He came, he saw, he conquered, he disappeared….He waited 5 seasons, he came back, he saw, he conquered, he disappeared….He briefly returned once more, he briefly saw, he briefly conquered, and he disappeared for good. Uncle Benjen Stark’s tenure on Game of Thrones was (as mentioned) brief, but it was always memorable. This is due in no small part to one of the only supporting cast members who has the distinction of appearing in the pilot: The one, the only, the incredible Joseph Mawle.
In one of his first scenes, Mawle masterfully held his own against the legendary Sean Bean:
Ned: The boy I beheaded…did you know him?
Benjen: Of course I did. Just a lad. But he was tough, Ned…a true ranger.
Ned: He was talking madness. Said the Walkers slaughtered his friends.
Benjen: The two he was with are still missing.
Ned: A wildling ambush.
Benjen: Direwolves south of the wall, talk of the Walkers, and my brother might be the next Hand of the King…Winter is coming.
Ned: (Agreeing) Winter is coming.
I’ve always been floored by how natural this scene is. He’s just so blunt – Mawle doesn’t put any excess spin on the dialogue he’s spewing, and it sounds…amazing. Remember, this pilot episode was many peoples’ first foray into fantasy. Mawle is talking about things that could quickly lose peoples’ interest if they’re not the most devoted fantasy fanatics. Yet he casually talks about these occurrences as if they were an everyday activity, thereby inviting us into the world of Westeros world with open arms. His shared ‘Winter is coming’ exchange with Bean was an inside joke between brothers, and yet its delivery is a feast to behold, and most fittingly, the name of the pilot episode.
After Lord Snow (season 1, episode 3), Benjen disappears, ne’er to be seen until Blood of my Blood (season 6, episode 6), marking the end of a 52-episode absence. Very sorry to all my Gendry fans out there, but I do believe this is the longest absence for a single actor – quite the feat when you think about how twitchy the producers’ recasting fingers are. Clearly, Mawle struck a chord with the producers, and with the viewers at home. Endless speculation raged for 5+ years as we waited to see what befell the fateful ranger after his horse returned to Castle Black, minus one Benjen Stark. This is a testament to Joseph Mawle and the warm practicality he brought to his portrayal of Benjen.
In this interview, which came out between seasons 3 and 4, Mawle recalls filming the pilot and bonding with Kit Harington (Jon), whom he viewed as a little brother, and Sean Bean (Ned), at whom he was initially intimidated, but felt better once Bean embraced him as a brother:
After his initial disappearance, in the two times Benjen returned to our screens, it was with the noblest of intentions: to save the Starks (already rolling eyes at those who will nitpick and say that I should call Jon a Targaryen). Bran and Jon were at their lowest lows when “Coldhands” rode to their rescue and saved them from their darkest hours.
We, the fans, sincerely want to thank Joseph Mawle for agreeing to come back for season 7; his dedication to the role shows how much he cares. In fact, when I fortuitously ran into him on the streets of London (see below and ooze jealousy!!) during my visit at the tail end of 2016, little did I know that he would soon thereafter show up in Belfast for filming. His was one of the nicest celebrity encounters I’ve ever had: “Are you Joe Mawle?” I bluntly asked him as he barreled past me on my way from Leicester Square. “…Yes?” he proclaimed, stopping to turn around, extremely surprised that someone was able to identify him so quickly by name. He was gracious enough to take a picture with me, and was happy to hear that I was such a large fan of his work. Speaking of his work…
Ask anyone who knows me knows my favorite show of the last two years, and they’ll say Sense8 without a moment’s hesitation. Oh, and guess who’s in Sense8? Joe freakin’ Mawle! Mawle shines as always, playing a crafty and manipulative drug dealer; talk about a versatile actor! He also had a role in In the Heart of the Sea, where he starred alongside GOT favorites such as Michelle Fairley (Catelyn Stark) and Donald Sumpter (Maester Luwin) – I guess the Starks and their retinue like to keep it within the family.
I leave you with the reminder that Benjen was Jon’s original role model in wanting to join the Night’s Watch:
Jon: Uncle Benjen!
Benjen: You got bigger. Rode all day. Didn’t want to leave you alone with the Lannisters. Why aren’t you at the feast?
Jon: Lady Stark thought it might insult the royal family to seat a bastard in their midst.
Benjen: Well you’re always welcome on The Wall. No bastard was ever refused a seat there
Jon: So take me with you when you go back!…Father will let me if you ask him, I know he will.
Benjen: The wall isn’t going anywhere…
Oh isn’t it, Benjen? Is that what you think…? We’ll miss you, Joe. You did us proud.