“Power Corrupts, Babe”: An Interview With Alfie Allen AKA Theon Greyjoy From ‘Game Of Thrones’
“Want to do the interview in bed?” This is a weird way to start a talk about rape and torture.
“Want to do the interview in bed?” Alfie Allen asks, lounging sideways as three publicists look on from the corner of the hotel room. Really, this is a bizarre way to be introduced to anyone, but there was another sort of weirdness in the air. To see Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones reclining on a bed, remnants of scrambled eggs on plates beside him, laughing and calling me “darling” was jarring because I was usually accustomed to seeing him screaming in agony, shivering in silent terror and sobbing in despair. They must have been some good eggs.
During the course of Game of Thrones, Theon Greyjoy has gone from being an arrogant, but deeply insecure friend of the Starks, to a deeply insecure enemy of the Starks and self-proclaimed champion of the Iron Islands, to a beaten-down, traumatised prisoner named ‘Reek’. Last season he was reunited with Sansa Stark, initially thwarting her escape attempt from the sadistic Ramsay Bolton but then, quite controversially, being so moved by her sexual assault that he was spurned into helping her escape.
Juicy details about Season Six are impossible to get, of course — which is particularly frustrating for lovers of the A Song of Ice and Fire books; for once they don’t really know where this new season is going — but we have seen the new trailer, the occasional press shot and the constant IS JON SNOW DEAD fan updates. Because of the global fascination with Game of Thrones and the fact that leaking ‘spoilers’ is often considered just about the most offensive thing you can do on the internet, the actors on GoT are used to holding their tongues when talking to the media.
This careful secrecy resulted in Alfie Allen debating even the most innocuous information about the new season (we know that you’re in it dude, stfu) and couching every statement with “…OR IS IT?”. This was mildly annoying, but it was also kind of thrilling to get a glimpse into the mechanics of a huge pop culture phenomenon.
*SPOILERS FOR PRETTY MUCH EVERY BIG MOMENT ON GAME OF THRONES SEASONS ONE-FIVE*
Junkee: For six years you’ve constantly had to keep secrets about the one thing in pop culture that everyone in the world wants to know about the most. Does that come with constant anxiety?
AA: I mean, not really. I guess just talking to the average person who wants to know about it, then yeah, but why would you want to know? You don’t want to ruin it for yourself. The second I would tell you everything about it, you’d be like, “Why the fuck did I ask?” I don’t really feel anxious about giving away storylines though. It’s such a big gap between reading the scripts and then it coming to TV that, I’ve got to be honest, I can’t remember a lot of it. So I’m just as shocked as anyone like, ‘Oh yeah, wow…’
Despite all the horrible things that have happened in Season Five, Reek was able to tell Sansa that Bran and Rickon were actually alive. He might be instrumental in a Stark reunion of sorts. Am I being too optimistic that that’s a thing that will happen?
I think the word optimism doesn’t even exist in the world of Game of Thrones. [laughs]
But when you love these characters so much, you can’t help but to be optimistic!
No, no, no it’s just… it has very dark sides to it. Definitely my storyline is one of the darker ones. But personally, if I was going to see anyone on the throne, it would be Bran Stark. You know, if he ever comes back into the show… fingers crossed.
Yeah yeah. Does the throne even matter anymore though, who would want to be the leader of this place?
Yes, I think it does. Power corrupts, babe. You’re going to think that you don’t want it, but then when you get it, it feels pretty good.
Last year Game of Thrones was criticised for being more concerned with how Sansa’s rape affected Reek than how it affected her. A close-up of your face was used as a summation of everything that was problematic with the way rape is depicted on TV. What did you think about that discussion and was it strange to sort of be the catalyst?
I mean it’s obviously something that I don’t really like to get into or talk about. Because, I’ll be honest with you, I can’t really add more to it than Sophie [Turner, who plays Sansa Stark] does, because she deals with it so fantastically and she’s such an amazing woman. And in any real life situation if that were to happen, it must be awful to deal with. But I think it was very delicately handled and if it can be beautifully done, then it was beautifully done.
What you don’t see is more scary in a way, what you leave to the imagination can definitely be more frightening. But it was a horrible day to shoot, you know. It wasn’t enjoyable. Iwan [Rheon, who plays Ramsay Bolton] was definitely losing sleep over it. It was tough. But there was such a furore about that, then two episodes later you’ve got an eight-year-old being burnt at the stake and no one really seemed to care too much about that [laughs]. It’s mental, isn’t it?
I was going to ask you about that, when there are scenes that will obviously get people talking, are you ever taken aside and told, “Okay, people will probably ask you about this scene, this is the party line”?
No, not really. You just kind of use the script as source material. But then you don’t know, because it’s all about the energy on the day and if something spontaneous happens it could be a completely different thing to what it was on paper. So I guess you can’t really ever be taken aside like, “By the way…” It’s our job really as actors to be able to gauge that ourselves.
