Vulture spoke with Isaac Hempstead-Wright, the 15-year-old actor who plays Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, about the events in tonight’s episode “First of His Name.” Spoilers galore obviously lie ahead. Do not click through if you haven’t seen this episode of Game of Thrones.
Being held hostage in the Craster’s Keep birthing hut by the degenerate Night’s Watch deserters, Bran Stark thinks at first that Locke has come to rescue him. But when that turns out not to be the case, a terrified Bran uses his skinchanging/warging skills in a way he hasn’t before: murder by mind-control. Although Bran has slipped into his wolf Summer on numerous occasions, and even briefly into Hodor once to calm him down, this time Bran hops into the gentle giant and makes him kill Locke. Last week, even devoted readers of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books were surprised by the show’s revelation of what happened to the baby donated to the White Walkers, and this plot point provides another jolt. Bran’s a killer now? Was it self-defense? Is taking over Hodor to that extent a kind of mind rape? Isaac Hempstead-Wright chatted with Vulture about the implications of the scene, his dream of a Stark family vigilante squad, and how Game of Thrones has contributed to his sex education.
What was it like shooting that scene?
It was cool. For a teenage boy, seeing all these incredibly cool prosthetics and bones sticking out of necks is probably the coolest part of it. And it was really cool, even if it wasn't really me, getting to see my character get some serious killing. That was Bran’s first kill. It’s about time Bran gets his violent streak on!
Especially since some of his siblings have been able to get some revenge — well, at least in Arya’s case.
Perhaps the Stark children will reunite and form an evil vigilante squad, and take revenge on all the Lannisters! [Laughs] That would be good. That would be justice served. Although I doubt George [R.R. Martin] has anything that kind in mind for the Starks. But I’d love to see a reunion between the Stark kids. It would be interesting to see the actual dynamic between them, because they’ve all been so far removed and so focused on their own survival.
Although Bran and Jon have had two near misses now.
He’s there, and he sees Jon, and it’s like, “Oh my God! This could be my chance!” And Bran, almost in a moment of selfishness, suddenly shouts, “Jon!” But Jojen reminds him that it’s a choice between seeing his half-brother, or whatever this higher-power destiny thing is. It’s all about Bran chasing this destiny. And it only takes Bran really a second to realize that it’s actually for the greater good to resist. But even if Jon heard Bran shouting, he probably wouldn’t recognize him, because Bran no longer has a kid’s voice, and he’s a foot taller than he originally was. What was nice about last season, in the dream sequence, I had another scene with Richard [Madden] and Kit [Harington], and I don’t think we’d actually had a scene with all three of us together since the pilot episode. And since then, you’ve been seeing this family disintegrate, absolutely collapse in on itself.
Most people inhabiting the Game of Thrones universe do not possess magical abilities and are, in fact, cynical about the existence of magic. But Bran has these powers, whether he uses them for good or evil.
What’s good about magic in the show is that it’s almost [viewed] as it is in our world — “Oh, the dragons don’t exist. They went extinct a long time ago. There’s no such thing as the White Walkers. That’s just a story. Giants don't exist.” Game of Thrones isn’t all about magic — it’s way more about political scheming and family tensions — but to be a part of this exclusive magic club is actually really cool. Bran is one of the few remaining wargs. And not only can he warg, but he also has the sight, to be able to see in the future, in the past, in the present all around, and to weirwood trees as well, and that seems to me to be one of the ultimate powers.
This is a far greater example of his power than we’ve seen before, though. And he’s exerting far more control over Hodor. How do you feel about that? Is taking over someone’s body like that a form of rape?
Yeah. It’s really terrifying — more so for Hodor, because Bran has effectively forced him to commit murder. If there were a U.N., they would be upset with the human rights violations in Westeros. It’s a very serious thing for Bran to do, to take another human being’s life in his hands and take full responsibility of it. You could argue that Bran seems slightly psychotic, smashing someone’s neck, but he has to do it, because he has to get to this place [in Jojen Reed’s vision], is my take on it. There is this absolute necessity to make it to these strange four peaks. He’s not entirely sure what it means, but on some level within him, he knows there are precise coordinates where he has to get to. But I think it’s a moment for him to realize, “Okay, I know I’m determined to get to this place, but I’m not in control of the world, and I better remember with great power comes great responsibility.”
That’s what they say in Spider-Man.
Is it? [Laughs] Oh, yeah! Well, there we go — Bran is Spider-Man! And hopefully Bran doesn’t have quite the same malicious intentions as if you gave that power to Joffrey. Can you imagine if Joffrey had that power?! We’d be in serious trouble. But this is definitely not sadistic. It’s a moment of blind panic. He doesn’t have a sword. He doesn’t really have any other options. Well, he could push Locke down and run away. But all Bran is thinking about is saving himself, and saving Hodor and Meera and Jojen, and for him, the only way to do that is to kill Locke and get out of there quickly. It’s a moment of absolute chaos.
Mackenzie Crook told us that for warging scenes, it was really hard to keep his eyes open and not blink, because of the “snow” landing on his eyeballs.
I used to watch WWE as a kid, and there was a guy who used to roll his eyes back, so I learned from that. [Laughs] I’m just kidding. But don’t get me started on the “snow”! It looks absolutely brilliant and authentic, but it’s actually some kind of horrible asbestos ash, and you’ve got it going into your lungs. At one point, we all turned around, and saw the entire crew were wearing gas masks, and we thought, “Ah, perhaps this ash stuff isn’t quite as safe ... ”
Maybe it’s all just a sneaky trick on their part to try to stunt your growth ...
[Laughs] I have noticed them trying to sneak in the anti-growth hormones into my morning coffee. It is pretty lucky that Bran doesn’t have to stand up, because he’s probably nearly as tall as Hodor! [Laughs] They’ve got quite a job ahead of them, trying to make me look small! I think I’ve been growing gradually, but quite a lot, so it looks like, “Oh, wow, overnight you’ve gotten taller!” I think I’m about 5'8". Not too tall, not too small — it’s the best height. I know Kristian [Nairn] had an accident this year, and he got hurt quite badly, and I think it’s been tough for him when he’s had to pick me up, so I’m constantly singing him SpongeBob songs, like “Goofy Goober Rock.” [Laughs]
Do you get to watch Game of Thrones, or do your parents have any objections?
Well, at the beginning, when I was ten years old, no. But now I watch. It’s quite racy! For a lot of the sex scenes, my mom has talked to me quite a lot about it, and it’s actually given me the ability to talk to her about these things. I can have conversations with her about sex without anything being taboo or whatnot. So it’s pretty cool.