Kristian Nairn, the 6’ 10” Northern Ireland DJ turned actor, has been a part of Game of Thrones since the very first episode. The hulking stable boy known only by his repetitious use of the word ‘Hodor’ became the bodyguard – and the mode of transport – to the crippled Bran Stark, and a cult figure to the show’s legion of fans.
While uttering the same word of dialogue meant there were less lines to learn, Nairn notes that the challenge for an actor was in articulating the character’s emotions. “Having one word was sometimes quite restrictive, so it depended on the subject matter and the complexity of the scene,” he tells STACK.
Nairn had studied acting at college and performed in live theatre and musicals, before an (unsuccessful) audition for the film Hot Fuzz led to him being cast as one of the most endearing characters in Game of Thrones. “It was the same casting director and she remembered me for the part of Hodor,” he explains.
Being surrounded by veteran actors proved invaluable to his first onscreen acting gig, he notes. “I’ve learned so much from them. They’re just incredible professionals – it’s like watching a masterclass.”
After Sean Bean lost his head, Nairn was all too aware of the occupational hazard that comes with starring in Game of Thrones. Even the most beloved of characters can be killed off without warning, and in season six it’s Hodor’s turn to make the ultimate sacrifice.
“Everyone’s card is marked,” he says, and proceeds to explain how he learned of Hodor’s fate. “You don’t find out until you get the scripts, which are sent out in a staggered way depending on which episode is your first. One of my fellow cast mates and I always joke, ‘Are we going to get killed this season?’ as we thumb through the scripts. I made a joking comment to my friend – ‘So, do I make it through to the end of the season?’ There was an awkward silence and that’s how I found out, and about a week after that I got the ‘black call’ from David [Benioff] confirming my demise.”
We’ll leave the nature of Hodor’s death for the internet to spoil, but Nairn agrees that it was a stroke of genius on the part of George R.R. Martin.
“When I found out about the death, my friend’s reaction was ‘wait until you see how it happens, you’re going to love it’. And I did. I just thought the scene was put together so well – only Game of Thrones can pull something like that off. For George Martin to have foreshadowed that… how many years has he known that ‘Hodor’ was ‘Hold the door’? And not just my character, there’s so much foreshadowing in the stories and books.”
Life for Nairn hasn’t slowed down since departing the show. He continues to travel the world as an in-demand DJ and has a movie lined up in the new year.
“I think the death scene has created a hunger,” he laughs. “Obviously it’s a bit daunting as to what’s going to happen now, but it’s been a very busy time and I’m very grateful for it.”
Aside from the overall experience of being a part of Game of Thrones, he says it’s the cast and crew and the lifelong friendships he’s forged that he’ll miss the most. “I’m based in Belfast, so I’ll probably get to see them come in and out. Hopefully we’ll all keep in touch.”
If you could have played any character in Game of Thrones, who would you have chosen and why?
“Obviously Hodor’s words weren’t important, it was all about the body language and stuff, so I would have liked to play someone whose words were incredibly important. I think I would have liked to play Varys – the dialogue between him and Littlefinger and the way they play off each other is incredible. I couldn’t have done a better job than Conleth [Hill], but it would have been a very fun part to play and very different from Hodor.”