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Sacrifices that Game of Thrones actors had to make

In the years since it premiered on HBO in the spring of 2011, Game of Thrones has become a worldwide smash, capturing the imaginations of millions of people across the globe. Thanks to its fantasy roots mixed with extraordinary action, complex plotting, stunning visual effects and production values, international sets, and talented cast, it's one of the most popular and profitable series in HBO's history, all while breaking Emmy records for primetime television shows.

Meanwhile, many stars of the show, including Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, and Sophie Turner, have skyrocketed to fame, each with brand new projects on the horizon. However, over the course of making a series with an intense shooting schedule, numerous battle scenes, and plenty of tough journeys for each character, the actors are sure to encounter a number of hardships during shooting, and some have had to endure some pretty difficult situations during filming for the sake of the show. Here's a look at some scary, tricky, and grueling sacrifices actors had to make during Game of Thrones.

Bloody awful

Game of Thrones has played host to many devastating moments throughout the show's run, but most fans would agree that the show's all-time hardest scene to watch has to be the Red Wedding, which takes place near the end of the third season. After Robb Stark (Richard Madden), the eldest son of the highborn Stark house, betrays his promise to marry the daughter of one of his allies, Walder Frey, the Freys slaughter Robb, his pregnant bride Talisa (Oona Chaplin), and his mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), saving Catelyn for last as she watches her son die and her chance at a grandchild brutally destroyed.

None of the actors involved in the Red Wedding were particularly excited about this horrifying sequence, but Chaplin (who is Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter, as well as playwright Eugene O'Neill's great-granddaughter) drew one of the shortest straws of all: after her pregnant character is repeatedly stabbed in the stomach and killed, she's left on the floor to torment Robb, and as a result, Chaplin spent "hours" laying on the floor in a cold Belfast studio, "freezing" and covered in fake blood, while she waited for the rest of the cast to finish their scenes. Chaplin's commitment can't be understated, especially considering that a scene this uncomfortable was her last in the series.

Smokin' Jerome

In the seventh season of Game of Thrones, as the story began drawing to a close and the world of the show started to narrow, several characters who hadn't yet met came together, with varying results. When Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) met a member of the Lannister family for the first time, it didn't go very well, and her battle against Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is one of the biggest and most impressive set pieces from the show's penultimate season. During the battle, Bronn (Jerome Flynn), Jaime's right hand man, must operate an enormous spear launcher to fight against Daenerys' dragon, Drogon, since the one-handed Jaime can't do it himself. Though Bronn does get one good hit in against Drogon, the machine is quickly burned to ashes, and though Bronn survives, he's caught in the flames.

Since Drogon spends most of the scene setting fire to the battlefield, all the actors had to contend with plenty of smoke inhalation, but Flynn got the brunt of it. Director of photography Robert MacLachlan noted that, in order to make the smoke as dramatic as possible, he burned diesel oil for black smoke (as well as real flames), which caused most of the crew to don masks. Flynn had to go unmasked, and it's hard to miss the discomfort visible on his face throughout this tough scene.

Suffocatin' Snow

The Battle of the Bastards, which took place during the sixth season of Thrones, was the culmination of a long chain of events, including Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) reunion with his sister Sansa, her escape from her sociopathic husband Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), and the long-awaited showdown between the two men, who represent both the best and worst of humankind. After it aired, it won Emmys for writing and directing, and still represents one of the best battle scenes in the history of the show, remaining a favorite with fans as well as the minds behind the series.

As with many battles on Game of Thrones, each moment is more brutal than the last, and throughout the fight, it seems unlikely that Jon Snow, the clear hero, will emerge victorious (especially considering that Thrones tends to kill its darlings). At one point, he ends up submerged in a pile of dead bodies and living soldiers, gasping for breath as he struggles to rise to the surface, which reportedly terrified Harington. Though it made for an incredible image onscreen, Harington has since admitted that he didn't enjoy this particular part of filming, as being crushed is one of his biggest fears, but he ended up suggesting the sequence, forgoing his own comfort to create a singular moment for viewers.

Brienne vs. an actual freaking bear

Since debuting on the show during season two, Brienne of Tarth has won audiences' hearts with her fierce battle skills, unerring loyalty, and quick quips, thanks in no small part to actress Gwendoline Christie's pitch-perfect performance. After serving a few fallen characters (including Catelyn Stark), Brienne strikes up a real friendship with Jaime Lannister, who, in turn, comes to respect her skill with a sword and her strong moral center. Between her bond with the Kingslayer and her continued devotion to Catelyn, which she proves by rescuing Sansa from Ramsay Bolton's clutches, Brienne has become a fan favorite.

