Spoilers ahead for the season five finale of Game of Thrones.
We knew it might come to this. As soon as Arya spotted Ser Meryn Trant — one of the names on her kill list — it seemed unlikely she’d be able to resist quenching her thirst for revenge, no matter how much training she’s had with the Faceless Men at the House of Black and White. While she had marked this dark knight for death long before she knew about his brothel behavior, it’s clear his encounters with Sansa both in and out of court were no fluke. In a move that seems inspired in part by the sample chapter “Mercy” from The Winds of Winter, Arya tracks down her target and uses his predilection for little girls to gain access to him, stabbing his eyes out first and then stabbing him in the chest, the side, and the back, before cutting his throat (“as I thoroughly believe the character deserves,” actor Ian Beattie, who portrays Meryn, told us). Beattie chatted with Vulture about how Game of Thrones gives its actors death notifications, crying his stabbed eyes out, and how Charles Dance spoiled last season for him.
How did you first find out?
When we were starting the season, I was sent the scripts for the first four episodes, so I had a funny feeling when I read in episode four that I was being shipped off to Braavos with Mace Tyrell, because I knew who was in Braavos. I did have a strange feeling of impending doom. But David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], they’re not without a touch of style. They phoned me personally to tell me the news, “Valar morghulis, or in this case, Meryn morghulis.” They said, “We’re sending you the scripts of episodes nine and ten, and you get to see a really nasty side of Ser Meryn.” And I thought, Great! I’m going to get to kill someone. I’m going to get to kill somebody nice and popular. I thought, Maybe I get to kill Bronn! That would be perfect. So I got the scripts, and I was genuinely horrified. I was daunted by the challenge of bringing this monster to life, to make this monster human, which I believed would make it more terrifying. There wasn’t a day that went by where I wasn’t thinking about the one scene in episode nine or the scene in episode ten.
When it came to filming the scenes, it was actually very unusual, because we filmed the first half, the exterior stuff, in Croatia, but the interior scenes in the brothel, we actually filmed over three days in a studio just outside Belfast. We filmed them in order, which was very unusual. And the very last scene, we got it in one take — my throat being cut, my last scene. I’ve watched every episode of Game of Thrones, and I’ve watched every episode more than once, and I haven’t seen a death like this one! [Laughs.] It will be one of the toughest deaths, I think, for people to watch. It’s the Sonny Corleone of deaths scenes. It’s one people will remember.
It must have been tough to shoot, both emotionally and technically.
Those three days were probably also the biggest challenge of my acting career. I think and I hope we got it right, that it presents the viewer with the horror of Ser Meryn and the thoroughly just end that he deserves. But it was also the worst moment of my professional career, and that was when the incomparable director David Nutter said, “That’s a series wrap on Ian Beattie.” That was awful. That was terrible. It was like being told you can’t come back to your family again. Your large, slightly dysfunctional, incredibly talented family. The only good news was, because my eyes were stabbed out, for the last six hours of filming of the scene between Maisie [Williams] and myself, I was completely blind. I was wearing prosthetics over my eyes. So that presented a challenge in itself. I couldn’t see a thing. But that was good news, because none of them could see me crying.
And by the way, it was an absolute privilege to work with Maisie. I was able to put my complete trust in her. There was only one little bit of the whole scene where we used stuntmen and stuntwomen. Only one bit where she leaps on me and I go down. Otherwise, everything is Maisie and me. As sad as it was, it was one of the most wonderful days I’ve had on set.
Did you and Maisie exchange any parting gifts?
No, but I think she still has a piece of my eye, so she’s got a memento. [Laughs.] With any luck. It’ll always be a private joke between her and me. You know that gesture where you point to your own eye, and then point to someone else’s? “I’m watching you” — you’ve seen that before? That’s what Maisie and I were doing with each other for four or five days.
If Arya hadn’t messed up Ser Meryn’s face so much, you might have been able to live on — the Faceless Men could have used your face as one of their disguises.
That could have been a possibility! On the last day, I did mention to Bryan Cogman that perhaps Ser Meryn could have a slighter nicer twin brother, and perhaps he didn’t beat up young children, but old grannies or something like that? I don’t think the idea flew. [Laughs.] So it doesn’t bode well for me.
Arya also has a few words with Ser Meryn regarding Syrio Forel. Up until this point, a lot of fans clung to the belief that Syrio survived, because we never saw him die. Some even believe that he perhaps became Jaqen H’ghar.
Yeah. Speaking as the character, Syrio Forel is dead. Unless Syrio managed to somehow overcome Ser Meryn at that moment, with a wooden half of a sword, which I would have thought to be extremely unlikely, Ser Meryn simply would not have left him alive. He was under orders, and he was under orders from Cersei. I asked David Benioff what he thought, and he thought Syrio was dead as well. I simply don’t believe that Syrio was left to live. I’m as certain of that as I can be. Unless, in some future, if he appears in the guise of Jaqen H’ghar … but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think this is one theory that’s going to bite the dust when everyone sees Ser Meryn die.
Arya’s justification is all about Syrio. She doesn’t even know what he did to Sansa.
Right — she wasn’t there. It was strange, because whenever we did those things in season one and season two, when I beat Sansa under the orders of King Joffrey, the justification I found for the way I treated Sansa, long before I knew what we were going to learn about his private side in season five, was that some Stark, whether it had been Ned, or Ned’s father, or Ned’s brother, that maybe one of them caused Ser Meryn a grievous insult in the past, which is why he enjoyed abusing Sansa. Little did I know that the truth behind why Ser Meryn enjoyed beating young girls, that it was a personal pleasure that we only see this season. I find it quite difficult to find a single redeeming feature in Ser Meryn. The only one that I find, that I pinned all my hopes on, was the fact that he had a fierce loyalty to Cersei. She is a glorious woman, and Ser Meryn did adore her.
Ser Meryn might not see Cersei again, but you could still see Lena Headey and the rest of them. Comic-Con!
I might bump into them, because I live in Belfast, and Belfast is not that big a place. You go for a walk, and you walk past Kit Harington. You go for a meal, and there’s Peter Dinklage. It’s funny — I called down to the studio in March because I was giving an award to a young man in Belfast, and I wanted to get a T-shirt signed by some of the Belfast actors for this young man. And I didn’t think anybody would be there yet, but Bernadette Kaufman, one of the producers, was there, and Bernie said, “You know, you really must come down and visit us,” and I said, “I can’t! I couldn’t possibly do that!” Can you imagine all the crew going, “Look at him! Has nobody told him he’s dead? Time to go home!”
When you were on set, was it hard not being spoiled by other actors?
I was filming a scene with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau last year, and as soon as I had finished, I walked off, and there was Charles Dance. He turned around and he said, “Well, the little bastard finally killed me!” Which basically just gave away the whole end of the season for me. And I had managed to avoid finding out the whole time, until he told me! I’d like to have as good of a surprise as everyone else. [Laughs.]