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Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden on Robb Stark’s Growing Pains, Renly Fantasies, and Hating Joffrey

If power is calculated by who wins the most battles, then Robb Stark, the King of the North, is the most powerful of the five kings in Game of Thrones. While he tries to shore up allies — sending his mother off to make a treaty with King Renly and his foster-brother Theon to make an offer to Balon Greyjoy — Robb spends his time sneaking up on other regiments, taking them by surprise. His ultimate goal is to defeat the Lannisters, one of whom, Jaime, he already holds captive. So far, so good. But as readers of the George R.R. Martin books know, good luck can be short-lived in Westeros. The Scottish actor Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark, was in town recently, and was good enough to hold court with Vulture and discuss his thoughts on his first time in New York, which of the GoT moms would win in a fight, and wanting to kill Joffrey.

This is your first time in New York?
Yeah. I flew in, and I love it. I went to meet a producer in Brooklyn, so I had a little adventure working out how to get there, how to use the subway, which route. I surprised myself by doing all right. Someone even asked me, "Is this the subway to ...?" and I gave directions. And I don't even know what I'm talking about! [Laughs.]

You shoot your scenes in Belfast. What do you do there when you're not in Robb Stark mode?
Drinking! In a word. That's pretty much what we do. We're working so intensely, so we don't have time to do much else.

Kit Harington said that on the Iceland set, when they're at the bar, they fight about theories. Same in Belfast?
Completely. Sometimes I text with Kit or Gethin [Anthony, who plays Renly], and we laugh at about how geeky we are. I've been having a lot of Robb Stark-Renly jokes recently, about Renly crushing on Robb Stark. That always gets a good laugh.

There is already fan fiction about the Robb Stark–Renly Baratheon pairing.
[Laughs hysterically.] I have not read any of it yet. But we're sending texts verging on that.

From what I understand, you don't read ahead in the books. But the people you're fighting over theories with do. So how do you keep them from spoiling anything for you?
I know a lot now, especially what happens to my character. I don't mind discussing it, but I don't want to read ahead, because I like being surprised by Robb, by the decisions he makes. I want it to be the same for the audience, and if I can help them by not preempting things, then I try to do that.

Well, the books wouldn't help you play Robb in one sense: He's not a POV character. We don't get inside his mind.
That actually really helped me gain ownership over Robb, because especially in the second book — it's only what people say about him. The second book is a gift, because there's a lot of people talking about Robb, and you can pool these things, and you fill in the gaps.

And now as the season progresses, we're getting glimpses of how Robb operates, how he uses his direwolf Grey Wind, how he responds to the men in the field ...
He's acting a lot; he's acting at being a man. I think that's something a lot of young men do: You act at being a man, and before you know it, you are one. In that scene with Jaime in the cage [in the season premiere], Robb is posturing. He's acting like a king. And then you see him with Theon, and you're like, Oh, he's the same guy he always was. But he has to have this mask on all the time in front of his men. Everything that happens to him this season, it's all these defining moments: the first time he starts to fall for a woman, the first time he and his mother start to have different views on doing things, the first time he's addressing an army of men.

The first time he starts to fall for a woman in the book, we don't really see it. In the show, it's very David Cronenberg–like, as we'll see in an upcoming episode.
Yeah. Really weird, not very cool circumstances. But she's foreign, and different, and she's the only person who speaks to him not like a king. Even his mother is changing how she speaks to him. But this woman challenges everything he does. You can tell she's willing to be convinced, if he can justify why he's doing something. She's like, "But why are you doing this? And what are you going to do after that?" Which I love. And Robb loves. Because it makes him question, Wait, why am I doing this? And that's him growing up as well.

A lot of the people now in charge are teenagers, although slightly older on the show than in the books: Joffrey, Robb, Dany. No wonder they're having trouble.
Completely. And Joffrey's got the screwed-up mom, and Robb's got the good mom. That would be a good scene, wouldn't it, to have the two moms go at it? I don't know who would win. Poor Jon Snow doesn't have a mom for that fight. I love Jon Snow's character. I can't wait to see what happens with Jon Snow later on this year. I've read it, but I haven't seen it. His wolf is pretty cool, huh? But if Ghost [Snow's direwolf] and Grey Wind were in a fight, Grey Wind would win. Ghost is too pretty. Don't say that to Kit, because he would disagree. Everyone thinks they have the best wolf. See? My geek brain is going into all that, and I've got to stop it. [Laughs.]

This season is all shot already. When do you start up on season three?
July, if all goes as planned. That's why I have an opportunity to get another project in. I don't want a break. I'd love to do something on Broadway. I'd love to spend some time in New York. Hopefully something will work out here. It's funny, me being here, versus when I'm in the U.K. I'm getting stopped quite a lot.

Do people call out, "King of the North!"
Yeah! It's cool. And then they go, "I really love the show. Are you going to kill Joffrey? What happens to Joffrey? I hate Joffrey!" [Laughs.] Wait until you see him this season. If you disliked him last season, you're going to hate him this season. He's really messed up. So I go, "Thanks! If you want to know, read the book!" And they go, "Nah, nah, nah. Tell me what happens! I hate that guy!" I'd love to kill Joffrey. I'd love a Joffrey-Robb standoff. I need to find a way to slit Joffrey's throat. [Laughs.] That would be awesome. I can't wait to shoot the Red Wedding. I'm so excited to shoot that. That's going to be mind-blowing. They're going to do something so brilliant with that. I think it's going to be so cinematic.

You know there's going to be the inevitable fan mash-ups with the Billy Idol song "White Wedding."
[Laughs.] I hope not. That would kill me. There's a ten-minute video online of just Joffrey being slapped, over and over again. And that's brilliant. Who doesn't want to slap Joffrey? Maybe merchandising should get into that. I visited the HBO store [in New York], and it was strange to see my face on T-shirts. I can't wear them. That wouldn't be cool at all. "Look, see? I'm the King of the North!" I think my mom might like one, though, so I'll get her one. I didn't expect my mom to be into this show, but she just rewatched the whole first season, and she called me the other night, so excited to talk about it. My dad, he's been reading the books, and when he read the Red Wedding scene, he couldn't pick up the book again for two weeks. He sees me when he reads about Robb, so he was upset. I love that. I love that they get into it that much. 

Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO