In the harrowing Season 2 finale of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow discovered that being a bastard was the least of his problems.
[Spoilers! If you haven't watched "Valar Morghulis" yet, then it's best not to continue reading. You've been warned.]
On Sunday's episode, both Jon (Kit Harington) and his legitimate half-brother Robb Stark (Richard Madden) went through major rites of passage. But while Robb's imprudent marriage was at least partially a cause for celebration, Jon mourned killing his first man, a man he considered a friend and mentor. In order to infiltrate the enemy wildlings, Jon had to prove his loyalty to them by slaying fellow Night's Watch ranger Qhorin Halfhand (Simon Armstrong).
"I think Jon's soul is kind of ripped out from doing that," Harington tells TVGuide.com. "Killing a faceless wildling beyond The Wall is one thing, but killing your teacher, your commander, this notorious hero of the Night's Watch, to know that you have to go with the wildlings and pretend to be something you're not, to pretend to be a traitor when you're not is hard."
Previously, Jon had been tasked with executing Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a wildling the rangers had caught, but instead almost allowed her to escape. As he brought her back to his men, Jon was in turn captured by the wildlings, who also had Qhorin. "All of this was his fault. If he had just killed Ygritte, if he had just done what he was supposed to do, then ... he wouldn't have had to kill Qhorin," Harington says. "None of this would have happened. And so it was the biggest mistake he makes in his life. It's that guilt, it's that horrible feeling that sits in his stomach from then on I think, which leads him to do good later."
The actor had been anticipating the scene since he read it in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series on which Thrones is based. "I was looking forward to people watching it ... to see whether they thought Jon was going to die or if Qhorin was going to die. Who do you cheer for?" says Harington. "Qhorin isn't going easy on him even though he told Jon to kill him. But Qhorin knows that Jon is worthy of a good fight against him. Qhorin is sacrificing himself for the greater good, so the last few beats of the fight, Jon is pushed into that corner of killing him very cleverly. It was a weirdly emotional scene to film."
As it should be. Not only was Qhorin a comrade, but also represented the men in Jon's life that have left him before his next big task. "Jon passes through a lot of fatherly figures," Harington explains. "He starts with Ned and then he moves on to his Uncle Benjen, and then he gets Commander Mormont and then he gets Qhorin. So he's always finding himself being prepared for whatever it is that lies ahead of him by these older male figures who've seen it all."
The Halfhand's extreme sacrifice may have been worth it. At least one wildling is convinced that Jon is a turncloak. "Ygritte is watching," Leslie says. "She didn't think that he would kill Qhorin, and then of course when he did, that's when she totally turned and thought, 'Oh my God, he's now one of us. Jon Snow has proved himself to be a wildling. He's no longer a crow.' It was a shock to see because she knows how close he was to Qhorin. For me, that's a turning point, when she doesn't doubt him any longer."
'Shippers of course are hoping that Ygritte's friendly feelings for Jon Snow could turn into something more amorous, but romance could be a challenge for the bastard. "It's the longest time since he's spoken to a woman his age. I think he was the kind of kid in his village who always shied away from talking to girls," Harington says. "And now he's forced to be with one a good period of time. She just talks and talks and talks at him. He's forced to interact with the opposite sex, and he's terrible at it! Oh, Jon! What are you doing? He's just useless at it, but I think that she finds it endearing that he's such a stick in the mud.
"But you see him kind of like Ygritte in this season," he continues. "You see him warm to her. So if he's going into enemy camp to meet Mance Rayder and go and try to convince them he's a wildling, he's going to need some support there. I think you may see a friendship grow between these two."
What did you think of the Game of Thrones finale? Did Jon's task horrify you? What other story lines moved you?