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TitanCon 2013 – Panel: The Tragic Fall of the House Stark (SPOILERS)

DO NOT READ IF YOU ARE NOT UP TO DATE WITH THE SHOW – POTENTIAL SPOILERS – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

One of the highlights of TitanCon 2013 was the Fall of the House Stark panel featuring Ron Donachie, Kristian Nairn, Art Parkinson, Jack Reid (Art Parkinson’s body double), Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Isaac Hempstead-Wright.  The panel was very ably chaired by Marko (Hear me Roar) and Tobias (Fire and Blood) both of Game of Thrones fan site winteriscoming.net.

The informal and mostly light hearted panel started with a question determining how many in the audience have read the books (most), how many have only seen the TV show (a small handful) and those who have not heard of the show.  One smart alec hand shoots up and Tobias jokes, “you need to get out sir” to laughter from the crowd.

A second question was put to the audience: how many think that, by the end of the series (the books), the Starks will receive the justice they deserve or that come the end we are all going to be shaking our heads and declaring “bleeping George, you screwed the Starks again!”.  Surprisingly, it was an even split in opinion from the audience.  This writer actually stuck their hand up for each scenario.  It made sense at the time.

Ron Donachie’s opinion on the final fate of House Stark was quite detailed and interesting:-

Well, it’s going to be very different from the way that House Stark began obviously because so many principal characters, so many generations have been slaughtered and we know from the books it’s not just the people we encounter when we begin reading but also Ned’s father and his brothers were also victims of the politics and the strife in Westeros so it would be a very different House Stark I guess because Winterfell is destroyed and so many of them have died, the kids are going in such different directions and I guess when we see such a split in the audience it shows how sophisticated and complicated the narrative George has created is.  We can’t really guess what’s going to happen.  It’s a toss of a coin, I mean which direction has he decided to take us in?  Will it ultimately be uplifting or will it have a more romantic feel to it with some kind of a positive resolution or will we continue down the darker road and they have no life beyond what we see at the moment tailing off into oblivion, madness and unhappiness.  I like to think because it’s my nature that George is the kind of writer and, I’ve not discussed this with him and this is not something that could be attributed to conversations, I like to think that he is a man who has an essentially positive view of the world and no matter what tribulations people feel and what difficulties they undergo that the human spirit does triumph in the end and I have a suspicion that the Starks will be part of George’s mechanism for putting that message across and sometime in the future whether it be John Snow or Arya or whatever you will see that they will play a part in a resolution for humanity than the one we see for the moment.

Whereas, Kristian Nairn has a theory that GRRM sits on YouTube watching convention videos, listening to theories and trouncing said theories.  He goes on to say that what he thinks and what he wants are two different things.  He naturally wants retribution for the Starks, for them to lay waste to the Lannisters and take over the kingdoms again.  He wants to see Arya become a badass ninja and with Bran’s interesting storyline it is hard to know what is going to happen but thinks Bran’s storyline could be immensely important.  The reality, he concedes, is that we are all going to be left with unfulfilled retribution.

Art Parkinson, who inadvertently stole the panel as it progressed, is behind the idea of King Rickon as mooted by Tobias earlier in the panel (as is Jack Reid, Art’s body double).  Art goes on to state that he hopes Rickon goes wild with Osha (everyone say awww!) and becomes a badass king.

Thomas, whilst understanding the realism that fairy tale endings do not exist in Game of Thrones, would like to see the Starks get their revenge but again, like other cast members, could not see where GRRM will take the remaining members of the family.

As for Isaac’s answer:-

I think sometimes the sad ending can be a slightly more fulfilling and interesting ending so what I would like to see is all the Starks destroyed save one and the final shot just the one Stark walking away from King’s Landing completely defeated.  There’d be no hope.

Next question: What did the Starks do wrong?

