If there’s any underlying theme to Game of Thrones, it’s that you can toss your notions of goodies and baddies out of the window (with Bran Stark), because this is a brutal power struggle where, as the first season tagline ran, “you win or you die”.
Arya Stark has not died, unlike almost all of her family. At 12, however, she has already had to cope with first her father, and then almost everyone else she’s ever held dear, being slaughtered in cold blood. Along the way she has gone from cheeky tomboy to cold-eyed killer.
“I’m definitely playing an Arya who’s completely different to the one I auditioned for at the beginning,” says 16-year-old Maisie Williams. “She is becoming ruthless and is starting to pick up influences from the Hound [her captor and a fearsome mercenary], who maybe isn’t the best person to be getting influences from when you’re 12 years old.”
Maisie, from Somerset, has been on the show since the start. “Arya grew up in a fantastic environment, and never saw any conflict between anyone in her family. But she was wrapped in cotton wool because she was never told the truth about the world in which she lives.”
She knows the truth now. “Yeah, she’s had to find out the hard way. I feel like she’s almost angry at her family because she could have done so much better in this game had she known then what she knows now – that it is a game. You have to play hard.”
And so Arya, a fan favourite from the books and the series, a character we’re all rooting for, may not turn out to be the heroine everyone wants. She has seen too much, too young.
“It’s like in the real world, you know, you see these child stars – like Justin Bieber’s little mishaps at the moment. If you’re influenced by this stuff growing up, then it’s not always going to turn out great. I feel like that’s a possibility for Arya and that maybe one day she’s not going to be such a likeable character.”
Williams is well positioned to talk about the perils of too much, too young. She has been working on Game of Thrones since she was 11. She had her first on-screen killing in the first season, and since then she has worked opposite the likes of Charles Dance and travelled the world. As with Arya, it’s been quite an education.
“When I met Charles Dance he came up to me and said, ‘Hello, my name is Charlie,’ and I just sat there and froze. I found him intimidating at the beginning, just by the way he carries himself and commands this sort of respect. When he’s on set everyone is just silent for him.”
But with Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran, and Sophie Turner, who plays Arya’s estranged sister Sansa, also on the set from a young age, she’s had good friends throughout. “Sophie and I have really made a connection. I think our fans find it really strange that we get on because our characters hate each other.”
She says it’s been good to have a confidante on the show because appearing on one of the biggest shows in the world, with some of the most zealous fans, can be overwhelming.
“It gets intense, yes, and we both get strange things on social media all the time. Nine times out of ten people are absolutely lovely, but you get the odd person that’s a little bit scary.”
Charitably, she says that with so many foreign fans, Google Translate might be to blame. “Someone once said to me in an interview, ‘You are more ugly on screen than real life,’ but it was just because it had been translated wrongly. You read something and think, ‘What are they trying to say here?’ You’re not quite sure if they’re being nice or not but it’s usually just a language thing. At least I know that the fans love Arya. Whether they will after this coming season, we’ll have to see.”
Game of Thrones series four starts on Monday at 2:00am and 9:00pm on Sky Atlantic.