Warning: Spoilers from “Game of Thrones” Season 4, episode 9 “The Watchers on the Wall” are contained in this article.
“Game of Thrones” lost another beloved character in the penultimate episode of Season 4, “The Watchers on the Wall.” All season Ygritte had been looking to get revenge on Jon Snow for breaking her heart and betraying her people, but in the moment she realized she didn’t want that anymore, she also lost her life.
Zap2it spoke with actress Rose Leslie about Ygritte’s death and what this means for Jon Snow. She reveals the gift she received on her last day of shooting, and also who she would go back and save if she could change one character’s decision in the show.
Zap2it: This season we’ve really seen Ygritte the violent wildling, so how did you find the balance with also portraying her as the Ygritte the audience and Jon Snow love?
Rose Leslie: We hadn’t yet quite seen such a ruthless side of her and the brutal, brutal mentality that you have to have to survive north of the Wall and to be a part of the Wildling community, so I love that. But you’re right, you do need to balance it with the kind of humanistic nature and show that she still has a heart, and I think that’s certainly shown through in last week’s episode with Ygritte finding Gilly and her child in Mole’s Town. The fact that she didn’t kill her and the fact that she did decide to let her survive — and of course she has no idea of the connection that they have with Jon or Sam — that I felt did help the kind of argument that she isn’t so changed. She’s not a horrible murderous woman yet [laughs].
Why do you think Ygritte did let Gilly live, not knowing the connection?
I do believe that it was the child. I believe that underneath it all, yes of course she is a scorned woman, but she is still a woman who has loved, who does still love Jon Snow, and I think the whole maternal side of that came out. Seeing this rather innocent-looking woman with her baby in her arms and knowing that she was innocent, knowing that she wasn’t really part of the fight and knowing she has nothing to do with the rampage that [Ygritte] in her head is on, which is to pursue Jon Snow and to make sure that he hurts as much as she has done in this last season. I was so grateful for being able to have the character trait that she can see that divide and not just, as they say, go on this murderous rampage and destroy everything that she sees.
I think it’s important that the Wildlings have been humanized instead of just being viewed as monsters, because it’s an important life lesson that they are also just humans.
Yes. They too have that belief, and they too have what they feel is right and they’re working for a better life for themselves as well, and trying to make everyone free. I’m very happy for that.
Does having Olly be the one to kill Ygritte after she killed his family at all temper her death versus having it be caused by someone we know in the Night’s Watch, like Sam or Grenn?
It’s always hard if it is with a child. There’s the moment where she does not die when she sees Jon Snow, and she’s in the courtyard and she and Jon are looking at each other, and there is that moment of finally having seen him and built up all this rage to kill the man; she realizes in that moment that she cannot kill someone that she truly loves. In that hesitation, that is when Olly shoots his arrow and gets her in the back because she isn’t moving anymore; her head still isn’t in the battle.
I think that’s a very touching moment, but also hard for Jon Snow because I think it’s going to be very interesting for Season 5 to then see how he behaves about Olly. Obviously Olly has no idea who he killed, and he just went around and killed all the enemies of the Night’s Watch. It’s a lovely [scene] because obviously it’s not in the books, but it’s lovely way to tie it up and almost have it be more painful for Jon Snow to know.
When I spoke with Kit Harington, he told me that was one of the most important scenes he’s shot in the entire series. What was that day on set like? I’m sure it was very emotional.
Yes, it was. The production, they were incredibly thoughtful and considerate and they decided to make that scene whereby I die in Jon Snow’s arms be my final day, for that to be it for me, my complete wrap. Of course, when we had finally finished shooting the scene, I was very, very touched and it was incredibly heartfelt because I received a wrap gift, and I just broke down in tears. I cried through that evening and just was going around and hugging everyone and telling them how much I enjoyed my experience and how much I loved them, really. I went so over the top.
[Showrunners] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] were there and then all the producers were there and the cast and crew, and they presented me with Ygritte’s bow. They had changed the handle from the actual bow where my left hand grips it to a white leather strap, and then they had sewed on a silver clasp on one side and on that clasp was engraved “Kissed by fire,” and then on the other side was the emblem of a red rose. It was very thoughtful and I was incredibly touched, and it made me cry even more.
Do you think having known Ygritte will change the way Jon views the Wildlings going forward?
I think that it will. I think Ygritte has changed Jon Snow’s mentality. I mean, obviously he’s always been incredibly dutiful and strong in what his beliefs are as well, but I think it allows him to be more malleable and allows him to be more flexible and to see other points of views. And I think that it’s softened him as well.
Coming off the Red Viper’s death, how do you expect fans to react to losing Ygritte?
I hope that they don’t see it coming, for the fans who haven’t read the books and just watch the television show. I hope that they don’t see it coming, and that they are shocked and surprised by it just because I feel that there is a lovely arc to the end of these two characters, for Ygritte and the relationship that she has with Jon Snow. And it also allows Jon Snow to then step into his own and be a man. I remember reading the books even before I started filming Season 2 and knowing that this was the fate of the character, but also realizing that it was a very beautiful way to go for her.
Did you keep reading after her death?
Yes, yes! I read four [“A Feast for Crows”], and I’m now on “A Dance With Dragons.”
One thing I loved in the later books — and I hope we get it in the show — is that Jon continues to think about Ygritte, and their relationship sort of sticks to his ribs.
Yes, and I’m going to be incredibly biased, but I do think there has been a change and a shift within Jon after Ygritte’s death. I agree. When you read the books, that does come across, and makes him a better person.
One final question for you: If you could go back and change one character’s decision since “Game of Thrones” began, what would it be?
Oh wow! One character’s decision. Oh my god, but there are so many characters, Terri! [laughs]
If you think about it, everything bad that’s happened is hinged on people’s poor decisions. Who would you be able to save if you could change one character’s decision?
I think just because I love Bran so much, I think it would have to be Jaime Lannister pushing Bran off the tower and then making him unable to walk. But that’s just me being biased and loving Isaac [Hempstead-Wright] and loving what he does in the character of Bran.
And then that would save Catelyn too — and maybe Robb — because she wouldn’t think Tyrion tried to kill Bran.
Exactly! Absolutely. Yes you’re right, everything trickles down.
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.