Ron: “What they did wrong, if you want to see it in those terms, is they judged other people by their own standards.  The Starks are honest, decent and noble people and their servants and their clan and their extended family, generally speaking, with the notable exception of Theon, they follow the same rules.  And I think one of the great things about George’s writing is that there is a fantastic political undercurrent in everything he writes but it’s done in a didactic fashion, it doesn’t cosh you over the head, it doesn’t get in the way of the narrative, what it does is it enhances the pleasure you can take from his writing and the very clear thing, one of the things that the Starks do, one of the purposes that they serve in that strand of his writing is that they demonstrate that nobility is not enough, strength of purpose is not enough when you have the kind of responsibility and the kind of power that the Stark family has and they are an enormously powerful family and they could easily have had control politically of the whole of Westeros and for reasons of nobility and culturally they choose not to exercise that power.  They suffer terribly as a result and the people for whom they should have been responsible, all the small people and the people not interested in the wars they suffer as well and it’s an abject lesson in how not to exercise power.  It’s a terrible regret, they are decent people and the other guys sneak up on them and they suffer as a result.

Poor Kristian stated he feeling was the pressure from sitting beside someone as knowledgeable as Ron, a massive GRRM fan, declaring that he was taking notes from now on and will paraphrase everything Ron says.  Essentially, he agrees with Ron and I will not mention the expletive containing phrase he uses in this family friendly blog.  Take my word for it when I say it was funny.

A lighter moment approaches during a discussion about Isaac’s height (5’7” – as verified by a nod from his mother in the audience) and the bank account belonging to Kristian’s chiropractor.

Art thinks the Stark parents were not nice enough to their children and should have bought them PlayStations although he would be happy to compromise with an XBox.  He notes that whilst everyone else was “chopping people’s heads off” in the first episode he was sitting twiddling with a wooden sword.  Not blood thirsty at all!

Again, Thomas concurs with Ron’s view that the Starks’ downfall is because they are good, honourable people.  When asked whether Jojen is aware of the good nature of the Starks and is trying to guide Bran into a more realistic direction he responds that he thinks his character is trying to get Bran to open his mind and moving into a new world of thinking, seeing the world as it really is.

Isaac, again has a very interesting take which I think most of us do forget:-

…I think if you look at the stem of all of the Starks’ problems, it’s Bran’s disobedience.  You know, everyone would still be very happy in King’s Landing and Winterfell would not be burned down…clearly Bran was frustrated and didn’t have enough to do so he had to climb around.

So, when it comes down to it, the war, strife, deaths, downfall of the Starks and many other families are the fault of one Brandon Stark.

Now on to audience questions.  The first question relates to the Red Wedding and the different reactions of audiences in the UK and USA with USA audiences seemingly of the opinion that it was brutal in comparison to the opinion of their UK counterparts.  Tobias quips that the reaction videos were mostly Americans screaming.

Kristian describes how despite knowing about the scene for years it still shocked him with the violence and how it happened.  He goes on to laud Michelle Fairley’s acting declaring she stole the whole season with that one scene.  This leads to a loud round of applause from the audience.  He finishes, “…it was horrific, so sad and so brutal; I think they did a good job on it”.

Final word on the subject from Ron after it was put to him that considering his character’s close relationships with the Starks, when out of character he could not help but become attached and watching the Red Wedding may have been difficult:-

…you do get very attached to it and the relationship between Ned and Rodrik and the relationship between Catelyn and Rodrik and, of course, the children was very important to me and I think it’s important in the books as well and you do get very, very affected by it, and as I said to you earlier someone like Rodrik is not frightened of death.  None of these men, none of these warriors, I think, are scared of dying.  The nature of their deaths I think obsesses them, they don’t want to die in a manner that they consider unfitting or ignoble but for Rodrik at the very last the horror of his death is that he is leaving the people he loves without protection because Ned’s already gone and he can see finally when he’s on his knees in the courtyard, he can see the writing on the wall but it’s taken too long for the realisation to dawn on him.  As a performer, the day we did that, when we were performing it, it was sad and touching working with the guys who we had such fun together and spent so much time together.  Everybody else in the scene was so terrific in it, Kristian and Art and Isaac and Donald.  It was a very moving thing to do and you do feel when another chapter in the book closes you feel another chapter in your life closes so you do get involved in it.

