Jon Snow Is Not Dead (Yet)
Photography by Nino Muñoz. Styling by Grant Woolhead
The “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” of Game of Thrones, the closest thing the show has to a catchphrase, is “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” It launched a tidal wave of memes and viral articles (“26 Things Jon Snow Knows Nothing About”), and a cottage industry of T-shirts, mostly bootlegs.
It was the trademark quip of the flame-haired huntress beauty Ygritte, who died last season with an arrow to her heart. Her last words to her paramour? “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
Jon Snow is played by Kit Harington, who briefly dated Rose Leslie, the actress who played Ygritte — that was pretty meta, further blurring the already hazy line of fiction and reality. For his rabid global fan base, Harington is Jon Snow, the illegitimate son of the beheaded Lord of Winterfell. It’s hard to quantify, but in person, Harington exudes his character’s sense of quiet honor. He has grown accustomed to hearing “You know nothing!” hollered at him as he walks down the street.
“I get that a lot,” he says. “It’s weird, this double personality — being a character.” And yes, on occasion, fans will yell out, “Bastard!” — the slur often hurled at Snow. “I can’t tell whether they’re talking about the show, or if they just don’t like me,” Harington says, laughing.
It is early April, and the 28-year-old actor is in town for a press blitz for Thrones’ fifth season, currently airing on HBO. He’s seated in the mezzanine bar-library of the Trump SoHo New York hotel, next to a floor-to-ceiling picture window. Traffic whizzes behind him, and there is an expansive view westward of the city. Dressed in a grayish beige T-shirt with a stretched-out collar and jeans, he looks understatedly dashing. His eyes are an interesting shade of brown that picks up and reflects other colors. A server approaches, and he asks, “Do you have any biscuits?”
“Biscuits?” she responds, surely thinking of the fluffy and flaky kind you eat with fried chicken or use to sop up gravy, and then realizes: “Oh, cookies!”
“I didn’t know that’s what it was,” he says. “That was very English of me, wasn’t it? Biscuits.” Yes, as English as having one faucet for scalding hot water and another for freezing cold.
In person, Harington is slighter than one would imagine, with the sinewy arms and fit body of a flyweight boxer. On the show, he appears to be larger-than-life, a bruiser with simmering intensity and a clear-cut sense of duty.
The night before we met, he’d appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers. “I’m slowly getting to be more comfortable with them,” he says of talk shows, “but I find them terrifying. They scare the fucking living shit out of me.” Harington is the closest Game of Thrones has to a breakout star among its massive ensemble cast, where everyone is expendable — hopefully when this issue hits stands, Jon Snow will still be alive.
Harington misses his fellow cast members when they depart. “So many people have left and died,” he says wistfully. “It’s getting thinner and thinner on the ground each year. I’m just holding on to those people that have been there from the start, the core group, and wishing and praying that none of them die.”
So far this season, Jon Snow has become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and more multifaceted than in previous seasons. Game of Thrones exists not only in its own universe, but its own moral one. Snow has had to become more complex than we’ve seen him before, such as when he beheaded one of his men who was begging for mercy. For Harington, it’s been a different season from the others.
“Usually Jon’s got a good lot of scenes,” he says, “but I don’t speak much. Quiet character. This year he talks a lot, because he’s got to be a politician, which is really weird for me. I also had more filming dates than, I think, anyone. There was a lot of Jon Snow stuff. I had a big season.”
Harington is excited to watch the show unfold weekly with the rest of us among the proletariat masses. This is the first time he has read only his scripts and avoided learning what will happen to Westeros as a whole. “Every year, I’ve known before everyone else what happens,” he says. “This year, I just thought, I want to watch as a fan.”
For the few who aren’t yet loyal viewers, the Night’s Watch is a brotherhood who have sworn an oath not to sleep with women, and who live together near a giant ice wall, protecting the rest of the world from the supernatural threats amassing beyond it. They wear all-black tunics and robes, and if watched on mute Night’s Watch scenes can look like a gay commune where everyone wears Rick Owens — or a prelude to a gay porn in the era when porn had budgets and themes.
“There is something quite homoerotic about that,” Harington says. “They all bunk up together. I haven’t really thought about it too much, but they’re brotherly. There’s brotherly love.”
Since its inception, the show has had a wealth of LGBT characters (well, maybe not so much the “T,” but the magnificent Brienne of Tarth is certainly not gender-conforming). There’s even representation for eunuchs. There was a gay sex scene in the pilot, and throughout its run, the breasts to full-frontal male nudity ratio has grown more equitable (as those who pause their DVRs can attest).
Yes, a lot of gay characters have been killed (including a couple this season, caught in flagrante by a rabid cult with Manson-esque carved foreheads), but this in no sense conveys an antigay ethos. Thrones is an equal-opportunity danger zone. “It’s not just gay and straight,” Harington says. “We’ve got bisexual characters as well, which is rarely done on TV. I like the fact that we deal with a broad spectrum of sexuality.”
