ass and all that, but there was so much of that earlier in the season with the cross staff work. We had a real laugh doing that.
How much training and work went into those staff fighting scenes?
A lot. I think we did a month in Belfast before we started shooting. We went into the stunt tent and lived there. It was choreographed like a dance. Maisie is so well coordinated and good at what she does. I’m a little bit less coordinated and easily pissed off. I would drop the stick down and go, “I can’t do it!” And she would encourage me. She’s so supportive. We did a month, and then the day before the cameras turned on, we would go through the moves a couple of times so we wouldn’t hurt each other. There were a few times we clipped each other. I remember getting her in the stomach really bad one time, and she nearly cut my ear off at one point. It was fun. It was a lot of fun, but we were exhausted as well. I remember one time we did a full day, and I fell asleep in my hotel room, face down in my own dinner, right in my salmon. That’s how knackered I was. I woke up with my face pressed into my salmon. It was intense, dude.
A girl has salmon on her face.
Yeah! (Laughs) I became “Salmon Face.” Just imagine it. Down I went, face first into that salmon. I just stayed there. I could not be asked to move.
Since we didn’t actually see the Waif die, is it possible she’s still wandering around in the dark, faceless?
I would love that! Nothing is impossible on Game of Thrones. The Waif’s face has gone up on that wall now, and we know those faces can be used. I have no idea. As an actor, I’m not privy to any of that information. But you never know. Not that I know anything, but you can’t second-guess these guys. They’re so good at their writing, and so good at annoying the entire world, making them guess what they’re going to do next.
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