The show is always best when unlikely characters team up or, in Theon’s case, when old allies join forces once again. What was it like working with Sophie Turner for the first time since Season One?
Sophie’s just amazing. First of all, she’s an incredible actress. I mean she brings life onto set, especially for my and Iwan’s storyline. There were moments of hilarity, because I mean you’ve got the Boltons being completely at home in this world of terror, they’re almost regal in it, and they’ve just got no emotion whatsoever. Then you’ve got me shivering and drooling in a corner, and you’ve got Sansa with her own motivations. There’s so many things going on in those dynamics. But to have Sophie come into the storyline was amazing. It needed a bit of life! It needed some brightness brought into it. She can just switch it on, it’s incredible. She literally is one minute singing One Direction and the next, is broken.
Even though this is going to be the first season of Game of Thrones to deviate from the books, we’ve still had a couple of tidbits of what’s coming up. There was that photo of you and Sansa in the snow…
I mean, I just can’t remember. I read the script so long ago.
But anyway, we know that this season is going to feature more of the Greyjoys but how will this affect Theon? They tried to rescue him and he refused…
They did, they did. But you know, I think there was a scene in it when my father just basically disowns me because there’s no possibility of me carrying on the bloodline so there’s no reason for him to even want to have me anymore.
What a cold world.
What a cold world it is! But in the world of Game of Thrones you know, it’s love, power, dragons and… not so much love [laughs].
Characters on Game of Thrones who have done bad things, are offered redemption arcs all the time. People are actually rooting for Jaime Lannister now. Do you think that type of redemption is possible for Theon? Do you think audiences will actually forgive him for betraying the Starks and killing two innocent farm boys?
I think all the little pretty young ladies out there won’t.
What does that mean!
I think that demographic definitely won’t, because Robb Stark is just gorgeous. [One of the female publicists nods enthusiastically]. I think that Theon is one of the more human characters on the show, he makes mistakes and that’s definitely a universal theme in anyone’s life. I think that’s a HBO trait with their shows; there’s never really a goodie or a baddie, it’s always in the grey area. I think that that’s very true to Theon and Reek’s storyline, and a lot of storylines that are in it now. I’m so happy to still be in it [laughs].
“We made it, we’re in another season!”
Well, maybe I’m not. [Gestures towards head] I’ve got short hair. I’ve got my haircut! Just saying.
Whatever. We’re at a weird point with television where it seems like for a show to be considered quality it needs to be relentlessly bleak. How do you feel about that estimation — that good TV should be difficult to watch?
Is it relentlessly bleak? I guess that’s the beauty of it. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside one second and the next you’re literally like, ‘Oh my god’. The perfect example is the Jaime and Myrcella scene on the boat, when he’s been yearning for some sort of identity as a father figure.
That’s really a running theme in Game of Thrones — that whole ‘father, son, mother, Freudian wanting-to-kill-your-parents thing’ [laughs]. It can definitely get quite bleak but also, in that Jaime/Myrcella moment, it’s touching. He suddenly gets this moment with his daughter and then she’s taken away from him just like that. It is relentlessly bleak, but it gives you warm butterflies sometimes.
As a fan, is there any character on the show that you just won’t be able to forgive? I will never forgive the Boltons.
But even with Ramsay, he’s a product of his environment.
Honestly! What a great character to play as well, he gets to do all this funny, cruel stuff. I don’t want to use the word comedic because it’s drama, but it’s always fun to play a baddie. He’s got that Jack Nicholson sort of smile.
Is there a character I couldn’t forgive? It’s a good question. Maybe the bloke that stabbed the pregnant lady in the belly [Note: that lady was Talisa, Robb Stark’s wife, and that stabbing happened at the terrible, terrible Red Wedding in Season Three]. How could I forgive that! That was pretty, pretty bad. He wasn’t a main character, but him? Nah, he’s not getting forgiveness.
I’ve read about how difficult you found those torture scenes with Ramsay and that they were actually very upsetting. Of everything that has happened to Theon on the show so far, what have you found to be the most emotionally taxing?
Going to the gym. Nah, probably Season Three. I don’t mind saying it now, but my grandfather was passing away at the time so I guess it was just very tough physically and mentally. But also, it’s a very strong image to be strapped up on a cross [Note: Ramsay suspends Theon on a cross while torturing him]. Reminds of you someone, doesn’t it?
Ah, yeah. Okay, are you going to tell me anything about Season Six? Other than the fact that Reek and Sansa survived the jump?
Ahhhhh. What can I say? It was a long fall. No! It was a long fall from grace.
Game of Thrones returns on Showtime on April 25 and Season Five is available on DVD now.
Sinead Stubbins is a writer from Melbourne who has done stuff for Yen, frankie, Smith Journal and Elle. She tweets about Drake, Gilmore Girls and cheeseburgers at @sineadstubbins.