‘Game of Thrones’ Star Kristian Nairn on Hodor’s Big Reveal, Holding Doors and Bran’s Powers
Holding doors will never be the same.
Game of Thrones is the king of shocking fans with character deaths and revealing answers to long-debated mysteries. It did both in the devastating ending of Episode 5, “The Door” – SPOILER ALERT – which revealed how the one-word speaking Hodor (Kristian Nairn) got his name while showing him sacrifice his life for Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick).
In a tense sequence that combined a White Walker invasion with Bran’s time-traveling flashbacks, Bran warged into the present-day Hodor to help escape the incoming ice zombies. Somehow Bran’s powers from the Three-Eyed Raven created a time loop that fused the present with the past. As the young Hodor of the past, then known as Wyllis (Sam Coleman), fell into a convulsive fit he began uttering Meera’s words, “Hold the door,” until they eventually melded into “Ho-dor.” Upsetting as the scene was, it was a brilliant twist that finally gave fans an origin story while giving a beloved character a meaningful send-off.
I spoke with Nairn over the phone about his character’s death and name reveal. He broke down what happened in the complex sequence, explained whether Hodor’s sacrifice was Bran’s fault, and what he predicts is next for Bran's time-traveling visions.
I’m still pretty torn up about Hodor’s death.
Tell me about it. I’m pretty torn up, too.
What was it like when you first found out this was your last season and the origin of Hodor’s name?
It’s a double-edged sword. I think that’s the sort of flavor of the scene. It was nice to get some confirmation on Hodor’s backstory. I always wanted that to be part of it. I wanted people to find out. I also wanted to know because all my theories were completely wrong. But I was definitely very sad as well. I was very happy with the death. I was so [keen] that Hodor had a good send off. He’s such a great character. I didn’t want him just to be last, like a footnote at the end because obviously Bran’s one of the main characters and Hodor’s just a side character. He might have just disappeared, but he really got to make a mark on the show. I’m really proud of that. I’m proud of him.
There’s some speculation over what exactly happened in that final sequence and how Bran’s warging connected the past Hodor to the present. What’s your take on it?
My take is that it’s almost like a telephone call with crossed wires. Fundamentally I don’t think Bran even understands what he’s done. He’s in a new territory for himself. He’s still discovering these powers he has, which obviously is telling to his lack of study. [Laughs] But I think stuff starts to happen in present day with the White Walkers and the wights, and he knows he has to – he heard Meera shouting “Warg into Hodor” and somehow [Bran] managed to affect both Hodors at the same time.
I think somehow the electricity – I think his powers are somehow electrical in the connectivity, electrical parts of animal brains, and obviously Hodor’s brain as well, creates some sort of vortex, some sort of flux. [It] just almost wipes Hodor’s brain unfortunately, and almost leaves [him] like an echo chamber. Then the poor guy has to learn how to communicate all over again and is left, I’m not going to say an empty shell because he was never an empty shell for me. But he definitely has to relearn how to be a little boy again. I don’t believe that he remembers what’s happened. I don’t believe that when he saw [Bran] for the first time he as like, “Oh my god, it’s him!”
So you don’t think he knew who Bran was while he was growing up?
No no no. I don’t think that’s – I don’t think he was aware of his fate. But yeah, I think taking something like this, because Bran really realizes the implications it can have and the effects he can have on people and situations. Unfortunately it’s a bit of a sacrifice and I think it needed to happen.
Do you think it’s a sacrifice Hodor made willingly, or was he mostly controlled by Bran?
No, it definitely wasn’t Bran. Bran only gave him like, a giddy up, like you slap the thigh of a horse. That was just a quick jolt of electricity to get him up off his feet, because Hodor was terrified going down the tunnel. It wasn’t in warg state, he was trying to get away. And when he got to the other side of the door it wasn’t Bran warging, it was actually Meera who said “Hold the door.” So he’s always been a can-do guy, he wants to help. He loves Bran and he likes Meera too. I think he just wanted to help them and protect them. He died as he lived, what more could you ask?
We don’t see what happens to his body, though. Could he become a White Walker?
You know, anything is possible, but I don’t think so. I’m in the glorious situations where after six years of knowing secrets and having to keep my big trap shut, I know just as much as you guys now. It’s just conjecture, but I wouldn’t imagine he’s gonna come back. I think it’s such a perfect ending.
Did you play him any differently once you realized it was your last season and knew about his origin?
Absolutely not. I was happy the way I played him. I don’t think I played him differently. Maybe people picked up what I did, I don’t know, but I tried not to make any differences. We had that lovely little scene where Bran asks him, “You used to be called Wyllis. You used to be able to talk. What happened?” And you have that lovely little moment where you almost think he’s going to say something. But it’s really sad, I find that quite sad. It was even sad to film.
When you first learned Hodor’s origin story, did the showrunners explain anything else about him? Who his parents were?
I don’t know anything about his backstory. That’s still a mystery, which I like. He always had a little bit of an enigma about him. We’ll never know who his father was. Or who knows, maybe in a different book. But I like characters that are a little enigmatic. But we find out enough now to be satisfied for a while.
You don’t get to interact with Isaac in your death scene. What was it like to shoot?
No, I mean [it was] just me and a door and a camera and producers and some wights. It’s definitely easier when Isaac was there because you can sort of transfer the emotions when you watch them go off into the distance. But you just have to bring yourself back to the place where you were. That can be difficult, but normally it just takes a few tries. It’s just about being real. It wasn’t hard to be because it was kind of sad for me because obviously this great chapter in my life is coming to an end. It’s easier to transfer the emotions of that into what’s happening on screen.
What was it like watching the final scene?
I had a lump in my throat and I was close to tears. It’s weird because I don’t see me on the screen, I see Hodor. I was definitely pretty moved. And I was very impressed with Sam [Coleman's] performance, as little Hodor. He did a great job.
Do you think Bran’s time travel will give explanations of other events in the series?
I hope so. I would imagine [it’s] too important not to explore so more. I’m guessing we’ll see a little bit more of that. He has the potential to be vastly important, maybe more than anybody. He has the potential to go back and see everything, but as the Raven says, “The past is the past and the ink has already dried.” Probably not the best idea.
Do you think his powers will be even stronger now that he’s become the Three-Eyed Raven?
Yeah. I don’t know how it’s going to manifest itself, but I imagine they will be.
What will you miss most about being on the show?
Honestly, I’ll miss all the hype. I always find this fun. I love watching the reactions on Twitter. Whereas it’s fun never really not knowing, it’s always fun to know that little behind the scenes and watch people guess and get things wrong, sometimes get things right. I always loved that. I think most of all actually it’ll be working with the people who I have the last six years. It’s like family really. I suppose we’ll stay in contact, it’s just not gonna be quite the same.
Has anyone asked you to hold any doors yet?
Not yet. I surely expect it. I’m waiting for that. Or maybe they’ll hold the door for me.