With his imploring gaze, obsidian locks, oozing empathy, and general foxiness, Jon Snow is a gay fan favorite, and the focus of a lot of fan fiction (word to the wise: Do not search for “2 Boys, 1 Goblet”).
But Harington is a reluctant sex symbol. In March, at a Hollywood Foreign Press Association conference, he mentioned briefly that it was “demeaning” to be called a hunk. Harington had been anathema to gossip columns, but his off-the-cuff statement went viral, becoming item-of-the-day Internet fodder. Despite this reaction, he maintains his stance.
“I found it unfair, really, some of the stuff I read [in response],” he says. “I was making a point, which was that I think young men do get objectified, do get sexualized unnecessarily. As a person who is definitely in that category, as a young leading man in this world, I feel I have a unique voice to talk about that. I was making a point to sort of say, ‘It just needs to be highlighted.’ With every photo shoot I ever go to, I’m told to take off my shirt, and I don’t.” This objectification of Harington was furthered by last year’s dismal yet modestly successful Pompeii, in which he revealed a previously unseen eight-pack.
“It’s a gladiator movie!” he says. “You have your top off. He’s a fighter. He’s supposed to be very fit. I got very fit.”
After filming, Harington visited the ruins. “I did my research post-hence!” he says and then recalls the myriad of penises throughout the city.
“Completely phallic-obsessed! It was good luck to kind of touch a penis. Did you see the brothels bit? They’ve still got the murals of early pornographic pictures, basically. It was really interesting.”
Christopher Catesby Harington grew up partly in London and partly in Worcestershire. He started his career in theater, gaining notice as Albert, standing out against the large puppet equine in the London production of War Horse before moving on to premium cable.
“Jon was a difficult role to cast,” Game of Thrones’ executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss stated in a jointly written email. “We knew from the outset that whichever actor played him would end up carrying a tremendous amount of the story on his shoulders — and we knew it would be heavier as the seasons went on, if we were lucky enough to get that far. We needed a young actor who could effectively convey the rich inner life of an emotionally reserved character, which is one of the most difficult things an actor can do. Jon needed intelligence, gravitas, intensity, charisma, and the ability to lighten up effectively without breaking character. Kit had all these things combined with a devotion to abdominal definition that bordered on the fetishistic — which he never gets to show, because he’s always buried in eight layers of clothing.”
In June, Harington will appear in Testament of Youth, based on the 1933 memoir of English writer and pacifist Vera Brittain. The stellar Alicia Vikander plays Vera, and Harington is her love interest, Roland Leighton. The film builds from upper-class British melodrama to a harrowing document of war.
“The movie is so romantic and quite ethereal,” says Harington, “and then there is just real blood and gore.”
Harington’s character follows a similar arc to the movie, as Roland is a would-be poet who enlists as a soldier. It’s a supporting role, but he’s an emotional fulcrum of the film.
“I didn’t have a huge number of scenes, so I had to very quickly tell the story of this young man,” Harington says, “from being super cocky, but very loving, and intelligent, to what the war does to him — the very obvious post-traumatic trench psyche that happens. I read it and said, ‘I want that part. I really want that part.’ ”
Like Jon Snow, Roland was a difficult role to cast.
“A lot of actors either go too alpha male or soppy romantic,” says Testament’s director, James Kent. “I needed someone who was actually rather shy in personal matters but also incredibly ahead of his age in understanding his place in the world. Roland had no doubts that he would make his mark, and so our Roland needed that certainty combined with great sensitivity. I think that’s what viewers see in Kit as Jon Snow — underneath that shaggy cloak, a reservoir of sensitivity.”
Harington’s next project, due in 2016, will be in Quebecois director Xavier Dolan’s first English-language feature, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, alongside Jessica Chastain, Kathy Bates, and Susan Sarandon. Harington has seen all of Dolan’s work, and says the queer director has a “touch of genius about him.” In the film, he will play what he refers to as a “massive movie star.” He says, “It’s interesting to take yourself to that place — say, the male equivalent of Jennifer Lawrence.” In fact, Harington himself has the capacity to attain the same stature — Benioff and Weiss go as far as to suggest he has a “Brando quality.” For Dolan’s movie, we’ll get to hear him try on an American accent (he has been working with a dialect coach) and finally see him out of period dress.
Harington leans back to stretch, and as his hand slams into the large window behind him, it makes a loud sound akin to a gong being struck. The hotel guests flinch.
“That’s much closer than I thought!” he says.
For now, he has the weekend to kill in New York, and then he’s off to China for more Game of Thrones press. He is going to see the Knicks play, his first basketball game.
“I have no idea what the rules are,” he says, “so I’ll just be the English guy in the crowd.”
But as Harington’s career ascends, it’s harder for him to disappear.
“I look like this for the show, and this is how people recognize me at the moment,” he says. Otherwise, he adds, “I’d have short hair and no beard. Maybe a beard. I like having a beard. I could walk out on the street now, like this, and I would get recognized a lot.”
He pulls his curly hair, lustrous enough for a shampoo commercial, to a point at the back of his head and says, “But tie that up, and go man-bun? Nothing.”