Again, light relief from Art who, obviously, was not allowed to watch the Red Wedding.  He was tempted but realised his mum would disapprove stating that she would remove his phone and iPad for two years or whenever he’s old enough to watch the Red Wedding.  Cue a further discussion about whether Art will be allowed to watch the new Dracula reboot presently being filmed in Belfast with Art stating he’s read the script and describing some of the edgy scenes as, “by edgy I mean impaling”.  He asks his mum, sitting in the audience, whether he’s allowed to watch Dracula.  His mother replies that she will cover his eyes for some parts.

Tobias notes that Art has learned the art form of using panels to manipulate parents.

Next question is for Isaac: “What was so special in the first season was the dynamic between the Stark brothers, especially between Bran, Jon and Robb and the relationship that they had.  One of the surprising scenes in Season 3 was with Bran reuniting with Jon and Robb.  How was that for you working with Kit and Richard?”

Isaac: “It was so nice that we were all together finally.  I think we haven’t had a scene since when the King arrived in Winterfell in the first episode and I think also what’s nice about it is that you have really grown up with these people from the pilot…when I was 10 all the way up to now when I’m 14.  You spend so long with these people and to finally interact with them again in sort of a way of acting in it was sort of nice and [with all the characters] dropping off, what I think is quite nice about that is that we know we have quite a limited time with them.  With Richard we knew he was going to go in that season and I suppose it just made it a lot more special all our scenes with him because he wasn’t going to be there forever.

Next question is about Theon and whether there was anything the Starks could have done differently to make him feel like a member of the family or would Theon have turned out the same way?

Art and Jack go off on a tangent about the PlayStation and Xbox ending with a theory that Theon could have just been given a PlayStation and a copy of the Game of Thrones game and he could have gone after the Starks within the game instead.

Ron thinks the damage to Theon was already done by the Greyjoys before he arrived in Winterfell quoting that if you give a child until the age of 9 then you have them for life.  He goes further with what I think was the quote of the panel, “He’s an unforgivable little toad”.  When prompted about whether Theon deserved what happened to him Ron shows his balanced side stating that he would not wish it on anybody.  Further, he says he has a 1960’s liberal perspective on punishment preferring that Theon be shown the error of his ways and for everybody to live happily ever after ominously stating, “If George wants to have people cut bits off then that’s…

Next is a query about the direwolves and whether they were portrayed by actual wolves/dogs or by CGI.

Kristian leads the answers confirming that they used real dogs in Season 1 however in Seasons 2 and 3 they used CGI with the actors following a tennis ball on a stick and in one occasion the AD running around with a sock in lieu of a tennis ball.  Ron follows up with a humorous story of how, when it was time to film the scene of a direwolf savaging the Greatjon (Clive Mantle), the dog was such a pleasant creature that it would not leap at Clive.  A stuffed dog was thrown instead at the 6’5” actor who had to wrestle with it on the ground.

Thomas was asked about his integration into the cast of Game of Thrones:-

…I feel very, very welcome.  It’s a very big cast, it’s a very big show so I was kind of nervous about my first couple of days being there, what it would be like, what everyone would be like, and what the process would be like.  It’s genuinely been such a pleasure, everyone on this panel, everyone not on this panel that’s also part of the cast and the crew are such lovely people to hang around with and the fact that I just get to hang around with them most of the time and then go off and make this wonderful story and be dressed up in these fantastic costumes and be on these fantastic sets, it’s a dream job and I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been great.

Then on to Sophie Turner adopting her direwolf, Zunni.  A humourous conversation between Art and Isaac ensues – the only conclusion the writer could ascertain was that Art was offered one of the dogs but had to turn it down because he already had two dogs and Isaac was not.

Next audience question asked the cast what they think their characters would like to see done as retribution for House Stark.  This quickly became: Wwhat would you do to Theon?

Isaac think stern words and counselling and, if all else fails, then torture by Ramsay.  Whilst Thomas believes in karmic retribution, Jack resorts to cutting off leg(s) and/or head and Art cannot make up his mind.  He wavers between letting his dogs eat Theon, to letting the panel loose on him but finishes with, “I would probably do the same thing as your man did.  But a lot worse this time”.

