Note: Do not read on if you have not yet seen Season 3, Episode 10 (the season finale) of HBO's "Game of Thrones," titled "Mhysa."
This was the season we learned to love Arya Stark.
The younger daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, Arya, who is portrayed on HBO's "Game of Thrones" by the 16-year-old English actress Maisie Williams, came into her own over the course of Season 3, falling in (and out) with the Brotherhood Without Banners, stirring up enough chemistry with her traveling pal Gendry (Joe Dempsie) to inspire a legion of Internet "shippers" and eventually joining forces, however reluctantly, with one of the men on her infamous kill list, Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (Rory McCann).
Arya wasn't present for the Red Wedding, thank heaven, but she witnessed enough to know that her life will never be the same. The sight of her brother Robb's corpse, its head replaced with that of his beloved direwolf, seems guaranteed to cure her of the clumsy do-gooderism that has so far handicapped her family in its war against the ruthless Lannisters. As the only remaining Stark who knows how to fight, Arya seems destined to become our new hero -- that is, if she can retain enough of the family virtue to keep us on her side. (As Williams herself points out, "If you want something to happen on the show, it almost certainly will not happen.")
Meanwhile, Williams, who grew up noticeably between last season and this one, has revealed herself to be an entertaining presence on social media. Her adorable Vine video in response to last week's episode gained her a new legion of followers, but she was a fan favorite long before then, thanks to such charming digital artifacts as this viral video of her dance company flash-mobbing an English plaza.
On a recent school night, HuffPost TV interrupted Williams' exam prep to grill her about Arya's recent travails, the joys of acting opposite Rory McCann and the perks of accidental social-media fame. Here are the highlights of our conversation. (Note that neither this reporter nor Williams has read ahead in the books.)
I heard that you were busy with some schoolwork tonight.
Yeah, I've got a few exams coming up for a performing arts college that I attend.
I have to ask about the Vine you posted after the Red Wedding episode. What inspired that?
I have this really bad habit of doing things on the Internet and forgetting that the whole world is going to see it. I hadn't actually watched the episode, but my phone started blowing up with all the tweets and stuff. So I was reading them for a bit, and then -- yeah, I don't know. I did one where I was just sort of giggling, and then I deleted that and did that one in my kitchen, just like, "They're dead, um … " I didn't want to tweet or anything; I didn't really know what to say. I'm a little bit awkward on Twitter, like, I'm never really sure what to say. So I just did that, and then my Vine blew up and I got loads of followers, and then Twitter went crazy and I got, like, so many followers overnight, and yeah. [Laughs.] And then Mum was like, "Maisie, you're in the Daily Mail!" I was like, "Oh my God, seriously?"
Do you enjoy having that ability to have a two-way conversation with your fans?
Yeah, I think it's fantastic. You know, there's some people that obviously abuse social networking or whatever, but I think it's a fantastic idea. I've never had any bad encounters with any of it.
Have you met any people that you admire on social media?
Yeah, Ed Sheeran. He's a British singer-songwriter. He tweeted about "Game of Thrones," and then a couple of people were like, "Oh, did you know that Ed Sheeran likes 'Game of Thrones?'" I was like, "That's really cool!" So I just tweeted him, and then he didn't tweet me back for, like, three days, and I was like, "Oh, how embarrassing is this?" And then he tweeted me back and called me a "top lass," and it was really cool. So now we're Twitter buddies, and he invited me to one of his concerts.
How do you think Arya is feeling, given the events of the last two episodes?
When she lost Gendry and Hot Pie, we kind of saw her start to put up these walls, I think. And it seems like she's getting a lot of bad luck all at once. She's starting to get this sort of love-hate thing with the Hound. She doesn't really like him, but she knows that he's a good guy to be with, because she's not going to get in trouble [while he's protecting her]. But I think now she's really put up this barrier and she's not willing to trust anyone fully anymore. And I think she really did struggle with that anyway, properly trusting people. She's really kind of kept herself to herself. I think now she's not really sure what she's going to do. She doesn't really have a goal anymore.
Because her goal had been to go back home?
Yes, to go home and see her family, and now I think she thinks, "Well, maybe home isn't safe anymore. And if they're here, then who's at home?" And she saw all these Stark guards getting killed straight in front of her, and I think it was kind of a wake-up call, where she was like, "Home doesn't mean you're going to be safe." At the moment, she's completely numbed by the whole thing, but I think in the long term she has a bit of a struggle to see where she's going to go.
I interviewed Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) last week, and she said that the Starks are "too honorable" and that the kids are going to have to learn to adapt and maybe even become more like the Lannisters. Do you think that that's gonna happen to Arya?
Yeah, I think Arya is always doing the right thing, and it might not be the best thing. I can see her really now kind of changing and realizing, "No one else is going to do anything for me, and no one's actually here to help me." I think we're going to see a darker side to her, and maybe not the honorable Stark that we know already. I think it's maybe going to start getting a bit more nasty and brutal from here on in.
Tell me about acting opposite Rory McCann. You guys really went at each other in the second-to-last episode. What was that like?
