Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably aware that Sunday night saw the premiere of Season 5 of HBO’s smash hit “Game of Thrones.” The season kicked off with a bang as a key character was killed off in the most gruesome way possible -- almost.
Season 5, episode 1 ended with the public execution of Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). Mance was captured at the end of Season 4 when Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) arrived with his purchased army to save the Night’s Watch from the army of united Wildlings. Stannis is a hard man with precious little tolerance for people who break the law of the land. Still, he’s driven by his desire to sit on the Iron Throne, and was willing to make a rare concession to the free folk. If they marched on King’s Landing with him they'd receive citizenship and land when it’s conquered. Alternatively, they could burn alive as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Having just rallied an entire army around the premise of not serving any ruler south of the Wall, Mance opted to be roasted on a pike rather than bend the knee to Stannis.
“To kneel before a king who would only be using him, to use the people he's trying to give some dignity to, is something he couldn't live with,” the actor told Vulture of the character’s choice. “The fact that you pull all these 90 tribes together and give them a sense of identity, you can't watch them crumble.”
Although it’s drastically different from what happens in author George R.R. Martin’s books, those who watched the premiere will note that the big moment was particularly hard to watch. Although Mance spent the past two seasons as a tough-as-nails figure, he was noticeably horrified in the moments leading up to the lighting of the execution pyre. The actor opened up about his expert performance to Entertainment Weekly.
“The fact is, these people know what death is -- they’ve fought, they’ve killed, they’ve been wounded. Being roasted alive is one of the most painful things to be done to you. He wanted to give these people this image, that we can be strong, in what we believe, even in death,” the 62-year-old actor told the outlet. “I think he was genuinely horrified by the possibility -- not just the pain that will arrive, but that his men would see him in this weakness, and that in turn would weaken them. It was a mixture of the two.”
Luckily, Mance was put out of his misery before Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) and the rest of the wildling army could see him scream. Jon Snow, fed up with all of the death he’s seen as well as his king’s ruthless execution tactics, shot a merciful arrow into Mance’s heart before the flames engulfed him fully.
Although Hinds says his time on the show is done, “Game of Thrones” Season 5 pushes forward next week with another new episode. Check out the preview below and tune in for Season 5, episode 2 on HBO at 9 p.m. EDT Sunday.