[Spoilers from the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere]: Another king has fallen: Wildling leader Mance Raydar, a.k.a. The King Beyond the Wall, volunteered for a horrifying death at the climax of the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere, being burned alive at the stake rather than bend the knee to self-proclaimed king of Westeros Stannis Baratheon—a fate cut short by a merciful arrow from Jon Snow. Below we talk to actor Ciaran Hinds about Mance’s gruesome fate, including how his storyline will differ from George R.R. Martin’s novels. (And for those wondering, no, Hinds wasn’t actually near the flames during that final scene—it’s the magic of Hollywood, er, Northern Ireland).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you find out about Mance’s fate?
CIARAN HINDS: I had an idea when Stannis and Davos turned up [last season], that it meant something serious for me and my future. I got a very lovely email from [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss]. They said basically, “Hi, you know about this show, you know All Men Must Die, and now you’re going to be on your way”—not quite like that, but it was very lovely. They said we’ll see you in August for a good ‘ol barbecue, basically. It’s very kind that they let you know rather than just send you the script. It can be so much harder than in many series, because they feel such a genuine commitment to each loss, but they have to fulfill their commitment to the series.
That scene with Jon Snow in your cell was arguably your finest in the series, how did you feel about it?
Well, it’s pretty high stakes, I guess, there’s never going to be much higher words. I was never sure, they have so many characters to deal with, how far they were going to take Mance. They decided to start the [season] with a big move and I was the guy to be toasted. I haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t know how it’s turned out.
Mance’s position is tricky to sell to the audience, because I’m sure many watching that scene are yelling at their TV, “Take the deal!” So it must put you in a tough position as an actor to convince viewers that a man would make such a choice.
To me, it was something beyond stubbornness, it was a deep-seated belief in what he was trying to do. That if he bend the knee, he may as well not have taken his people to where he had brought them, and that was his personal choice. Rather than hand them over to somebody else, to give his people some liberation and dignity. He was not prepared to sell them down the river.
You played his execution with a rather admirable amount of horror and fear for such a strong, tough character.
The fact is, these people know what death is—they’ve fought, they’ve killed, they’ve been wounded. Being roasted alive is one of the most painful things to be done to you. He wanted to give these people this image, that we can be strong, in what we believe, even in death. I think he was genuinely horrified by the possibility—not just the pain that will arrive, but that his men would see him in this weakness, and that in turn would weaken them. It was a mixture of the two.
What was your best memory of working on the show?
It certainly wasn’t freezing my nuts off in Iceland! Those were bitter days. The people I worked with were so great. The technical people, the camera, the sound, the costume people. It was huge, actually, the work they did behind the scenes in Iceland, to make it bearable for us to do our work.
Bonus question—Warning: Major SPOILER ALERT for those how have not yet read A Dance with Dragons … stop reading if you have not read the book—or stop reading if you don’t want to know how the show might differ from the books.
In George R.R. Martin’s books, Mance’s death at the stake is a trick, and he returns later. But the sense I’ve been getting is you’re done on the show.
Yeah. In the books there’s a lot more than there is in the television series. It’s impossible to recreate everything that’s in the books. You can’t be absolutely faithful to the book, and why would you want to be? It’s a different medium. You have to make decisions and bold decisions and there are so many other characters, that there is enough in the pot. I imagine that if Mance were to come back, like in the books, he’d come back in a different guise, as a different person—it wouldn’t involve me, probably. Then you have to think: Well, in the story, if you can imagine him coming back, does it make sense for him to still be involved when there’s still so much else going on? These are huge decisions [the showrunners] have to deal with and so far they’ve been dealing with them brilliantly, so far as I can see.
More Game of Thrones season 5 premiere coverage:
– George R.R. Martin explains that flashback scene
– EW’s deep-dive recap of season 5 premiere: “The Wars to Come”