Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.
What is dead may never die. RIP, Balon Greyjoy, the isolationist invader of the North, who refused every possible alliance, and took a fatal tumble when his brother Euron tossed him off a bridge during a storm. Until then, you might have argued that Balon won the War of the Five Kings, since Renly, Robb, Joffrey, and Stannis all died before him. Then again, you could have argued that he didn’t, since he lost his last stronghold on the mainland, and the invasion died with it. Did Balon make the best strategic decisions? Perhaps not. Did he win Father of the Year where Theon was concerned? Definitely not. But the fallout from the cantankerous kraken’s murder should be a theme throughout season six. Patrick Malahide, who played Balon, chatted with Vulture about the hints he got that his death was imminent, falling off the bridge, and voting for Yara.
How much advance warning did you get? This is one of the few deaths this season that we could have predicted from the books.
I knew he was going to die, because people kept coming up to me on the street saying, “You’re still here!”
Did they warn you against bridges?
Yes! (Chuckles.) People kept saying, “Be careful on high bridges.”
I had a sense before the final episode, although they didn’t call it the final episode. They just asked my agent, “How is he with heights?” So I put two and two together. I thought, “This is the exit.” And then I got the script, and I didn’t get the whole script, just my scenes. They’re very sensitive about security. You get a name-coded script, where you just get your sides, as we call them, and your name is printed in shadow all across the page, so if it goes missing, it’s down to you. And to be honest, they filmed my funeral before they filmed my death, so that was a bit of a giveaway.
In the books, Balon’s death happens off the page. We’re told about it, but it’s shrouded in mystery, and you don’t know exactly what happens …
Now you do. (Laughs.)
Now we do! No mystery about whether or not he could have just fallen off a bridge in a storm because of some broken rope or whatnot.
I don’t think he’s the kind of guy who would just fall off a bridge. He would know his way around those rocks very well. David Nutter, one of the directors, once told me, “He’s made of rock. He’s made of the land in which he lives.” I found that very helpful.
Since they asked your agent, how are you with heights?
I was fine! I’m a sailor. It’s not so much the height as the movement, because the bridge was kind of swinging around and there were these rain machines that were fierce. It was November, and it was cold, and the water was icy. It was not a pleasant night to work, I have to say. It felt like you didn’t have to act — you just had to survive. Just say your lines while this bridge is swinging and this water is shooting down on you. We were in an abandoned quarry about 30 miles north of Belfast on the coast, and it was one of the most forbidding, bleak places I had ever been in my life. You’re surrounded by these cliffs of granite, and underfoot is this big thick slimy mud. You’re just picking your way through the mud, and you get up to this bridge and then they turn on the machines. You felt pretty much in character after doing that for six hours, I’ll tell you.
Did you use a stunt double for the fall?
I’d never had this done before. There was a cyber-capture, as they call it, where I was in full costume and makeup, and I was standing on a dais, surrounded by about 20 pillars around me, in a circle, and each of these pillars has about ten digital cameras, all pointing at me. They’re all linked together, and they all go off in one go, in a blinding flash. So they have a 360-degree image of you, which they can now manipulate with CGI, so they could actually do anything they wanted with me, which was weird. And there was a stuntman. It was part stunt, part CGI.
Did Pilou Asbæk, who plays Euron Greyjoy, say he was sorry for killing you?
(Laughs.) He was a lovely guy. We bonded a lot over the two nights we shot this. We were just very keen to get back to the wagon and the hot chocolate. We shot from about seven o’clock at night to about almost four o’clock in the morning. I think we had exhausted the possibilities of that scene, by the time we finished it.
Now that Balon is dead, and Euron is back, there is going to be a question about who should be the King of the Iron Islands. Who should take the Salt Throne? Yara’s told at your funeral that it will be decided at the kingsmoot. And Balon, especially ever since Theon lost his favorite toy …
I told him he was playing with it too much! (Laughs.) Sorry!
Regardless of Theon’s castration, Balon favored Yara as his heir. She’s a proven warrior. But there hasn’t been a female ruler of the Iron Islands before, although in other areas, such as Dorne, primogeniture wouldn’t be the issue.
You’re talking to somebody in the U.K., and we still have primogeniture here, although they’re starting to change it for the royal family. Primogeniture will no longer apply. If, for example, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had a girl, she would have become queen. So it’s interesting, this question of primogeniture is now very current, certainly in the U.K. Of course, throughout history, if a nobleman dies and he has several daughters, they don’t inherit the title. It goes to some cousin. There’s quite a number of cases, really, where you have the daughter who was brought up in the stately home or the castle, but is not inheriting because she’s a girl, and the title is going to someone who has never seen a castle in his life. That’s beginning to rankle, I think, understandably.
I have a feeling that even though Balon gives his daughter a rough time, he respected her in a way he didn’t trust his son. I don’t think he ever trusted his son, right from the very beginning when he returned from being a hostage. He treats him with suspicion and contempt. Whereas his daughter, although he snarls at her, she stands up to him, and she seems an altogether tougher character. If I may say, a chip off the old block. Both of his children, it’s either sink or swim. I don’t think he’s remotely sentimental about either of them. But I would think he would be rooting for his daughter, although he’s not in a position to do so now.
Would you say, “Vote for Yara”?
I could say that. I’m certainly not going to vote for my brother, am I? He threw me off a bridge! It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?