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Game of Thrones’ Michelle Fairley on Catelyn Stark and the Red Wedding

Michelle Fairley as Catelyn Stark. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO

[Spoilers ahead] Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding was an emotional roller coaster. First we were teased with possible reunions of the Stark family: Bran and Rickon are this close to Jon Snow; Arya is this close to Robb and Catelyn. But then Robb and Catelyn, countless of their men, and Robb’s direwolf Grey Wind were slaughtered. “Catelyn starts to realize it the instant the bride and groom leave the room,” Michelle Fairley, who plays the ill-fated character, told Vulture. “Not only are people exiting, but the lights starts to go, and suddenly the band strikes up a tune which is not a tune to be played at a wedding, “The Rains of Castamere.” And then she notices that Roose Bolton is wearing chain mail: Why are you wearing chain mail at a wedding? And that’s when the penny drops.” The band turns into soldiers, arrows rain down on everybody in an indiscriminate slaughter, Frey’s own men included, and Catelyn makes her last stand in a desperate attempt to save Robb’s life, only to watch him die and get her own throat slit as well. Fairley did a postmortem with us about what it was like to go down fighting, shedding Catelyn’s locks, and the club she wants to start with her fellow dearly departed Thrones cast.

How emotional was it on set to shoot these scenes?
We were incredibly fortunate to have a whole week to shoot this, the whole sequence, starting with the wedding: the arrival at the Freys, the wedding itself, and then actually after the ceremony when the mood starts to darken. And it was all done in order, so we had plenty of time to get through each take. And as you’re doing it in order, you’re layering on the emotion, and you’re getting closer to the summit as well. You’re preparing yourself constantly for the denouement, which is right at the end of the scene. It was a long week, it was a brilliant week, and everybody, including the crew and the actors, we worked incredibly hard and loved every minute of it, actually, even though it was incredibly emotional.

Do you think this will be more shocking than the Ned Stark beheading?
I think so, because it’s not just one person, it’s practically a family. It’s the number of deaths as well, and the sheer brutality of them, too.

Were you surprised in any way when you first got the script? Because there are some changes, most notably the inclusion of Talisa in this scene, because, in the books, Robb’s wife does not attend.
Surprise wouldn’t be the correct word. I mean, I knew what was coming. We knew. I knew how long I signed for, I’d read the books, so I knew exactly what was coming. But the adaptation that the boys have done, David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], they’ve got an extra character in there — and not only have they got Talisa in there, but she’s also pregnant. So you’re upping the ante, more lives are at threat here. So if anything, the changes enhance the drama. They heighten it. And it highlights the ruthlessness of Walder Frey. It shows how deeply scarred he is by Robb’s marrying Talisa, Robb breaking off his word to Walder Frey, about marrying one of his daughters. So not only does he plan to kill Robb, he planned to slaughter the woman he married instead as well.

And their unborn child, so there won’t be a baby Stark out there somewhere.
[Laughs] No, they want the Starks all dead! And that’s what makes it so brilliant, because this is very different than the novel. And once Robb is dying, Catelyn’s convinced that none of her children are alive, so what else has she got to live for? She has nothing. Everybody that she loves and cares for has died. So she then slits Walder Frey’s wife’s throat, and by that action, she knows she’s signing her own death warrant.

Sadly, she doesn’t have all the information — Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon are alive. It’s sad when you consider how much of what has happened is because someone lied to Catelyn; Littlefinger’s lie about Tyrion’s dagger, which in a way started this war.
Yeah, but she thinks they’re dead. She has no idea. She’s been lied to. Littlefinger has lied to her about her daughters, she’s been lied to about Theon killing Bran and Rickon, and she doesn’t consider Jon Snow a child of her own. She would weep to see the life that Arya is now involved in. And the fact that Sansa is now embroiled with the Lannisters? I think these are the worst scenarios that a mother could possibly imagine for any of her children. The fact that Bran can’t walk either? And the fact that they’re growing up without their mother? I think it would break her heart. And her son Robb is now the king [in the north], and if you want people to give their lives to you in battle, you have to be an honorable person, and sometimes, they can be the most gullible people around, unfortunately. And she has been manipulated.

