Last season, Game of Thrones embraced the tagline: Winter is Coming. For season two, winter has been replaced by war. And leading the charge is Richard Madden's Robb Stark.
In the season two premiere, we caught up with Stark as he pontificated about his ruling future, grappled with the fate of a dangerous prisoner and felt the pressure crashing down on him like never before. According to Richard, it's only going to get more intense for Robb as the season wears on.
In addition to revealing what lies ahead for another one of Thrones' would-be-king's (romance! betrayal! war!), Richard opened up about the overwhelming fan reaction to this show, what excites him about this season two journey and the incredibly important decision he made about Robb's chastity.
Insider.com: Do you find that fans recognize you out of the costume?
Richard Madden: Yes. And much more in NY than in the UK – I don't know why that is. Maybe people are more forward here. "Hey you, King of the North – sup?" [laughs] I quite like it. People are just genuine fans and want to say thanks for making it – that's lovely.
Insider: On paper, adapting these beloved books seemed rife for failure. But in reality, Game of Thrones has succeeded on every level. Did you expect it to be this big?
Richard: When I got the scripts, I knew it was great TV, but I thought it would go one of two ways -- utter failure, or something resembling what it's become. Especially when I realized how big the fanbase is. There's expectations right away. You need to not only be faithful for the fans, but figure out a way to capture a new audience. That's really quite difficult to balance. Our writers don't patronize an audience or the actor. So often scripts are overwriten and everything is laid out in the dialogue for a stupid actor. Now, into season two, they're writing for the actors, so we've all gotten to take ownership over our parts a little bit. But I never forget that the readers had ownership over Robb Stark long before I got cast and they had an expectation – hopefully we're doing it right.
Insider: Did you read all the books when you landed the role, or are you going season by season?
Richard: Season by season. It's very tempting to start and not stop – a lot of the other actors just tore through the books. But I don't like preempting what's going to come up. I know key points that happen to my character, but if I really read it through, subconsciously there will be parts of me that want to play those moments. Foreshadow them in some way.
Insider: Season two has already shown us a slightly more mature Robb. What excites you about this season?
Richard: This whole thing started from this family perspective but he took on these responsibilities and got caught up in the wave of it a little bit. Last week, when he told his mother, "It's more complicated than this," he meant that this has now become bigger than their family. He's got 20,000 men behind him all with mothers, wives, sons and daughters waiting at home for them and Robb is dictating whether they live or die. So he's now thinking about 20,00 families. The changes in Robb this season are dictated by those elements. Robb is changing a lot from season one to season two – he starts making decisions and doing things that will catch you off guard. The situation is bigger than he thought it would be.
Insider: Should it come to pass, do you think Robb would be a benevolent King?
Richard: I think Robb would be a great king. It's funny to see him on that path – I don't even think Robb sees himself in that position. There was that moment last week where he drops his guise with Theon and says, "You don’t have to call me that when no one is around." Like everyone else on the show, Robb is acting at being king. He's having to learn by doing, which is difficult. His whole thing comes from honesty and doing the right thing, he's got a great moral compass – it works for him. But also, as the season goes on, that moral compass can destroy him. Following his heart, which has done well by him so far, leads to huge problems down the road.
Insider: So, Robb would be a better king than Joffrey?
Richard: [laughs]. Anyone would be a better king than Joffrey. I think Robb would be the best king out of all the contenders. If Robb and Catelyn were running things, I think it would be rather nice in the kingdom. Dire Wolves for everybody [laughs].
Insider: Is every actor's goal on this show to slap Joffrey at some point?
Richard: [laughs] I would love to slap Joffrey. I would absolutely love to do that. I want to lock Robb and Joffrey in a room together and see who comes out.
Insider: I have not read the books, but it's clear to me that Robb's relationship with his Dire Wolf is something greater than casual pet and master, right?
Richard: Oh, absolutely. And you see that with Bram too. The wolf has given him a lot of respect and power from the start. A lot of gravitas. It's a relationship I don’t think we’re seeing enough of. The connection does go deeper than owner and pet, it's a psychological thing. An intuition thing and hopefully we’ll show more of that in season three.
Insider: Speaking of connections, doesn't Robb finally meet a woman this season?
Richard: Yea! And it's something that Robb hasn't experienced yet. And that's quite exciting to me as an actor – making those decisions that aren’t exactly in the book.
Insider: Like what?
Richard: Deciding if Robb is a virgin or not. I had to make a lot of choices in my head and figure out what happened when he was younger. I think it's a given that Theon has been up to all sorts of things at Winterfell – so it's just figuring out where Jon's been and where Robb's been when it comes to that. I think Robb is a very good man, with a deep sense of honor. I love Robb a lot because everything is a first for him. And those are the most exciting experiences. That's what makes for good watching. This is the first time he meets a woman – and it happens at a point when he's really feeling distance from everything else. He's out there, alone, doesn't know if his mother has his back. There are disagreements with his men over killing prisoners; he doesn't want to go down that route, but he's being pushed to it. So he finds this escape in this woman who doesn't see him as a king; they immediately connect as people and that's the most realistic thing he's had. And it's important to have this presence in his life that pushes him and challenges him on everything – she makes Robb think about the longterm results of his actions. "If you kill Joffrey, then what?" It makes him realize he hasn’t thought that far ahead. At the same time, there are lots of feelings.
Insider: So ... was Robb a virgin?
Richard: [whispers] Yes.
Insider: And with relations on HBO inevitably come sex scenes. Does being naked and filming those ever get easier?
Richard: It never gets easier -- but the build-up in your head is always much, much worse. It's funny, I'm used to going into my trailer and seeing leather, leather, leather, armor, fur, leather, boots, armor, fur, swords. That day, you go in and the only thing awaiting you is a small silk pouch [laughs]. That's when you know it wont be a good day. It's good with this show because it happens often, so there's not this massive sense of, "Oh man, he's naked" on set. But that can flip on the other side – I've done TV shows where they're so OK with nudity, everyone will forget you're naked. That's when you’re standing in the middle of a room after they've yelled cut and everyone's moved on to the next thing, but you’re still there – cupping your junk. "Uh … can I have a towel?" [laughs] It doesn't get easier, but there is always a lot of pizza waiting for you afterwards – you spend weeks working out, not eating carbs and generally being terrified of it. The second it's over, you dive right into the pizza, beer and chocolate. It's a good reward.
After all that sex talk, I have to post this gif:
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