SPOILER ALERT! Stop reading now unless you’ve watched tonight’s episode of “Game of Thrones,” (Season 3, Episode 9) — “The Rains of Castamere.” This story contains details of some major plot twists, including ones not from George R.R. Martin’s “A Storm of Swords.”
Michelle Fairley always knew her storyline, as Catelyn Stark, would take a tragic turn at The Red Wedding.
But, the Northern Irish actress, who brought this ferocious, strong-willed mother to life from the page, wasn’t prepared for her own reaction when she finished filming it.
“I’ve never been that emotionally exhausted before — ever,” she told AccessHollywood.com, thinking back to shooting the gut-wrenching twist where Robb Stark, Talisa and Catelyn Stark are murdered in the home of Lord Walder Frey.
Book readers knew the scene was coming. Michelle said fans even mentioned the scene to her over the years.
But on Sunday night, for those seeing and learning about it for the first time, it must have seemed a tremendously cruel twist of fate that Catelyn had to watch her daughter in law (who was carrying her first grandchild) die, and then her first-born son slip away too, before her own throat was slit.
“You think you’re just gonna kill the King and then the mother gets involved, and it just snowballs and that’s what happens. These terrible things happen and they’re out of control,” she told Access.
In our new interview, Michelle left us a little teary eyed as she explained how she helped co-star Richard Madden through his final scene as Robb, the big reason she thinks fans will continue to watch the series, and what she did after leaving the set on her last day of shooting The Red Wedding.
Access: Was this material hard for you, because this woman’s journey is incredibly difficult. It starts out with tragedy, followed by loss and more loss. This is not a woman who ever gets to be happy in this entire series.
Michelle: Yes, is the answer to the question, but her goal is to get what’s left of her family back together again. … But in Episode 9 of Season 3, when she witnesses the death of her son, and at this point she thinks the majority of her children are dead, she thinks they’re all dead, so she actually has nothing to live for. She has no reason to survive anymore and she then kills Walder Frey’s wife, I think, for retribution, for her son’s death, as well, but also in the hope that she will die too. … I think she does it as an act of revenge… and it’s the truest emotion she’s ever had in terms of her action afterwards. It’s completely from the gut and at that point, it’s without care for her own safety or survival.
Access: I know you and Richard are really close. We had a little sitdown interview in Season 2, and he just could not say enough nice things about you. He loves working with you…
Michelle: And snap, I feel the same way. Absolutely.
Access: Did you guys have a discussion before you filmed this? I know you two have done that before.
Michelle: Richard and I discuss stuff, we talk about stuff. We don’t sit down and go into it in depth; we do it in stages, when we need to. And it’s respectful of each other. Also, it’s about holding stuff back because you don’t know how you’re gonna be at that moment. … There was a sequence where Robb is dying and Catelyn is pleading with Walder Frey and the camera was on Robb and they didn’t want me to do all of the stuff. They said, ‘No, hold back a bit.’ But I actually went to Richard and said, ‘Look, is there anything that she says in that section that you really need to hear with the full emotion, so that you can react?’ And he told me what he needed to hear in order for him to react and I hopefully gave it to him. So that’s how you work. You have to be respectful and kind, and generous.
Access: Catelyn kills Walder Frey’s wife on purpose. Having gone through this long journey as Catelyn, what was it like to do that scene?
Michelle: It was brilliant. … It made absolutely total sense because at that point, she’s just witnessed the last breath of her son and then she gets a moment where she’s allowed to vent. … I actually feel, at that point, she is dead herself because as far as she knows that is her last breathing child on earth and he is dead, so she has no reason to keep living. She’s lost absolutely everything that matters to her. … When she screams after he is dead, it’s the frustration, it’s the anger, it’s the loss, it’s poison coming out of her mouth. She wants to die. And then she kills because at this point, it’s a culmination of revenge, whether it’s revenge for the murder of her son or it’s saying, ‘Come on. Kill me.’ She’s actually still thinking at this point that Walder Frey cares about his wife. [Finally], Catelyn learns how to play that game and she doesn’t give a damn and she just slices [Walder Frey’s wife’s] throat and it’s inviting her own death, basically.
