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Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon on Avoiding Ramsay Bolton’s Backstory, His Toughest Day on Set, and Digital Dogs

Spoilers ahead for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.

“Everyone needs a good villain to hate!” actor Iwan Rheon told us at the start of season six, before his character, Ramsay, gave us even more reasons to despise him (including feeding his baby brother, stepmother, and dead lover to the dogs). Had the Knights of the Vale not intervened, Ramsay likely would have remained Warden of the North uncontested, “a despot waiting to happen.” But now, the Starks have reclaimed Winterfell, Sansa is divorced, Westeros-style, and Ramsay’s dogs, having grown accustomed to the taste of human flesh, got their first good meal in a week. In the aftermath, Rheon chatted with Vulture about facing off with Jon Snow, getting pummeled by Kit Harington, and Sansa’s revenge.

Let’s talk about the parlay between Jon Snow and Ramsay. It’s an interesting dynamic, considering how much they have in common, being the bastard sons of these two Northern houses, both with impulse-control issues. They’re almost opposite sides of the same coin, and Ramsay’s able to use that against Jon to an extent. You originally auditioned for Jon, right?
Yes! And they are very similar in many ways, even though they’re the opposite of each other. When I auditioned for Ramsay, I didn’t know an awful lot about him. In the script, he was just called “Boy.” He was called “Boy” until episode ten, so I had to go around telling people I was playing a character called “Boy” on Game of Thrones, which was great fun. I had a sneaking suspicion that he was who he was, but I didn’t really know anything about him. Only after I was offered the role did I learn he was called Ramsay Bolton, but I had to keep it quiet.

Did you have a sense of who Ramsay was from the books?
You know, I decided not to read the books, and instead just go with the scripts and the discussions with [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], who obviously have a direct line to George [R.R. Martin]. I thought it was better to avoid confusing myself, since what’s written in the books is slightly different than what we discussed for the series. At some point, I’ll sit down and read it all. [Laughs.]

But Ramsay, he knew calling Jon a bastard was going to have an effect, because he knew how much of an effect it had on himself before he was legitimized. He’s probably even killed a few people for mentioning it. So he utilizes that, just as he used it in the letter. He’s trying to poke him. At the same time, he does have a respect for Jon Snow, and we were certainly trying to weave that into it, that he looks at him and thinks, “You’re just like me. You’re a bastard, and you’ve risen to an unprecedented height within the social construct of the world of Game of Thrones.

So Ramsay is kind of impressed by Jon, and what he did in the Night’s Watch, and the fact that he’s led an army to Winterfell. But Jon’s also a problem for him, because he’s the bastard son of Ned Stark, just as Ramsay’s the bastard son of Roose Bolton, and if he wants to stake his claim, he’s got to get rid of him. And he was so close to doing it! If only it weren’t for that pesky Sansa!

Before this season started, I was joking with Sophie Turner about who should be on Sansa’s kill list, and of course Ramsay was on it …
Understandably! Did he top the kill list?

I think he shared the top spot with Littlefinger. She wasn’t sure what to do about him just then.
That’s fair enough. Besides, it’s lonely at the top. [Laughs.]  

Once inside Winterfell, Jon stops beating Ramsay because of Sansa, so she can take her revenge. Apparently during the shoot for that beating, though, you took a few punches?
Yeah. But when you’re doing stuff like that, as I was telling Kit [Harington], “Don’t worry about it.” Because it looks good if it looks real. He’s got to exert some energy, and if you don’t, then it’s not being done properly. I also got caught by his shield, and that was probably more painful than hitting my jaw. That’s just how it goes! And we were trying to play with an element that Ramsay is smiling as well. He finds it all quite funny that he’s being battered by Jon Snow, and there’s just this weird masochistic fun he’s having with that.

How much of the moment where Ramsay was in the dog kennel was CGI? Did a dog come up and lick your face, for instance?
It was all done in post-production. You have to pretend that the dogs are there. There may have been a shot where you see the dog behind me in a cage, but there was never really a dog on my lap or licking my face or anything like that. These dogs, they’re not your usual TV dogs. They’re actually quite brutal. And they only listen to their owners. You’re told not to look at them in the eye, don’t pet them, and all that, so you can’t really sit there with them in the chair, because if the dog decides to actually bite your face off, there really isn’t anything they’re going to be able to do.

Does getting eaten by dogs preclude you from becoming reanimated as a wight?
I jokingly said to David [Benioff], “I’ve been eaten by dogs, so I won’t be able to be a White Walker?” And he was like, “No.” But you never know! [Laughs.] I find it highly unlikely that he will be, though. He’s been digested, hasn’t he?

When Sansa and Ramsay say their good-byes, he says, “I’m part of you now.” How much do you think he’s changed Sansa?
I think he’s had a huge impact on her, psychologically and physically. It’s horrible. She’s been through a traumatic experience, and been really abused, in every way. The wedding night was the hardest of all of Ramsay’s cruelties to shoot. That was a difficult day, and a difficult period leading up to it, just knowing it was coming. I was dreading it. It was very somber on set that day, and it was a difficult thing for anyone to have to do. It was just horrible to do, but you just have to approach it as an actor and tell the truth of the situation. You could tell nobody wanted to do it, but that was our job, so we just got on with it, and made the scene as good as possible.

But what I really liked was that through all that horror, Sansa became strong. There’s a real strength inside her. I’m very interested to see where that character develops now, because she’s got a bit of ambition. It’s great for the show to have such a strong female character.

One other possible interpretation came to mind when he said, “I’m part of you now,” and I was trying to calculate how much time had passed between her escape from Winterfell and this moment …
It can’t be more than a few months, right?

… and I was wondering, what if Ramsay had succeeded in what Roose had told him to do, which was to produce an heir to solidify his position. If Ramsay succeeded in getting her pregnant.
Wow! I don’t think Ramsay would have been able to tell. And I obviously have no idea. We really don’t know. It’s possible. Maybe there will be a little Ramsay Bolton running around Winterfell come season seven. I’ll be waiting, along with everybody else, to find out. I won’t get the scripts anymore!

GOT’s Iwan Rheon on Ramsay Bolton’s Last Stand