HBO: When did you read the books and become aware of the course of Robb’s future?
Richard Madden: As soon as I got the job, people managed to spoil a lot for me. People would be like, “Oh my god, you’re dead! That was so terrible!” And you’re like, “What? Oh. Right.” I read the books season by season. As an actor, it was a much better challenge for me to make decisions based on the scripts, the first book and then the second book. By the third book, I was forced to bend the path I’d put Robb on and keep the surprises coming. I think the best thing about that was not preempting anything that’s going happen – like not giving too much weight to Walder Frey.
HBO: What did it mean to film your exit with Michelle [Fairley], who’s been your professional partner through three seasons?
Richard Madden: We went into that scene with heavy hearts because we really love the show and we love working together especially. The scene was a really hard thing to push through, but the scripts were great and the whole episode was so operatic almost, with how the writers placed little details throughout the sequence of events in the episode.
There’s a moment where we look at each other, and it’s Robb Stark essentially saying goodbye to his mother and giving up. There’s a moment of tragedy and utter relief actually, because these two characters have fought and fought and fought and it’s finally over. I think Michelle and I really felt that on that day, and so did the crew. It was a really big emotional moment because we’re one big family that’s plowed on through this for years.
HBO: What was the mood on the set?
Richard Madden: Honestly, it was horrible. It was a really difficult day for everyone. There were lots of tears from many people, including myself. Robb Stark with his dead queen in his arms, her stomach ripped open, and blood pumping out of that. His mother getting her throat slit… It was horrific. It was a really disturbing day.
It made me think of my dad: He read all the books and after the Red Wedding, he put the book down and didn’t go back to it for a couple of months. I think it was because he ties Robb Stark so closely with me. The journey of that character, the fondness that we all have for each other as a cast and a crew, the character’s point of view in the story; it was really moving and not very nice. There was just the total sense of exhaustion. I left set, went straight to the airport and got on a plane because I didn’t want to be there anymore. I flew home to London. And I cried the whole way.
HBO: How long did it take to shake that feeling off?
Richard Madden: It won’t shake off until I’ve seen the episode, so it’s still there. It will be really difficult to watch because it will dredge up a lot of emotions that I’ve pushed aside for a while.
This isn’t like any other job I’ve had because you don’t close the book on that character. You step away from him for six months and then you come right back into his shoes—literally the same boots you were wearing the season before, the same costume. It was very hard shooting the end of it, but it’s still very difficult for me to process that I’m not going back. It’s funny because I’m still very close with all the crew and I’ve been talking to the hair department and the other actors who are all gearing up and going back into it. I should be getting back, but I’m not. Until I see the episode, I won’t be able to put it all to rest.
HBO: Did you feel any bitterness in the way Robb went out?
Richard Madden: I don’t have any bitterness to it because I think Robb Stark dying there in that way is one of the best things that ‘Game of Thrones’ does so beautifully, which is just rip these characters’ hearts out in front of you.
Maybe it would have been better for Robb to die gloriously on the battlefield, but this is so sudden, violent and horrible. I think that the way that the writers and I have tried to build Robb Stark up, there’s no other way we could have killed him. He’s been outsmarted, and it all comes from his good heart and his trust that people will do the right thing.
HBO: Why was it important to have Talisa die in this scene when her character lives in the books?
Richard Madden: I think it was important for her to die because it’s a full stop to the story of that army. There’s no possibility that Talisa’s in hiding and going to have a baby who will take over as King in the North. It’s more tragic that there’s nothing left; that it’s all cut short instantly.
HBO: What was your working relationship like with Oona Chaplin?
Richard Madden: I had such a great relationship with Oona on set. She’s a wonderful actress and I think she did something very clever with the part. That quiet strength that Oona and Talisa have, that Catelyn and Michelle have, really powers things through and makes it all the more tragic when these characters get killed because they’re the least deserving of being slaughtered in such a way.
HBO: On a happier note, do you have a favorite scene or moment over the past three seasons?
Richard Madden: Instantly I just get flashbacks to all my scenes with Michelle Fairley. Anytime I’m on set with her, it’s a joy.
The moment where I started to really fit into Robb’s shoes was a goodbye scene with Bran in Season 1. I’m going off in the night. I’ve got a sword around my waist and my cloak on. That was something where you go, “Oh, this is a significant change point for Robb Stark – leaving Winterfell, going off and becoming a man.” That was an important scene for me because I love Issac [Hempstead-Wright], but also because that was a really great change point for me as an actor. Realizing, “OK, you’re starting on this journey now; you’re getting more into this character that you will become.”
HBO: You started on ‘Game of Thrones’ when you were 21, does your journey parallel Robb’s in some ways?
Richard Madden: There’s been lots of that. Robb Stark was a young man not expecting anything, thinking his life is going to be on one path and then he’s pushed. More weight and responsibility get put onto him; more demands are made of him. For me as an actor, there are parallels to that. David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] decided to push me more, give me more responsibility, write in scenes into Season 2 that never existed, and give me more of an onscreen journey.
Robb rises to the challenge, and then he starts pushing back and putting the weight on the other people. As an actor I’ve tried to do that. That’s where the scenes become more interesting. I’ve had these great scenes with Tobias [Menzies] and Michelle where you’ve got a room full of actors really pushing each others’ buttons and challenging each other. Throwing curve balls ensures we all listen to each other, and it pushes the story forward more interestingly.
HBO: How do you hope fans remember Robb?
Richard Madden: I suppose much like Ned, as an honest and just man. It’s constantly been in my brain the whole time, less so into Season 3 where Robb starts making worse decisions. But in this world, the people who are honest and just, who do things for the right reasons, are the people who tend not to survive. Robb’s a great example of that. I hope he’s remembered as a good man and essentially the man who would have been the best person to lead the seven kingdoms.
HBO: Do you have a message for fans after watching the Red Wedding?
Richard Madden: No one is safe in Game of Thrones.