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The untold truth of Kit Harington

Ever since Game of Thrones arrived on television in 2011, it has become an unprecedented worldwide sensation, breaking records, winning awards, and earning millions of fans. As the show became a pop culture phenomenon, its leading actors skyrocketed to fame as well. Even though the cast was stocked with several recognizable faces — including veteran actors like Peter Dinklage, Sean Bean, Lena Headey, and more — it also gave a spotlight to several younger unknown actors, who soon became household names.

One of those young actors was Kit Harington, who successfully won the part of Jon Snow, the brooding, quiet bastard son of Sean Bean's Ned Stark. One of the heroes throughout the entire show, Jon grows physically and emotionally during the series. Eventually, his real name is revealed to be Aegon Targaryen, marking him as the rightful (but unwilling) heir to the Iron Throne. Jon's popularity was no doubt thanks in large part to Harington's performance, which brought heart and emotional heft to such a complicated role. Even if you're a Jon Snow superfan, there are probably still some things you don't know about the man behind the character.

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He has a famous namesake

Kit Harington was born in London in December of 1986, and was immediately given a name that was a bit different. Since "Kit" is usually a nickname, fans could be forgiven for assuming that Harington has a different first name. They would be right — Harington's full name is actually Christopher Catesby Harington, but his friends and family have always called him "Kit," a nickname with some historical significance. The famous playwright Christopher Marlowe, author of plays like Doctor Faustus and a contemporary to William Shakespeare, also went by "Kit" rather than "Christopher," and served as an inspiration for Harington's name.

Because his family always called him Kit as a child, he didn't even know his first name was Christopher until he was 11 years old. While taking a test at school, he was informed that he had written his name down wrong, writing Kit rather than Christopher. Harington has said he is occasionally called Christopher when "applying for a new passport, or something," but despite that surprising revelation in his childhood, he's stuck with Kit all his life.

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His family has some pretty intense lineage

As Jon Snow, Harington eventually learns that he wasn't a lowly bastard, but is of royal blood. Because his parents, Rhaegar Targaryen (a prince) and Lyanna Stark, got lawfully married before his birth, he's not only not a bastard, but the trueborn heir to the Iron Throne. Still, the last thing this Northern man wants to do is rule the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Harington and his character have something in common when it comes to royal lineage… though unlike Jon Snow, it's likely that Harington knew about his ancestors long before adulthood.

The Harington family, much like the fictional Targaryen clan, is a pretty old name in England. Having been shortened from Haverington to Harington, the family is part of an ancient line that traces their name to an estate and lordship in Cumberland. Through his father's side of the family, Harington can trace his lineage back to King Charles II (and subsequently, James I, Charles' grandfather), and through his mother's, the Scottish politician Henry Dundas. His wife, Rose Leslie, is also distantly related to Charles II, though the two are incredibly distant cousins. 

One of his relatives even created an extremely important innovation — his ancestor John Harington invented the flushing toilet in England in the 16th century, which might be one reason that people refer to toilets as "the John."

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He made his acting debut onstage in an award-winning play

While still attending drama school in London at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (which lists legends like Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, and Harold Pinter among its distinguished alumni), Harington landed the starring role in the original production of War Horse, which originated at the National Theatre on the South Bank before making its move to the West End, the Broadway of Britain.

As Albert, a young boy who ends up fighting in World War II to reunite with his beloved horse and help his family, Harington gained plenty of recognition, especially considering that the play ended up winning two Olivier Awards (and eventually, it was adapted into a film, directed by none other than Steven Spielberg). Photos of Harington back in his War Horse days show a baby-faced novice actor, but clearly, he was a star on the rise. For such a young actor, this was an incredible opportunity for Harington to gain both experience and renown. Later in his career, he would return to the West End stage, appearing in the Sam Shepard classic True West in November 2018.

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His TV debut made a splash

Despite Harington's success on the stage, he didn't hit international screens until a little HBO series called Game of Thrones came along, which would go on to change his life. Harington charmed audiences as Jon Snow, becoming a bona fide heartthrob and household name, taking fans on a journey with Jon as he rose from a lowly Night's Watch steward to an honorable accidental royal. Jon may have finished out the series back North and living a peaceful, anonymous life, but Harington is a definitive star now thanks to Thrones. He garnered plenty of praise throughout the series, including an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2016.

