The Stark family was at the center of Game of Thrones when the hit fantasy premiered in 2011, but the shocking deaths of patriarch Ned, his wife, Catelyn, and eldest son, Robb, turned Winterfell’s rulers into Westeros has-beens.
But a new generation on the cusp of adulthood — daughters Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) and son Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) — is bringing the noble clan back with a literal vengeance as the Emmy-winning HBO drama opens Season 6 (April 24, 9 p.m. ET/PT).
The three, along with youngest brother Rickon, are spread through Westeros – a continent of epic battles, royal intrigue, existential threats and dragons that echoes Europe’s distant past – and beyond. Political pawn Sansa escaped enemy-controlled Winterfell (and sadistic husband Ramsay); assassin-in-training Arya was blinded by mentor Jaqen H’ghar in Braavos; and Bran, absent in Season 5, returns with supernatural skills developed north of the Wall.
Could there be a family reunion? Williams isn’t holding out much hope: “I think that would be very cool, but it would almost be too much of a happy ending for this show.”
The British actors reveal how they (and their characters) have grown up on HBO’s biggest hit, which is based on George R.R. Martin’s bestselling book series.
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark)
Faceless Men mentor Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) blinded Arya at the end of Season 5 as punishment for putting the killing of foe Meryn Trant ahead of subverting her identity and will.
“Arya is now learning to use her ears and other senses,” Williams says, which ultimately will “make her a better assassin. But the beginning will be spent as an underdog and will be a real struggle.”
The situation also finds Arya using a weapon other than her trusty sword Needle.
Arya met Jaqen in Season 2 when she was in disguise and on the run after her father’s execution. She later learned of her mother’s and brother’s Red Wedding murders.
“She definitely experiences more than any 12-year-old, more than any human, should have,” Williams says. “She’s got this (kill) list and she’s carried the pain of losing her family members. It changes a person. This season, we see her get lost in someone else for a bit.”
Williams, 19, who made her acting debut on Thrones, drew attention during a casting search for Arya, an unconventional girl more interested in sword-fighting than social niceties.
“I was Arya when I was 12. As I got older, I’ve become a very different person,” Williams says.
She appreciatesher burgeoning career, which includes The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, but growing up is difficult enough without having to do it in the spotlight.
“Teenage years are the time you make your mistakes. It’s what shapes you into being a good adult,” she says. “It’s very difficult to make those honest mistakes that every teenager makes when you’re in a position that you can’t make mistakes.”
Williams admires Arya’s “pure intelligence and individual drive,” noting Arya observes her elders but is selective about what she picks up.
“She doesn’t think The Hound is very smart, but she knows he’s a good killer because he’s brutal and gets straight to the point,” she says. “So, I’m going to leave his wit behind me. But the way that he kills, that’s really beneficial.”
She may have similar thoughts about Jaqen.
“Arya starts this season getting a little bit sick of his whole third-person” type of speaking, Williams says. “At the beginning, it seemed mysterious, but the more she learns about the House of Black and White, the more she starts to realize it’s not as all-knowing and scary as she thought.”