And yet, she’s incredibly savvy. She’s seen this coming. Catelyn’s been trying to warn Robb for ages not to send Theon back to the Greyjoys, to keep his word to Walder Frey. It’s almost like one big, tragic “I told you so.”
Yeah. And it’s a generational thing, too. The way Catelyn was brought up, you don’t break your word. You just don’t do that. But the younger generation is very different, and they do. So when you do that to certain people, internally, you have a gut feeling, you know there’s going to be retribution down the line, and she feels it.

You’ve inhabited her for so long. Is it hard to let Catelyn go?
[Takes a deep breath] I’ve had three amazing years working on this incredible series, and I’ve completely fallen in love with the character. She is infuriating sometimes [laughs] because she is so honorable. And she does constantly do the right thing. But she’s a driven woman. She’s strong. And that’s what I love about her, is that she’s grown since the death of her husband. She continues to grow. But it’s a growth that she has to do unwillingly because of the circumstances. It’s not about improving herself in an enlightened way. It’s about achieving her goal, which is to get through the suffering and get her children back together. All she wants is to get in, shut the gates of Winterfell, and keep them in there. And that’s not going to happen. And it is very hard, because the people I’ve worked with have become such good friends, the crew and everybody. So it is sad to say good-bye.

Did you do anything with the cast and crew to commemorate this? Did you have a party or wake or just something to say good-bye?
Well, the last thing that happened was Catelyn’s throat getting slit, so that was the end of the filming day. That was a wrap. And everybody had come in, and there was a massive round of applause, and then hugs and kisses. And then I went and had a haircut! [Laughs] I got my hair cut off by the wonderful Kevin Alexander, who is a hair designer on the show, and then we went out for food. And lots of alcohol. [Laughs] Because at that point, I was completely exhausted. But it was a good exhaustion.

You must have been wanting to cut your hair for so long.
Well, you know the problem is, I got it dyed about every three weeks, to maintain the color. So what happens is, you don’t cut your hair from the start of filming to the end of it. And so the condition of your hair gets bad. At the end of it, you have to cut a lot of it off, so that the regrowth will be better, it’ll be in better condition, by the time you have to dye it again. So it was nice just to get a lot of it cut off, and get it redyed for another job! Thank god my hair’s strong.

Kit Harington can’t wait until he can cut his hair, too.
Yeah? Is that what Kit said? He’s got lovely hair, little Kit, absolutely. But I think he secretly likes it anyway, because he likes to wear hair bands. Don’t tell him I told you! [Laughs] And you know, a lot of people, when they break up, they cut their hair. You want a change, a solid transformation, a visual transformation,  so a lot of people do cut their hair. It’s about rebirth and renewal. And a visual change is easier and faster than actually spending time on working on yourself, which is a slower and gradual process.

Even though Catelyn dies here, her influence on other characters and the aftermath of this event will still be a factor for seasons to come. For instance, her impact on the Jaime-Brienne relationship.
It’s a great relationship! He’s on a big change as well, and part of that started because Jaime Lannister gave Catelyn his word, and his journey with Brienne is about mutual respect building up. So because this simple, honorable woman trusted him to do this, it gradually, like some form of osmosis, gets into his consciousness, and he will start to change as well.

Do you keep in touch with Sean Bean? Is there a little club you guys have once you’re killed off Game of Thrones?
[Laughs] Well, funny enough, I bumped into Sean about a month ago in London, and it was fantastic to see him, actually. I mean, I hear his voice constantly because he does so many voice-overs on television, and then he pops into your mind whenever you hear his voice. He’s a lovely guy. But we haven’t yet formed the dead Game of Thrones club. [Laughs] The Dead Characters Club. I think we might just have to! There will be a massive influx after episode nine! The numbers will go up substantially.

GoT’s Michelle Fairley on the Red Wedding