Unfortunately, his track record has been a little spotty outside of Thrones. His film debut came in 2012 with the video game adaptation Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, which received a negative reception from critics. His follow-up wasn't all that much better, as his first leading role in a major film came with 2014's Pompeii, which ended up with mixed reviews and underwhelming box office.

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He became one of the highest-paid actors on television

Game of Thrones didn't just catapult Harington into instant stardom. Over the course of the series, it put him in a much higher tax bracket. With the show making waves throughout the world and budgets rising as it approached the finish line, it stood to reason that the main actors would start getting pretty major pay upgrades.

By the time the final season ended in the spring of 2019, it was revealed that Harington, along with Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Nikolaj Coster-Wauldau (who played Daenerys, Cersei, Tyrion, and Jaime, respectively) were each paid £938,200 per episode — about $1.2 million. The other two main actors who were singled out for particularly high pay grades were Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams (who played Jon's sisters Sansa and Arya Stark), but at £158,000 per episode ($210,000), they fell well below Harington's salary. Though this discrepancy caused some media controversy, Sophie Turner explained that the pay gap had nothing to do with gender equality, but everything to do with Harington's bigger role and busier shooting schedule.

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He's a talented comedic actor

Though Harington is obviously known for his moody Thrones role, he's had chances to show off his comedic chops over the years, starting with another project he did for HBO. In 2015, he starred alongside Andy Samberg in 7 Days in Hell, a sports mockumentary about a week-long tennis match between Samberg's "bad boy of tennis," Aaron Williams, and Harington's reserved, extremely dimwitted champion, Charles Poole. An uproarious, hilarious, and totally lewd parody film, 7 Days in Hell has a brief 45-minute runtime, but Harington makes the most of it, giving a pitch-perfect performance as Poole, an incredibly stupid man-child who just keeps repeating the word "indubitably," even though it's obvious he has no idea what it means.

Harington didn't stop there. In early 2019, he made his hosting debut on Saturday Night Live to promote the final season of Thrones, claiming that he told the writers he'd do anything. Clearly, they took him at his word, because they had him do everything from play Winston Churchill to perform a burlesque act. All in all, Harington received rave reviews for his enthusiasm during his hosting gig, proving he could move beyond the often dour mood of Thrones.

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He once got out of a speeding ticket by telling a cop Jon Snow was alive

Audiences were shocked and horrified when, at the end of Thrones' fifth season, Jon Snow, having become the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, was stabbed to death by his own men, who believed Jon had betrayed them by forming an alliance with the wildling men and women north of the Wall. As Jon Snow bled out in the snow, the season abruptly ended, leaving fans furious and anxious about the fate of one of their favorite characters.

Until Jon was revived at the beginning of season six, Harington and the creators not only had to keep his return under wraps, but tell bald-faced lies about his return to the show. Harington announced he wouldn't be coming back, and even President Barack Obama couldn't get the truth from the episode's director. Though the stress of lying did send Harington to therapy, there was one unexpected benefit. During an interview with Jimmy Fallon in 2016, Harington revealed that he told a police officer the truth about Jon Snow's fate to get out of a speeding ticket, which totally worked, so at least he got one little perk out of having to lie to the world for a year.

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He's afraid of flying

Among the most notable aspects of Game of Thrones' production were its larger-than-life filming locations, which utilized some of the most beautiful places on Earth to serve as various fictional locales within Westeros and beyond. The city of Dubrovnik in Croatia stood in for the sunny, stunning capital of King's Landing, while Iceland served as the cold far North, Spain provided backdrops for everything from Dorne to Dragonstone, and the rolling green hills of Northern Ireland gave a home to beloved spots like Winterfell. For the cast of Thrones, this meant a considerable amount of traveling beyond simple press junkets, jumping from continent to continent to film on location as much as possible.

Unfortunately for Harington, this much travel wasn't particularly fun for him — he has a self-professed fear of flying, which apparently came about over time while he was working on Thrones. He gets incredibly jittery, claiming that he even has to touch the outside of the plane three times before he can fly. Unfortunately, his castmates are no help, teasing him about his discomfort. For anyone who also has a fear of flying, it's easy to relate… especially considering how much Harington has to deal with that particular anxiety.

