chat room

Game of Thrones’ Michael McElhatton Talks Infanticide, Kinslaying, and the Roose–Ramsay Relationship

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Spoilers ahead for the most recent Game of Thrones episode.

The family that slays together, stays together — until they slay each other. The Baratheons used to hold the record for most kinslayers, with the Lannisters as a close second, but now the Boltons are taking the lead. “Congratulations, father. I look forward to meeting my new brother,” Ramsay says as he begins to murder Roose, Walda, and the baby, only to later declare, “I prefer being an only child.” Michael McElhatton, who plays Roose Bolton, chatted with Vulture about getting stabbed like Robb Stark, infanticide, and the Roose–Ramsay relationship.

Which is harder: Not being able to tell people that you have a big death scene coming up on the show, or having to lie to them about it?
Initially, it probably was hard not to talk about. But you don’t want to, because there are fans out there, and we want you to sit down and really enjoy the show and not be disappointed. So if they ask, it’s a legitimate line: “Sorry, I can’t tell you. It’s beyond my control.” That’s a fair-enough way of getting out of it. You get used to not talking about it. I’ve been doing it for five years.

But obviously, there was a very, very bright spotlight on Kit [Harington] and everybody concerned, you know? And he did actually have to lie, I suppose! To absolutely everybody. Whereas when I was asked that question about Kit, I could just say, “Look, I can’t tell you.” He couldn’t even say, “I can’t tell you.” He had to say, “I am dead,” to make the impact of last week’s episode all the more. It was much, much tougher on Kit.

There was a nice symmetry to how the Roose murder mirrored the Robb Stark murder. They kind of play out the same way.
Yes, they do! I’m sure that was fully intended by [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], really. They probably thought it was a just way for Roose to go, the way he killed Robb. [Chuckles.] They were both equally shocking, and that was the intention, really. I had no idea how it was going to go, but it was a logical way to end Roose.

What was it like shooting the scene?
It was a long, long day, as most days on Game of Thrones are. This took a long time to shoot. And Jeremy Podeswa, who was directing the episode, said, “You know what? Let’s change the way we’re thinking about this scene. Let’s not pre-plan it. It comes to Ramsay in a flash.” The news comes that it’s a boy. The news could have come that it was a girl, which would have changed the whole dynamic. There are many layers that are happening right there. But the minute I know I have a male heir, Ramsay is dispensable. I might have gone to kill Ramsay a moment later, or called guards in to have him removed or something like that. So he acted quicker, really. It was just, “Oh God, I’m out, I’m useless, I’m gone,” for Ramsay, and a flash of his madness. The minute he stabbed me, it wasn’t a gleeful, “I am now Lord Bolton.” It was shock: “I’ve killed my father.” It’s fratricide, but it’s also, “This is who I am. This is what I do.”

Do you think Roose just threatened him with the other heir one too many times? Needled him a bit too much?
I would agree with that. He did it with equal measure — he would praise him and then he would needle him. He needed Ramsay for the longevity of House Bolton, and so he legitimized him, and, for a while, he was the only legitimate heir. And Ramsay had proven himself to be useful, taking Moat Cailin against insurmountable odds, really, and burning Stannis’s food supply, which helped me secure the North and defend Winterfell.

But maybe Roose sent him out hoping he would get killed. I think Roose would have quite happily let that happen. He would dispense with people like that. You could look back at the way Roose operated with Ramsay, and how Ramsay could have met a gruesome end, but didn’t. He wasn’t necessarily protecting him all the time, or looking out for his best interests. And all the things Ramsay did to Theon and Sansa, those were behind closed doors, and Roose tended to turn a blind eye to those things, even though he didn’t necessarily approve. The result was losing Sansa, which was a huge, huge error. I always feel he was a guy who let Ramsay have a long chain, but he could yank it. Ramsay always wanted his father’s love, and Roose wouldn’t give it to him.

Roose is supposed to be a great strategist, but perhaps needling Ramsay, or letting him have the long chain, wasn’t a good strategy. If you have a psychopath for a son, don’t threaten him outright!
I would agree! [Laughs.] That goes against Roose’s political climbing. He did leave himself wide open there. Letting that mad dog inside your house was always a risk, wasn’t it? He always thought he had the power and that Ramsay cowered to his every word, and Roose was definitely the smarter of the two, since Ramsay didn’t think about consequences and wasn’t a great planner, although he’s very tenacious and good on the battlefield. We will see where House Bolton ends up!

Well, there’s not a lot left of House Bolton, now that Ramsay’s killed Roose, Walda, and the baby! You could see it coming, but people are really shocked by the infanticide.
Yeah. I haven’t seen the episode yet, but it was pretty shocking to read. I think that baby was not going to last very long, was he? Ramsay started from the top down, and all three had to go. Look, the killing of infants, that’s kind of a rule. You don’t do that. But that’s what that character does.

Joffrey did it, too, when he sent Janos Slynt and the gold cloaks to kill all of King Robert’s bastards. I don’t recall there being the same outrage.
Yeah, absolutely. There are obviously a multitude of brutal things that happen on Game of Thrones, and the press or social media tend to latch on to particular things, don’t they? I don’t want to bring it up again, but I will — an awful lot was made about the rape of Sansa, as if this was the worst thing that had ever happened on the show. After being asked that question hundreds of times, we said, “Obviously, it was shocking. It was horrific.” But I thought it was a brilliantly depicted scene in that it wasn’t trivialized, sexualized, or normalized. But nobody mentioned the episode later where a 10-year-old girl is burnt alive at the stake in front of her parents, because of a prophecy from a red witch! I found that horrific to watch! So it’s interesting that people tend not to get as upset by that particular death.

Do you think people will be upset by Roose’s death? Or does it feel like a bit of karma?
Not from my point of view! [Laughs.] He should have gone on! But, yeah, the most cunning strategists of all will meet their ends, too. I didn’t think he’d be sitting on the Iron Throne, if that’s what you mean. His days were numbered. But he had a good run.

Michael McElhatton Talks Infanticide, Ramsay