As such, fans are always frightened when Brienne ends up in a life-threatening situation, and it turns out Christie has been genuinely frightened herself. When Brienne and Jaime are captured and held hostage by Locke, a hunter for House Bolton, they both encounter a number of horrible hardships, including Jaime losing his right hand to Locke's sword, but the final showdown comes when Locke forces Brienne to face down a real bear in a fighting pit, causing Jaime to jump in and rescue her. Though Christie said the bear was a "diva," requiring its own trailer, she also said that it was terrifying to face down the giant animal with nothing more than an electric fence between them.

Dying can be surprisingly difficult

Few of Thrones' villains have elicited a public reaction quite as visceral as Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), the sadistic eldest son of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) who holds the Iron Throne for nearly three seasons. A bitter, violence-hungry children born of incest (his uncle, Jaime Lannister, is also his father), Joffrey's vengeful and ill-advised decision to execute Ned Stark in the show's first season set off most of the entire story's conflict, and if that wasn't enough, viewers watched him murder prostitutes, threaten to beat women, and verbally abuse pretty much everyone, basically possessing zero redeeming qualities. (It's no wonder viewers loved watching Joffrey get slapped.)

He meets an extremely ugly end early in the fourth season — at his own nuptials, no less. During his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, Joffrey takes a fatal sip of wine, gruesomely choking to death in front of the entire court, including his mother and uncle-father. Actor Jack Gleeson, who quit acting after his last moments as Joffrey, said that aside from the choking itself, keeping his eyes open was the hardest part — they actually had to be held open so he didn't blink (which was later fixed using CGI), making filming the scene that much longer, more intensive, and more uncomfortable.

The Walk of Shame

Cersei Lannister, yet another Thrones character that viewers love to hate, has committed her fair share of atrocities, including enabling her evil firstborn son Joffrey, carrying on a decades-long affair with her twin brother (as well as falsely passing their offspring off as the true heirs to the Iron Throne), and slaughtering most of King's Landing by burning them with wildfire. She got her comeuppance for some of her crimes at the end of the show's fifth season, when she was forced to take a walk of atonement through King's Landing completely naked while the townspeople verbally and physically abused her.

Shooting the walk itself was rife with controversy — shot in Dubrovnik, Croatia near an ancient church, the production was nearly banned due to the nudity that the scene required — and in the end, actress Lena Headey asked for a body double for a number of reasons. Thanks to the magic of visual effects, Rebecca Van Cleave's body stood in for Cersei's, while Headey's face was placed on her body. As a result, Van Cleave spent three days walking the streets of Dubrovnik completely naked while crew members and extras shouted and pelted her with food, making for a harrowing, difficult, and frightening filming experience. Her face didn't make the final cut; as far as sacrifices go, that's quite a big one.

Kit Harington's tangled web

After a number of shocking deaths throughout Thrones' run, viewers have accepted the idea that nobody is safe, which made Jon Snow's false start of a death all the more horrifying. During the season five finale, Jon, now the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, is betrayed by his men and repeatedly stabbed over accusations of treason due to his alliance with the Wildlings beyond the wall, and as he's left for dead, the show cuts to black, leaving anxious fans without answers regarding Jon's fate until the next season premiere.

Kit Harington told various media outlets he would not be returning to the show, which turned out to be a pretty enormous lie, considering that Jon was alive and well by the second episode of the next season. Harington reportedly hated lying, and as fans speculated about everything from his whereabouts to the length of his hair, he had to endure worldwide scrutiny and pretend his watch was truly over. With huge fans like President Barack Obama concerned about Jon Snow's fate, Harington had to play it extremely safe for over a year — though he did get himself out of a speeding ticket by revealing one of the show's biggest spoilers to an anxious police officer, so there was at least one silver lining to this particular sacrifice.

Pretend blindness, actual discomfort

Throughout Thrones' run, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has transformed from a young, impetuous would-be warrior to a truly dangerous faceless assassin. After watching her father's public execution and making the treacherous journey from Westeros to the House of the Undying in faraway Braavos, she agrees to renounce her name to learn from the mysterious face-changer Jaqen H'ghar. After waiting outside the House for days to earn her place inside, Arya is allowed to begin her education, but as soon as she learns how to change faces, she uses her power to slaughter Meryn Trant, one of the names on her list of people to kill — however, because it wasn't yet Meryn's turn to die, Arya is subsequently punished by Jaqen, who blinds her and forces her to live as a beggar until she can truly live as "no one."

While blind, Arya's eyes are extremely clouded, making her affliction completely believable to viewers; unfortunately for Williams, the contacts were extremely painful, as they were quite thick and even hand-painted (actually obscuring her vision). Williams admitted that while she didn't want to complain, her blind scenes left her in a significant amount of pain, but she stuck with it, ensuring that each shot during Arya's blind phase was exactly right.  