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He's good friends with his co-stars

It's only natural that over the course of nearly a decade of filming, the actors on Game of Thrones would become good friends, and Harington remains close with the people with whom he shared the majority of his scenes. Even though Richard Madden's Robb Stark was killed off during the show's infamous Red Wedding in the third season, the two have remained friends for years, and Harington is also understandably very close with John Bradley, who played Jon Snow's best friend Sam Tarly. Of course, he also keeps it in the family, remaining close with his on-screen half-sisters Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams. He even was spotted applying Williams' makeup during a touchup for the final season, much to Turner's visible delight. The three of them reportedly had an emotional time filming the final season, leaning on each other during some of the tougher moments.

However, his closest friend on set was undoubtedly Emilia Clarke. Despite the fact that they didn't share any scenes until the seventh season, the two became fast friends, always meeting up at press junkets and conventions. Once they had the chance to work together, they immediately had to tackle a romantic storyline between their characters. Harington apparently handled the situation with the utmost grace and class — Clarke has said that he made gagging noises after they had to kiss onscreen as a joke, since he has described Clarke as his "best friend."

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He married his co-star

Not only is Harington good friends with many of his castmates, he even met his future spouse on the set of Thrones, thanks to some well-timed casting and his character's first romantic subplot. In the second season, Jon, traveling beyond the wall, encounters Ygritte (Rose Leslie), a willful and beautiful wildling, who challenges him to execute her and keep his promise to the Night's Watch. He can't go through with it, and after a series of challenges, the two strike up an improbable relationship. Unfortunately, it all ends in Jon's betrayal and Ygritte's death, with Jon's first love dying in his arms.

Luckily, the real-life love story between Leslie and Harington has had a much happier trajectory. The two took their relationship public after years of rumors in 2016, before getting engaged in 2017 and marrying in Scotland in the summer of 2018. Their wedding was heavily attended by other Game of Thrones castmates, and Harington told The Tonight Show that as his best man, his brother adorably quoted Ygritte's catchphrase, "You know nothing, Jon Snow," with a sweet twist. Despite meeting on such a serious show, their relationship is clearly a joyous one, between confusion over Harington sharing spoilers and Leslie turning up to poke fun at her husband during his inaugural hosting gig on Saturday Night Live.

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He's big into April Fool's pranks

Jon Snow might be pretty humorless, but that's one quality the one-time King in the North doesn't share with the actor who plays him. Reportedly, Harington loves pulling April Fool's pranks, especially on his wife, Rose Leslie. One year, with an assist from Thrones' super-talented props department, he left his own severed head in the couple's refrigerator, prompting Leslie to make it clear to Harington, in no uncertain terms, that another prank like that would mean the end of their relationship.

Naturally, Harington couldn't help himself, and just one year later, he pulled another prank which ended up backfiring on him pretty spectacularly. During an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers, he revealed that he told his wife that her favorite almond milk had been discontinued (in an extremely "first world problem" April Fool's joke). She promptly called his assistant and ordered the supposedly discontinued product in bulk — on his credit card. Harington might be the prankster, but in this instance, Leslie got the last laugh.

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He understands the value of self-care

Becoming a household name so suddenly during his time on Thrones — as well as having to keep some of the most closely-guarded secrets in television — took its toll. Throughout the show's run, Harington was extremely open about the downfalls of playing Jon Snow and his feelings on the end of the series. In the aftermath of Jon Snow's death at the end of the fifth season (and after lying about it for over a year), he admitted that he sought out therapy. The Last Watch, a documentary released on HBO a week after Thrones' series finale, finds Harington is visibly emotional during both the final table read (especially at the moment where he finds out what Jon does to Daenerys) and during his final scene. He even compared the moment where he took his costume off for the last time to being "skinned."

Eventually, Harington did what was best for himself and checked into a wellness facility in Connecticut shortly before the show's finale, citing stress and alcohol use as reasons for his time there. Actors seeking out rehabilitation is nothing new, but it's refreshing to see an actor as much in the spotlight as Harington make sure he's taking care of himself and doing what's necessary for his health and well-being. He has an undoubtedly bright future ahead of him, and time out of the public eye in the aftermath of Thrones' controversial series finale could only be beneficial.