In two seasons of "Game of Thrones," young Robb Stark has grown from dutiful teenage son to upstart "King in the North." It was an accelerated maturation, to say the least, one thrust on him when the monarch in the south murdered his father, whose men in the north now fight a war against the crown in Robb's name. But the meteoric rise to power hasn't come without growing pains, explains actor Richard Madden, who steps into Robb's furs and armor with a stoic optimism.
How is Robb adjusting to the title of King in the North?
He's learning by doing. A lot of the time, in front of his men, you see him posturing. Robb is acting. He's been very clever and made some great decisions and earned the respect of the people who follow him, but a lot of the time he is pretending to be king. It doesn't feel real to him. It doesn’t feel where he's supposed to be, but he is. And he needs to take on that role. By having to pretend to be a man, he becomes a man.
What have you learned about Robb this year that you didn't know last season?
I learned a lot about how he follows his heart. Last season he was kind of pushed into situations and making decisions based on what his father would do — that's what drove me as an actor last year, I kept thinking, "What would Ned do?" Then into Season 2, he's making these decisions himself.
What excites me the most about him this year is everything that happens to him is a "first time." And I think in everyone's lives those are exciting moments, those first times. I learned how he deals with situations. And I've learned that Robb is one of the most honest, genuine characters. Everything he does is for the greater good.
But just like every other character in the show, sometimes your own desires get in the way, and you can become selfish, or you can take liberties because you end up getting too much power — especially for Robb, who is quite young. But I don’t think there's an arrogance to Robb yet. Sometimes bits of that filter in, and sometimes he needs to act an arrogance to keep the respect. He's gained that, and I like that about him. Everything he does he's worked for, and he's honest, and he gets what he wants through his actions rather than some of the other characters who can talk their way into situations — or out of situations.
The battle against King Joffrey, who had Robb's father beheaded, is a dark and violent journey. But every time a Stark comes on screen, there's this flicker of hope. …
That things can work out, that things could be perfect.
Do you get that feeling reading the scripts?
There's bits of me as an actor that go, "What would this be like if Robb were king?" That would present its own challenges, but things could be really good. I think Robb would be such a great king.
But you know, on the same hand, that's not where his heart lies. He was raised to be Lord of Winterfell and that's where he wants to be — he wants to be looking after his people in the North. He's fighting for the cause even though he doesn’t want to be king. He wants the world to be a better place; he wants the world to be just and fair and right, and that's what I love so much about him. That drives him to carry on this path of being king and fighting this war; that comes from him wanting the right things to happen.
He meets a woman this season who questions him on that precisely: Why are you fighting? Why do you want to be king?
He's spent so much time being a king and leading an army, and then he meets this woman who is a real breath of fresh air and calls him out — she doesn’t curtsy to him, she calls him out. He's a boy, she kind of sees him as a man, she asks, "What are you doing? Why is this happening?"
She makes him question himself. He's never been asked these questions before — no one ever says to him, "Why are you doing this, actually? Are you doing the right thing?" And then he works it out and says, "Yes I am, actually."
It gives him a renewed confidence. She's willing to be persuaded if he can tell her this is a good thing and it's right. But he has to work hard — she's not going to make it easy for him.
Since you've teased a relationship, and since this is "Game of Thrones," has basically every interviewer asked if we're going to be seeing you naked?
Yeaaaah. [Laughs.] Um, yeah. You're gonna see a little bit more of Robb in the flesh this season, I will give you that.
[Whispers.] You might see him with his clothes off at some point. [Laughs.] Oh dear, oh dear.
I'm used to going into my trailer and there being furs and furs and leather and furs and furs and leather and armor and then, you know, there may have been one day I went in and there was much, much less than that. [Laughs.] So that's a different challenge Robb has to face.
Follow Metro's television critic Amber Ray on Twitter @AmberatMetro.