Hmmm…not sure it could get worse.

Kristian hopes that Hodor regains his faculties and takes a giant broadsword to Theon and Ron gives his now expected detailed response:-

Well, I think Theon suffered enough and I think Theon needs help now and I think that one of the things that underpins the books for me, and this is just a theory, I think one of the things that George is dealing with is inflexibility in society.  We’re talking about a society where we know nothing has changed much in 8,000 years and I see the Starks as regretful warriors.  They’re people that if they didn’t have this jackbooted military culture to live in they might do wonderful things and I think what the whole society needs is to move on.  They need to get steam working for them, they need to progress socially.  What’s causing all the trouble in Westeros is social stagnation and when somebody like Theon has had so many violent and horrible things done to him despite the fact that I do think that he brought them on himself, what he needs now is love, care and attention and so does Westeros.

What follows is a call for Ron Donachie to be made President of Westeros if it ever embraces republicanism.  El Señor Presidente Cassel!

Art was asked if he was in line to write the books if for any reason GRRM does not want to carry on.  Probably one of the best answers all night:-

He’s actually already asked me and I said that it would be maybe more like Made in Chelsea.  So basically, I’ve met with the writers of Made in Chelsea and we’re doing a deal because George wants to retire soon and I think with all of these 21st Century teenagers, I think Made in Chelsea is the way to go…I’ve been told I’ve a special place for Made in Chelsea and…I would probably, if you ask me, I would say, you’re alright love.

Somehow we manage to move on to Art having a dating website.  This leads to a lovely story from Art about how he set up a member of the costume department with another member of the GoT crew and they are still going strong two years later.

He also answers a question posed about how now that Arya appears to be the most vengeful Stark would she be the only Stark remaining when this is all over.  He declares “I know a secret!!”.  What a tease!

Finally, favourite aspect about working on Game of Thrones?

Ron: “For me it was just from the start to finish it was a great experience.  The thing I enjoyed most I think was the atmosphere on the pilot when it’s very different from when you’ve got the series and everything becomes very separated, you know, you’re working on different units, you’re working on different locations, when you’re on a pilot there’s only one cast, everybody’s there nearly all the time so we’re all together as a big unit and you can tell from that it was going to be, just as it was described earlier, it’s a very happy place to work on and the atmosphere we had together on the pilot is something I will cherish always.  It was fantastic.

Kristian: “It’s definitely people.  I’ve made a lot of friends through Game of Thrones, it’s changed my life…the show has completely changed my life from top to bottom and I don’t know how I could really ask for more than that.  I think I’ve made lifelong friends from Game of Thrones and that’s valuable.  So it’s been an honour.

Art: (silence)

Then…

I think annoying Kristian.  Thinking it through and it’s definitely annoying Kristian.

Jack: “I think my favourite part of being on Game of Thrones is being on Game of Thrones basically because I really enjoy acting.

Thomas: “Favourite thing about Game of Thrones?  As Ron said, people, people on the show are really so lovely and despite its success and how well it’s doing and the amount of money that’s involved, just the scale of the thing, it still has a very down to earth realism about it which I really love and there isn’t a sense of hierarchy between the cast mates and crew, larger and smaller cast members.  It has a real family united feel about it and that is I think that’s also part of what’s keeping it successful as a TV show because people are enjoying making it and being part of the experience and that translates through to the quality of the show that we are putting out.  It’s a pleasure and an honour to be part of that.

Isaac: “Game of Thrones is just, to use an Irish word, good craic.  Have I pronounced that correctly?  I mean, there’s no one thing that is just the best bit, I mean the whole ensemble of everything you get with it makes it such a good laugh and such an enjoyable and memorable experience that has taken up 5 years of my life which is nearly half of my life which is really huge and Game of Thrones really holds a special place in my heart and it’s really become part of my life and being part of it had so much fun with the cast members and the crew, and staying Belfast is just really been fantastic.

A great panel with some interesting insights and young Art Parkinson stealing the show.

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