Spoilers ahead for the last episode of Game of Thrones.
Kit Harington’s two projects right now share a few themes in common. In both Game of Thrones and his new movie Testament of Youth, the actor plays the sensitive-soul-turned-soldier, fighting a brutal war — one in Westeros, and the other in the real world, during World War I. But where Jon Snow has a few battles under his belt (and has even managed to kill a White Walker), Harington’s portrayal of Roland Leighton reveals someone new to both love and war, which complicates his romance with suffragette Vera Brittain, on whose memoir the film is based. Over candy and coffee, Harington chatted with Vulture about his amazing Hardhome scene, rocking out, and how he’s a poet at heart.
I actually visited the set of Castle Black back when they were just building Hardhome, down in the quarry just beneath Castle Black and the Wall. Or, at least, that’s what I think they were building. They wouldn’t say at the time …
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s where Hardhome was. I spent a lot of time in that fucking quarry this year. [Laughs.] It’s a cool set, though, isn’t it? I think with rehearsal, it took about a month to do Hardhome.
At what point did the band Mastodon join you guys? Since they were making cameos as wildlings?
Yeah, they were quite funny. I think [showrunner] Dan Weiss is a big fan of theirs, so they were playing dead wildlings. We didn’t even realize they were on set until we finished the piece, and then they came up and they were like, [imitates American accent] “Hey! We’re Mastodon! Can we get a photo with you guys?” [Chuckles.] They were such sweet guys.
You could have gotten tips from them for Game of Thrones: The Musical.
Yeah, that was quite funny, actually, because we’ve always joked about Game of Thrones: The Musical, and come up with songs, and “Wildling” was one of them! We’ve always done that one on set, so it was nice to be able to do it with Coldplay. But they came up with that independently, and Richard Curtis wrote the script for it, and it was a really fun thing to do. We have a very musical cast. Not me, though. Incredibly embarrassing, getting up and singing “Wildling.” [Laughs.] But it was all right. I did all right. People have been coming up to me and telling me, “I didn’t know you could sing!” And I didn’t think I could, either. I don’t think I can in that video. [Laughs.] But it’s not a hard song to do. It doesn’t require a huge amount of singing talent. Don’t think it’ll be going to Broadway, though. I’m just waiting for them to do Game of Thrones on Ice!
That would make sense, with the White Walkers.
It would, wouldn’t it? You need an ice rink in there somewhere.
You got to have this amazing moment in the battle where Jon Snow learns you can kill White Walkers with Valyrian steel, otherwise known as dragonsteel.
Yeah! And so we know that at least one sword stops a White Walker’s blade.
So, Longclaw. And then there’s also Oathkeeper …
Oathkeeper as well. Widow’s Wail …
Plus Littlefinger’s dagger. And Sam’s dad, Lord Tarly, has one, too, at least in the books …
Right! So Sam might wield one at some point? [Laughs heartily.] Yeah, we’re all fucked. I really loved watching that whole battle, though. It was such a great sequence, and so much fun to do. And those White Walkers actually looked like that on set! With the eyes and everything. That’s all prosthetic. It’s not CGI at all.
In addition to the battle, you make a rousing speech about how this is the one fight that matters. All the other jockeying for power and position ultimately means nothing if you can’t unite against the White Walkers. It puts everything in perspective.
Yeah. And he’s been telling that to people for years, and they’re not listening. He’s been writing all these letters as Lord Commander, and they’re not listening. No one is listening to Jon, and they should be. But it’s some snobbery about the Night’s Watch. It’s an archaic organization that doesn’t really mean anything anymore, and there’s a bastard at the helm of it whom they’re all snobby about, even if it is Ned Stark’s bastard. So why should anyone listen? It would be like someone coming in this room now and telling us, “There’s an army of the undead coming!” We’d go, “No, there isn’t.” [Laughs.]
It would be so much simpler if Jon could just explain it in terms everyone could get behind. Like, point to the giant, Wun Wun, and say, “If he gets turned into a wight, imagine trying to fight that. We have to band together!”
I read something somewhere, where someone said, “Why don’t they just attach the dragonglass to Wun Wun and roll him down the hill?” [Laughs.] That’s great. But Jon won’t be able to convince anyone, really, until they attack. He can keep telling them about it, but no one’s going to get shit scared until they see what he saw. Right now, it’s just the Wall that’s stopping that invasion.
Do you think Game of Thrones and Testament of Youth share a pacifist theme? Both are written by people who wanted to make a statement about the brutality and horror of war, although one is a fantasy depiction and the other is based on Vera Brittain’s memoir …
Yeah. It kind of is, although they’re completely different in many ways. It’s not a cheerful piece. I don’t know why I’m drawn to such depressing pieces of drama, but it was fun to play. It’s a beautiful story. It’s about that war, that terrible, terrible war, and how war tears love apart. It’s a pacifist story but I don’t know if it’s a pacifist movie, if that makes any sense. It’s very clear in her book, when she writes about mending, nursing Germans, and the futility of it. It’s profound.
Speaking of war tearing love apart, there’s a powerful moment where Roland comes back from the war and he shoves Vera away.
It’s PTSD. I think it was clear to me what that was, and it’s that he, for a second, thinks that she’s a German. And he sort of loses himself. And that was exciting to play. I had to get across what the war had done to him without actually seeing the war, and the easiest way to do that was him returning from the war and being a completely different fucking person, for a moment, anyway. And she sees straight through that. She can see inside his soul, whereas the boys can’t. And he’s terrified of that, of her, because he doesn’t want her to see what he’s seen, and so he’s just trying to escape from her. And then he throws her over.
Any physical contact that they had back then was a big deal. Hand-holding was huge.
The slightest touch was risqué. There’s a moment when we go into the theater, and even that little touch was hugely sexualized. It’s tantamount to doing other things in a cinema nowadays. And ditching the chaperone? That’s very cocky! It might seem normal to me, to us, but that was a risky move! He might never get to see her again because of that. That’s quite arrogant. He’s a lover, he’s a fighter, he’s cocksure … He certainly thought a lot of himself.
Did you feel any connection to Roland on the level that both your mothers were writers, and both of you dabbled in poetry?
You know what? I didn’t think about that. But I would like to think of Roland’s mom as like my mom, I guess. Very strong women. And that’s how you get a healthy respect for women, for one thing. And Roland is really progressive as a result, but he’s also not. There’s a point where Vera wants to go to Oxford, and he comes up and says, “Oh, I can tell you how to do that, I can tell you how to get ahead.” Vera shuts the door in his face, and that makes him learn, Maybe this isn’t the way to get the girl. He thought he was being helpful, but actually what he was doing was being really patronizing.
But part of the reason I wanted to do the film was that I got to read his poetry out loud. I love reading poetry. It’s really fun, something I do for fun, out loud on my own. I used to write poetry, too, but I haven’t written a poem in a long time. I used to write a lot, but it was always simplistic. Always rubbish. [Laughs.]