Access: David [Benioff] told us at the premiere, and he didn’t mention The Red Wedding specifically, but he said of Season 3, ‘Some of the scenes are so emotional that we had our crew, this tough, Northern Irish crew crying on set.’
Access: Did you see tears as it was being filmed from some of these guys that you’ve worked with?
Michelle: Yeah… because it’s three years of friendship and working together and incredibly brilliant people in every department. … It’s emotional to say, goodbye. It really is, because it matters, and because it mattered and because those friendships meant something. Everybody who works on this show is brilliant at what they do and respectful of everybody else’s job and they were an amazing crew, absolutely amazing, and it was incredibly emotional.
Access: Do you remember what it was like on the day that you shot it? It’s Belfast so it’s gloomy a lot, but did it happen to be a sunny day by chance?
Michelle: No, it wasn’t. Not at all. There’s about five of those a year in Belfast and they’re never when we’re shooting. … We were in studio the whole time as well and also, it was in the winter, it was in November, so the days are really short and we shot it chronologically. … We started on a Monday, and we worked right through until the Friday evening, so everybody knew what we were working towards and it was exciting. … You knew what you were having to achieve in this momentous week and everybody wanted to do the best they possibly could.
Access: So you leave the set that [last] day, and what did you do?
Michelle: What did I do? Well, God. Well, what I did was completely and utterly… I was just…
Access: A wreck?
Michelle: It’s so emotional. Yeah, I was an emotional wreck. I really was. … Kevin, [our] wonderful hair designer, he cut my hair for me. I underestimated how much that this would take out of me… and poor Kevin. He was so lovely. This was after everybody had wrapped, so we had a couple hours of sitting together talking and he cut my hair and… you know [how] some people cut their hair when they break up a relationship — they change their look? But my hair really did need a cut at this point, so Kevin, bless him, did it and we chatted and then I went and had dinner with David Benioff and a couple of other [people] — with Oona Chaplin. And Richard, by this point, was already on a plane, crying, and it was incredibly emotional. It was. It was really emotional. … I’ve never been that emotionally exhausted before, ever.
Michelle: But it felt good. It felt good. Because you felt that you’d achieved something.
Access: How do you think people are going to react to this?
Michelle: That’s what’s so brave about it. This world — the world they live in — is cruel, and George, knows it better than anybody. … He allows you to get emotionally attached to these people and then, with ruthlessness, he takes them away from you. And I think, you grieve for characters, you do. You absolutely grieve for characters. I know what it’s like when you watch something and enjoy it, like in ‘The Wire’ when Omar went. … It’s like, ‘You can’t kill your lead man,’ like Ned Stark. That’s an incredibly brave thing to do and trust that your audience is going to stay with you. But, of course, these audiences have already made attachments, so they want retribution, they want to see revenge, they want to see their characters avenged. That’s why people will stick with it and it has a knock on effect for other characters in the series. But it’s incredibly brave to do, to wipe out three characters in one episode! And in such a spectacular way — at a wedding. It’s wonderful.
Access: I talked to Sean Bean about his exit from the series back in Season 1 and he credited you as one of the reasons his performance was so strong. He said you were, ‘wonderful and so sincere as an actress and so believable.’
Michelle: Oh my God! I didn’t know that, oh wow!
Access: So, who are the people that helped your performance out the most? Obviously Richard.
Michelle: Without a doubt, Richard… It’s George for the books and David and Dan [Weiss] for incredible scripts. But also, the children, the actors who play my children because that’s what Catelyn Stark is about — her children. … Even though you only get them together in Season 1, very briefly… that was strong enough to drive that character and to keep her going, and it’s her love and attachment to her children that I think is my drive. And also, watching them grow up as well, and seeing them in Belfast and watching them grow up into these wonderful people. And they’re not child actors, they’re actors, they’re just brilliant actors and the fun that we had together, it’s such a privileged position to have been in. It really is.”
“Game of Thrones” concludes its Season 3 run next week at 9 PM on HBO.
-- Jolie Lash