We were having a great time! That was a fantastic day. I was riding on the horse for a bit that day, and it was lovely weather, and I just remember having such a relaxing day. I met Rory in the pilot episode, and he's just a really, really nice guy. In that scene, we'd done a few rehearsals before with [director] David Nutter, just to see how everything was gonna go. So by the time we started shooting, we were quite confident. There weren't many hiccups, apart from I kind of fell off the horse and my foot got caught in the reins.
Yeah, it was really funny, actually. My leg was, like, caught up by my ear, and I was like, "Oh, brilliant." [Laughs.]
I love the fact that you and Rory don't pull any punches with each other. The fact that he's a very large adult man and that you're a teenager doesn't seem to be an issue.
Yeah, I think the Hound kind of admires Arya and the fact that she can really upset someone just by using words. They're usually two very violent characters, and you're used to seeing them just getting their sword out and getting all violent on each other. But here they're just sitting down and spiteful.
Were you there when they shot the Red Wedding scene?
No, and I was kind of sad, because I was like, "Oh my God, I'm gonna be in a scene with Michelle and Richard [Madden (Robb)] again, and I'm gonna be in a scene with Oona [Chaplin (Talisa Maegyr)]," and then they filmed it on separate days. So we did all of our night shoots, me and Rory, outside, and then they went and did all the inside stuff.
Did you get a chance to say goodbye to them?
I did. I recently saw them both in America. We did some press out there when Season 3 premiered, so I've seen them recently. So I have said goodbye, but not on set, which was sad.
I know there are a lot of people who want Gendry and Arya to get together, and I know you've said that you might even be one of them. How did you feel watching that scene where Melisandre seduces Gendry and then extracts his blood with leeches?
I thought it was quite a cool scene. I didn't read that in the script, so that was a bit of a shock to me. When I was on set with Joe [Dempsie], he was saying that his mum wanted to come out and watch him on set, and he was just praying that she didn't pick Episode 8. He was like, "Oh man, that would be the most awkward thing ever." [Laughs.] So I knew obviously there was something embarrassing happening. But yeah, I think it was kind of stupid of Gendry to stay with the Brotherhood, because he got taken. From Arya's perspective, she's kind of like, "Dude, why didn't you listen to me! We could have been in this together." [Laughs.]
Did you hear from fans who were upset that he was at least vaguely betraying Arya?
I got a few tweets and stuff. People were like, "Oh, you're so stupid, why did you let him go?" Everyone always thinks it's Arya kind of leading it, but I think it was kind of rude of Gendry to leave this little girl on her own, you know?
So do you think the Arya/Gendry shippers are going to end up being disappointed?
I think so, yeah. [Laughs.] It's just too cliché, I think. [Author] George R.R. Martin would never do that. If you want something to happen on the show, it almost certainly will not happen. It's always gonna go the other way. And personally, I also see Arya being on her own in the end and doing quite well. She's one of the only characters that could actually do it on her own and survive. Robb without his army would be nothing -- well, now he's nothing. [Laughs.] So I never really saw her being in love and whatever. I see her as a bit more of a killer and a fighter than that.
Speaking of fighting, has your dance training helped you learn all those combat moves?
Yeah, it's helped me so much. I think when I started the water dancing, the fighting, I realized it was just like choreography, just with a sword. There were still obviously difficult parts to it. I was doing it with my left hand, and my arm got tired more quickly than it would have if I had been using my right hand. So there were added difficulties that I gave myself, stupidly. [Laughs.]
I know Arya is left-handed in the books and you're right-handed, but did they let you choose which hand to use?
Yeah, that's the stupid thing, that it was completely my choice. I remember reading on the Internet, people were like, "But that person's horse is supposed to be brown, and it's white!" And I was like, "Oh God, these guys are really --" So I was like, "OK! I'll do it left-handed." And now I'm like, "This is really difficult. Why did I do this?" [Laughs.]
I love that flash-mob video your dance company made.
Oh, thanks. We did that to promote Susan Hill Dance School, the local dance school I attend. When I'm dancing, I don't know where the confidence comes from, but I just pretend I'm someone else, I think, and then I go out and dance. And then it went viral on the Internet, and the whole world saw me being really ... attitude. [Laughs.] So, yeah.
In the Season 3 finale, Arya sees Robb's body with his direwolf's head stitched to his neck. What was it like filming that?
When I was doing my reaction, it was just a guy riding a horse -- there wasn't the big head and the gory bits. But I stayed behind afterwards to watch them actually film the gory bit. Me and Mum, we just sat there in the freezing cold. [Laughs.]
And what about the scene where Arya brutally murders one of Walder Frey's soldiers?
Yeah, that's Arya's epic finish for this year. It was a really long day, but it went really well. I was on the horse for a lot of it, in a really awkward position on the neck, so my legs were kind of jelly by the end of it.
It's a change for Arya to be murdering people in a rage, isn't it?
Yeah. And it's different. She's usually very graceful with her sword, but just basically hacks at his neck. It's horrible.
How emotional was it, ending the season with such intense and violent scenes?
Well, this was the first season that I didn't actually cry on my wrap. I usually cry, and I didn't and I don't know why. I was really happy, actually. I had a really, really good year, and I didn't want to cry. I have a stunt double and a body double, and we all had our picture together, all in the same outfit with the same hair, and it was just really nice. It was emotional, but I didn't cry. I really wanted to end on a high note.