Kit Harington on His Big Final Scene, and What Comes Next
After nearly a decade of playing Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, Harington is finally ditching his armor.
We meet in East London on a rooftop almost as windswept as a Westeros moor. Kit Harington is wearing a jacket in an indigo linen weave and a shirt in a sturdy oxford cloth. He looks a bit like a farm boy dressed up for a day in town. The cascade of curls that was the signature of his Game of Thrones character, Jon Snow, is tamed. For Harington, the show is over. For us, the homestretch of the most epic series in the history of television has barely begun.
I cast my mind back to July 2011 and a Dolce & Gabbana event in London’s Westfield mall. It was a month after GoT had débuted on HBO. The paparazzi were swarming around the designers, Naomi Campbell, local It girls — and Alfie Allen, the brother of Lily and another soon-to-be Thrones star. No one noticed the slight, pretty, curly-haired young man standing all on his own. I went up to him to say how much I loved his show. He told me he was disappointed that no one had recognized him.
VIDEO: Kit Harington: First Things First
“Those innocent times,” Harington, 32, recalls with a laugh. “Those times when I wanted to be recognized. I was completely naïve. I don’t think I was prepared for anything like this.” He doesn’t remember the night. He was a kid. But that was how he’d gotten the part in the first place. Jon Snow was written young, in keeping with GoT author George R.R. Martin’s characters, most of whom were in their early teens at the beginning of the saga. “I didn’t have a beard back then, and I’ve got a bit of a baby face underneath this scruff, so I think that helped,” Harington recalls. “Then they went for a completely different take. ‘Grow a beard. Look rougher. That’s what we want.’ I pushed out this scruffy thing that they had to draw on and fill in, but, weirdly, I remember it as a rite of passage. I’d never tried before, and I grew this thing, and it changed me. I felt like a man … a young man.”
Extraordinary as it seems now, Game of Thrones — the eighth and final season resumes on April 14 — was scarcely guaranteed success when it kicked off. “I honestly didn’t think about that at all,” Harington says. “Being in an HBO show was success enough for me. Until Season 5 or 6, literally that far in, I was thinking, ‘Next season, am I gonna get paid?’ That’s how I treated it. When we first got nominated for an Emmy, I didn’t know what that was. It was when I went to Comic-Con that I realized there was a cult following springing up. And soon it was more than a cult following. It’s become a bigger thing on television … Yeah, I guess I have to slightly admit that now — it is kind of one of the biggest shows ever.”
How is Harington feeling now that filming has wrapped? “You don’t feel one thing; you feel a hundred,” he says. “Sadness. Elation. Excitement. Dread, definitely. But more than anything there’s just this flickering light at the end of the tunnel. Once it’s aired and done, I think I’ll just have this great sense that something’s been lifted off my shoulders. I’ve underestimated how much pressure has gone with the show for 10 years.”
And never more so than with the final series: nine months to shoot six episodes when it used to be six months for 10. “You’d come in for a week and be off for two weeks. But I was there the whole time this year. I barely left Belfast. For the last couple of seasons I’ve done more days than anyone else because of the nature of my character. There are just a lot of the battles and the action sequences.”
Then, finally, it was over. “I think I got my final day changed about 18 times, to the point where I didn’t know when it was. I was like, ‘Just don’t tell me.’ Then it came, and I had that final scene, which was very average. I was just walking somewhere with Liam [Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth] and Jacob [Anderson, who plays Grey Worm]. It couldn’t have been more of a wet fart of a scene. But I completely broke down after it. I’d seen Peter Dinklage do his last scene earlier in the day, and he broke down. I’d been at other people’s wraps, like Sophie Turner’s. You just saw them collapse. And it happened to me. It was a beautifully weighted ending. Then it was like, ‘OK, I’m actually done with this show. I love it. It’s my pride and joy, and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it, but I’m done.’ ”
Of course, when we’re talking “last scene,” we’re not talking last scene. “I still don’t trust that the ending that was written down is the actual ending,” Harington says wryly. “I think they kept it from all of us. The secrecy this year was just huge.” At the same time, he teases, “No one I’ve spoken to has guessed the actual ending. No one has got it right yet.”
One of the other tremendous perks of the show is that Jon Snow’s onscreen relationship with Ygritte turned into a real-life love affair: Harington and his co-star Rose Leslie married in June 2018. The couple have bought a fairy-tale home in the English countryside, with a wattle-and-daub exterior, a thatched roof, mullioned windows, and the suggestion of a moat, but there is a catch in this story of ye olde true love. “I think almost the worst thing about falling in love with Rose and marrying her is that it’s going to be very hard to work with her again,” Harington says ruefully. “Working opposite her was one of the highlights of my life and career. I don’t know when, if ever, I’m going to get to do that again, because we’re married now, and it’s hard to work opposite your wife.”
You get the impression that Harington likes to torture himself with such notions. It’s definitely something he felt he had in common with Jon Snow. “I’m quite a concerned human being. Deep down I overthink things. That’s where Jon and I part. Where we connect is that we beat ourselves up.” Five years into Game of Thrones Harington was compelled to seek therapy. It was around the time his character died and was resurrected. (Metaphor alert!)
Now it seems he confines the self-abuse to his work. Harington’s most recent performance was onstage in London as Austin in Sam Shepard’s classic two-hander True West. “I love characters that self-destruct,” he says enthusiastically. He’s looking forward to playing more of them. “I’m not interested at the moment in playing a hero. After 10 years of playing a troubled guy who is a good person, I want to play someone who’s not good.”
He admits he was frustrated with Jon Snow for a while. “He always seemed quite thick,” he says. “He’s someone who is driven by truth and honor. The further he goes, the stronger his principles become. He’s much better than me.” But as Harington discovered, it isn’t easy playing a hero. “There’s just naturally less character there. They’re harder to play than villains. The thing I struggled with for a long time with Jon was trying to develop that character. Only now I look back on it and I’ve begun to be proud of what I did.”
It’s an actor’s cliché that his defining role should be both a blessing and a curse. Harington is pragmatic. “I’m always going to be ‘that guy.’ For all its wonderful things, it brings difficult things too.” But that is a different, more private sort of regret from the one he is feeling at this moment. “The most important job I’ll ever have is about to finish … ” He catches himself. “Well, not the most. Hopefully, I’ll be a father.”
And that’s something else Kit Harington will owe Game of Thrones.
Photographed by Joachim Mueller-Ruchholtz. Styling: Emil Rebek. Grooming: Samantha Cooper. Set design: Jon Bausor. Production: C.S.Tiagi LTD.
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