Alfie Allen's torture scenes

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), the once cocky heir to the Iron Islands, been through his fair share of ordeals, leaving him a broken, damaged man. Once a young, stubborn ward of the North, Theon was initially loyal to Robb Stark in the wake of Ned's death, pledging himself to the King in the North, but eventually, he betrayed Robb and was captured by the sadistic Ramsay Bolton, who physically and psychologically destroyed Theon until the youngest Greyjoy only referred to himself as "Reek." He eventually regained some sense of himself, allying himself with Daenerys and Jon Snow in the fight for the Iron Throne and showing utmost loyalty to his formidable older sister Yara.

Perhaps the hardest scenes for Allen to endure throughout Thrones were his torture scenes with Ramsay, during which he spent most of a full season strung up and savagely mutilated and beaten. It can't have been easy for Allen to even pretend to be tortured, and he has since spoken out about how hard it was to play, noting that he went to dark places within his own mind and watched movies that prominently featured torture, including Quentin Tarantino's bloody classic Reservoir Dogs. Though these scenes led to a strong character arc for Theon, spending so much time working within this unflinchingly terrible part of Theon's story must have been incredibly difficult for Allen.

Crawling death

As one of the less prominent members of his family, some viewers might have forgotten about Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), even though he played a pivotal role in many different moments in the series. When audiences meet a younger Lancel, he is a seemingly innocent squire to King Robert until the monarch's death. After an ill-advised affair with his cousin Cersei, Lancel is severely wounded in season two's Battle of Blackwater Bay and shunted to the sidelines during his recovery. When Lancel returns, he's joined an oppressive and severe religious sect called the Sparrows, and is determined to force the citizens of King's Landing to pay for their crimes — including members of his own family.

When Lancel spills the beans about his relationship with Cersei, however, he seals his own fate; after her arrest and subsequent walk of atonement, Cersei is angrier than ever, and rather than attending her own trial, the vengeful Queen Mother unleashes a magical wildfire throughout King's Landing, killing numerous people and literally leveling the playing field. Lancel, sent to find the missing Cersei during her trial, discovers her plan, but can't stop the explosion in time, despite his best efforts. As a result, Simon spent "hours" crawling through a dark dungeon, enduring the journey a whopping 27 times until they got the shot, and working up a real layer of sweat after pushing himself to his breaking point for Lancel's final moments.

Ramsay Bolton's (literally) punchable face

Game of Thrones has played host to plenty of horrible, hateable characters, but few have been as monstrous as Ramsay Bolton, played perfectly by Iwan Rheon. When viewers met Ramsay in season three, he was a bastard, much like Jon Snow, but after he helped his father, Roose Bolton, secure the North, he was legitimized, becoming a Bolton in his own right. After watching Samsay brutalize Sansa (to whom he was briefly married), torture Theon, murder his father and stepmother to gain control of the Bolton name, and generally be the worst person of all time, fans were thrilled when Ramsay met a bitter and bloody end in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bastards — with all that in mind, it's especially satisfying to hear him being torn apart by his own pack of angry attack dogs.

After the larger battle, Jon and Ramsay, among others, find themselves back at Winterfell ready to keep fighting, and thanks to Ramsay's taunting (and the fact that he recently murdered Rickon, the youngest Stark), Jon snaps and brutally beats the other bastard into submission. However, some of this ended up becoming a reality for Rheon, who was actually punched in the face by Harington, twice. Harington said Rheon was extremely nice about the entire situation (although he did owe the guy a drink after they were done filming), but it's unlikely that Rheon was thrilled about taking two for the team.

Winter is coming, and also hopefully a shower

In her years of playing Sansa Stark, Sophie Turner has been through plenty of hardships as the eldest Stark daughter, who took control as the Lady of Winterfell after most of her family was either killed or removed from her childhood home. Though Sansa began the show as a pampered, spoiled child who wanted nothing more than to be a princess, she has grown into a fierce, shrewd warrior of a woman who has survived arranged marriages, sexual violence, and the loss of many of her loved ones.

Turner hasn't been through the horrors that Sansa has, but she's endured her fair share of hardships during filming, including an unhygienic request from the crew during one portion of the show. While Sansa was going through a tough transition after she escaped from King's Landing, Turner was asked to stop washing her hair so she would look as disheveled as possible during Sansa's darkest times. Turner has spoken out before about the significance of Sansa's hair — beyond the fact that Turner, a natural blonde, has to dye her hair red on a regular schedule, her hairstyles have also always correlated to Sansa's current position in the world of the show — so it makes sense that during Sansa's darkest time, Turner would have to look her worst, but it certainly wasn't an enjoyable experience for Turner. "It was really disgusting," she admitted. "Now I wear a wig so I can wash my hair whenever I want, which is nice. But yes, for a couple of years I was living with pretty greasy hair."