As Games Of Thrones returns for a gory sixth season, Maisie Williams, aka sword-wielding Arya Stark, talks to Ella Walker about her character’s future, as well as her own, and how landing the role has given her the confidence to say no
At the end of Game Of Thrones season five, not only had Jon Snow died (or had he?), orphaned Arya of House Stark had her sight taken from her as punishment for committing murder.
“This series, we see how much of a struggle that is for her,” explains 18-year-old Maisie Williams, who has played spiky Arya in HBO’s big-budget fantasy-drama since 2011, and returns to the character again for the upcoming sixth series. “That’s her main weapon, her main tool, that she’s relied upon her whole life, and now it’s been taken away from her.
“It’s the most brutal way of teaching her to use her other senses, and it’s a skill that’s really, really hard for her to learn.”
During filming, Bristol-born Williams had to wear opaque and pin-hole contact lenses (“They’re really, really uncomfortable”), but blindness is just one of the trials Arya must now overcome.
“A lot of bad stuff happens this series; it’s a very tough one. This year, we definitely see a crack in her strong exterior, we see her get totally broken down, totally stripped back,” says the actress. “It’s the first time you really question whether she’s going to get back up again.
“She’s always got a bit of a fire, and she’s always got the upper hand and a little spark, but it’s the first time we see her totally alone, questioning why she’s still here.”
So far, Arya’s been driven onwards by her kill-list, which names people (including her latest victim, Meryn Trant) who’ve hurt her or her family, but she is also in training to become ‘no one’, a faceless man - aka a shape-shifting assassin.
“If she wants to become no one, she can never go back to her list. But then, does she really want to become no one? She says it a million times, but you have to question whether, deep down, she’s cut out for that.
“It’s almost half of her life that she’s been on this search for revenge.”
This is the first season of the hit show to depart from author George R.R. Martin’s books - he’s still writing them - which means, for fans and the cast, nothing is guaranteed any more.
“I wasn’t nervous reading the scripts, but I definitely should have been,” says Williams. “The whole time I’ve been so confident, like, ‘It’s fine, Arya’s still alive in the books, don’t worry’, then I was sat there reading them and forgot that actually, everything is at risk.”
Williams was just 12 when she landed the part of Arya, so has spent her teenage years growing up in the full glare of Game Of Thrones mania.
“I’ve never really known anything else,” she admits. “People say, ‘Do you feel you missed out on a normal teenage life?’ But I feel like I very much lived as much of a normal teenage life as I could have; I went to school for the period that I did, I still have friends from school, I fell out with friends, I made friends, I met new people - exactly the same as what happens with everyone.”
Her co-star Tom Wlaschiha, who plays Jaqen H’ghar, Arya’s mentor (or tormentor, depending on your point of view), agrees, stating with a laugh: “She’s very normal!”
“I try to live this crazy world as normally as I can,” adds Williams with a grin.
She seems to have taken the show’s impact in her stride, but don’t think it’s made her complacent.
“To be lucky enough to be cast in something so massive and vast for my first role, and that’s opened so many doors for me [is amazing],” she begins, “but it’s also taught me the lesson that this wasn’t my ‘break’, because I’ve still got a lot to learn, work for and earn,” she continues seriously.
“It’s taught me that in this industry, you want to look back on your career at the end and think, ‘I had fun’, rather than, ‘Oh, I’m playing the role that I’ve always wanted to’ when you’re 26, and being like, ‘Now what?’
“I don’t want this to be a race. I want a long career, rather than a short burst, and I don’t want to do all of the big things right now - I want to just play people that I want to play.”
Hard-wired to fight for and promote equality, Williams recently told Entertainment Weekly that “we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist’ - and then everyone else is just a human. You are either a normal person or a sexist.”
Last year she made a speech at the #LikeAGirl campaign Confidence Summit in New York, which aimed to inspire girls to achieve anything they want.
“That was amazing. It was so much fun to do something as myself, to show people what I’m passionate about. That’s something I’ve found really important since I started acting, to make sure people know who Maisie is,” says Williams.
“It’s a lot more nerve-racking though, definitely. When you’re playing a character, it’s fine because it’s them, but when you’ve got to come out and be yourself, it’s a bit scary to know that people are going to be judging you.”
Williams, who also had a recurring role in Doctor Who as Viking immortal Ashildr - and won the Evening Standard Rising Star Award, along with being named the London Film Critics’ Circle Young British/Irish Performer Of The Year for her performance in 2015’s The Falling - is set to keep picking punchy parts.
“I don’t think I realised how lucky I am, or was, when I started playing Arya - to play a girl who’s so formed, real, believable, honest and imperfect,” she muses. “You never really get - or never used to really get - characters like that. It’s not until I’d gone on and read other projects and other films that I realised this is quite unique.
“And I’m very, very lucky to have been given that opportunity so young. Now I feel like I never want to take a character that I don’t fully believe in, that I don’t think is necessary,” Williams states.
“It’s given me the confidence to say, ‘No, I’m only going to play girls that I know and have seen and have met before,’ rather than this made up perfect girl-next-door that doesn’t actually exist.”