[Spoilers ahead] Poor Theon Greyjoy. All season long on Game of Thrones, he’s been in the hands of a sadist. “You’ve been wondering why you’re here, where you are, who I am, and why I’m doing this to you,” his torturer told him not so long ago, in episode six. Theon guessed that the man was a Karstark, and that this was punishment for betraying Robb Stark and pretending to have killed Bran and Rickon. But as viewers learned in the season finale (and the book readers knew all along), the man was actually Ramsay Snow, the bastard son of Roose Bolton, otherwise known as the Bastard of Bolton. We spoke to Iwan Rheon, who plays the Bastard, about his character’s big reveal, not reading the books, and sausages.
As a reader, you only slowly realize that the person calling himself Reek in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, is actually Theon, well into his torture. David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], however, turned this around — probably because a TV audience would recognize Alfie Allen right away, and they probably also didn’t want to lose Theon for a couple of seasons. So instead, your character became the reveal. Is it a relief to finally be able to discuss this?
It is a relief, yeah. I’ve had to keep my mouth shut for a long time. I had to dance around it a little bit, and say things like, “Oh, it’s better if you wait to find out” or whatever. That kind of thing. Dodged it like a bullet! The danger with doing something that’s already been written, I didn’t want it to inform the character, so I didn’t read the books. That sounds like a lazy actor excuse, but I thought it would really benefit me to play what I get when I get the scripts, the way they’re developing it as it goes along, as opposed to what’s happened in the books. I liked the story line at the beginning of the season where he’s pretending to be really nice. That was nice for me as an actor, to get to do both. My character is acting, and he’s probably a better actor than me!
What was it like to join the cast? Did Alfie take you under his wing and show you around? You’re both into music.
He did, yeah. He was really cool. He sort of introduced me to everyone. We all went out and had dinner in Belfast and had a few beers. Everyone was lovely to me.
Your scenes together are pretty intense.
Yeah, and it’s really hard for him, because he’s tied to that cross. It’s pretty tough for him, on his wrists and stuff, but he’s a trooper. We’ll have a little sit-down afterwards, a little cup of tea or coffee or something, and have a little chat about normal things like football, whatever two normal blokes would talk about, and try to forget what’s going on in there. [Laughs] And then you get called back to set and it’s back into the scene! It’s really interesting, because off set, we’re good mates, we’ll go out and whatever, and it’s nice that we can have an offscreen relationship where it’s not too intense. And it’s nice to just have someone you can talk about normal things with in this weird industry.
Which scenes were the hardest for you to do?
Doing the scene where I was riding on a horse was difficult, because I had never done that before. And the scene in episode six [where he starts flaying Theon’s finger] is pretty hard going. And then of course, the scene in the finale was quite hard work, because I had to eat a lot of sausage. Lots and lots of sausages. I’m basically eating sausage throughout the scene. He’s supposed to be starving, and if you can imagine what a sausage can represent as well, to someone who’s just been, um, eunuched. [Laughs] It’s not very nice, but it’s very fun to play.
And finally, Theon’s personality breaks down, and we meet Reek.
I think you see in the last scene in the finale, that sort of transformation beginning, because of the mental torture as well as the physical. I really break him down, the poor guy! I think the key to Ramsay is that he’s very sharp and he can manipulate a situation very well. And he can do it all spontaneously. All of a sudden, he gets an idea and he goes with it. He’s very instinctive. He goes with whatever comes into his mind. And he sees the pain that Theon is in, and uses that against him. He’ll give him a wonderful idea of hope, and then take it away and do something really dark. Ramsay’s a very free character. He’s quite enjoying what he’s doing and he’s not contained, he’s not suppressing anything. In a really sick way, it’s almost liberating to be him. There’s loads of wicked stuff an actor can do with him.
How much do your politics enter into it, given that his father, Roose Bolton, is on the side of the Lannisters and participated in the Red Wedding? Versus being a sociopath or a psychopath?
I think a lot of it is he’s acting on what his father has told him to do, but because of his nature. He may stray off exactly what they had in mind and take some things on according to his own ambition or whatever. But he’s got a lot he wants to prove to his father. And he is a vicious sadist. [Laughs] And he needed to find out about the Stark boys, to get the information that they’re still alive. And it’s pretty harsh, isn’t it, to be a bastard in Westeros? You see a lot with Jon Snow, how he was almost forced out. And Theon was, too, in a way. So they actually have a lot in common, but Ramsay has no empathy. He doesn’t care. He can go off and do his own thing. He doesn’t need to be friends with anyone.
There’s been talk of making a movie out of your past show Misfits.
I think they’re finalizing getting everyone together, which is difficult because everyone’s busy doing different things. We’ll see. I think my character Simon is flexible and you can use him in different ways. I’m up for it! I’d love to do it.