Spoilers ahead for Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones.
Ser Alliser Thorne might have thought his feud with Jon Snow was over the day he organized a mutiny and murdered his Lord Commander, but on Game of Thrones, death is not always final. Thorne’s reasoning — he had to betray Snow in order to save the Night’s Watch — echoes Jaime Lannister’s decision to kill his king to save King’s Landing: When you swear contradictory oaths, it can be hard to choose. Actor Owen Teale spoke to Vulture about Thorne’s final moments, his especially brutal execution, and why fans want him to kill them.
Not to be too gruesome, but let’s talk about the mechanics involved with shooting your hanging scene.
It was an extraordinary thing, actually. We rehearsed it the day before. We had a dummy run, with the stunt guys talking you through it, standing on a barrel. Each of us was wearing a harness around our bodies under our clothes, and a wire that goes into the actual rope that is hanging, to take the tension. When I stood on the barrel, I remember thinking, “Ah, this isn’t too bad.” But what it is, psychologically, is that you have your hands free. Then the stunt guy says, “Now we’re going to tie your hands behind your back,” and when he does, immediately, it is just the most horrible sensation. It’s absolutely scary and powerless, even though he’s standing there and talking to you and making sure you’re all right. When you have your hands free, you’re willing to do it. And when your hands are tied, you just feel like, “Please, can we not do this?” So you talk through it a bit more, but at that point it becomes a moment of trust: “Okay, here we go!” (Laughs.) It was one of the most shocking things I’ve ever done, even though I wasn’t feeling the pressure on my neck. I had to learn to act that. But just the feeling of your feet being taken away while you’re hanging by a rope? Yeah. It just feels wrong. (Laughs.) Everybody watching it was appalled, in the right way, because after all, it is a punishment.
And a brutal one. You might have expected Jon Snow to behead them, as he did Janos Slynt, but to hang them? Compare that to Ned Stark’s execution — that quick, clean death now seems to be the mercy Joffrey said it was.
I asked them, “Why isn’t there a bigger drop, when you hang them?” And they said, “Because if it’s a bigger drop, you would die instantly. The whip action would snap your neck, and that’s it. You would lose consciousness immediately.” But this was actually more cruel, more of a punishment, because your feet almost touch the ground, you haven’t fallen that far, so there’s still some life in you and your body can’t help but fight. I said, “That’s really gruesome.” Never mind that we’re doing it, I can do it, I’m an actor, but how are you going to use it? How are you going to shoot it? What are the limits? I’ve had to act my own death a few times now, but because of the slowness of what they were trying to achieve, it was a counterintuitive thing to do, to think of it slowly passing away from you. As I remember, the speech that I give to Jon Snow, explaining the way I’ve lived my life — “I fought, I lost, and now I will rest” — he seems at peace about that. But when the moment comes, and you’re dangling, you can’t help but fight to live. It’s important to see them suffer before they actually die, because as Jon Snow sees it it’s insurrection. It’s treason, what they’ve committed. It’s important to see them suffer, as a message to anybody else who might be thinking of doing the same.
What do you think would have happened to the Night’s Watch had Jon Snow remained dead? If Alliser had the command?
I’d like to think Alliser would have gone to King’s Landing to say, “We need a proper influx of men to defend the Wall again. There’s got to be more, because this is brewing to be an almighty war.” I think he would have been very clear about that.
There was a moment where your character did that, offscreen, at the end of season one. I think that’s when you told them you weren’t returning for season two?
That’s right! It was extraordinary, because what happened was, I wasn’t under a long-term contract. I had just done the first season, and so I was free. I started doing a separate comedy series in the U.K. called Stella, and then they came back to me, and I tried to explain that I was in a bit of a position here, that I had to go with the other job. But I said, “When do you want me?” And Game of Thrones was so big, I don’t think they could say when it would be exactly. I was really moved when they asked me to come back for season four.
And when they said Jon Snow was going to come alive again, that there would be retribution for what Ser Alliser had done, it’s what I wanted, really, for the character. Unless you’re going to give this character a huge sense of discovery and change, I’d rather go out cleanly, to accept the consequences of what he’s done. It’s very moving, and it’s very strange, because when I was playing Ser Alliser, I thought of him as a dark, bleak soul. I didn’t enjoy being him. I couldn’t wait until the end of the day to go off and have a drink with Kit [Harington], and have a laugh. But maybe I miss it. Maybe it’s not Alliser I miss, but the size of what we were doing, the sets, the sense of collaboration. It’ll be interesting to see what Jon Snow will do next. Part of his vision and part of his fight was to beat down the old regime, and now that it’s gone he’s got nobody to blame. He’s on his own.
How did people react if they encountered you and Kit in a bar together?
It was probably odd for them, to see us two guys, sitting and having a beer! (Laughs.) That relationship became so iconic. Obviously, none of us knew what it would be, but I can honestly say it was the most wonderful thing in my career, to have felt that much recognition for your work. If you do something, it affects so many people, even if it’s not a huge character.
What do your fans want you to do? Insult them? Pretend to kill them?
Oh, yeah. I get people pulling knives, asking me to kill them. They asked me to put my hands to their chest, like the knife is in them for the photograph, and say, “For the Watch.” They ask me to abuse them. It feels wrong to be signing, “Best wishes …” on a picture of Alliser’s face, so I put “Best wishes, you bastard.” People love it. One guy came up to me when I was on a railway platform, and he asked, “Would you abuse me, so I can tape it and send it to my friends, so I can say I was abused by Ser Alliser Thorne?” So I took the phone and went, “You bastard!” If that’s what they want, that’s what I have to do! (Laughs.) Oh, and I did the weather once. I’d never read a weather report before, and I thought I would just be introduced to say, “Winter is coming,” but I actually did the charts with the weatherman. And then at the end I asked, “Should I kill him now?” And I mimed putting a knife in his chest. It went over so well, they asked me to come back to do a regular slot. He lost his job to me. That weatherman will never work again.