Curtain Call: Joseph Mawle

Blood of My Blood_Benjen Stark

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.
ned benjen

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.

Blood of My Blood_Benjen Sickle

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…

me and benjen

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.

benjen

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.

Jon Benjen Beyond the Wall

53 responses

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    1. I’m so glad he came back, even for a little while. He has a great face, I love seeing him turn up in other shows too. I wish he was on GOT for longer but them’s the breaks. RIP Uncle Benjen, and thanks for your contribution, Joseph Mawle.

      *whispers* I always thought he would have made a great Ned, tbh. *runs off*

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    2. He was awesome. I only wish he’d had more of a role than he did. Thank you Joe Mawle for a great portrayal! 👏

      I really wanted Jon to have his Uncle around at the end 😕

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    3. Joseph did a great job in what could have been a very short-lived role overshadowed by other storylines and it was terrific to see him come back as Benjen after several seasons away. Of course there was always the endless theorizing about whatever happened to Uncle Benjen, so there was always hope of a return!

      I haven’t seen that much of him elsewhere except in Ripper Street where he plays a very different role, as a hard-nosed Victorian detective that you seriously don’t want to get on the wrong side of!

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    4. Wish we could’ve had more time with Benjen, but I suppose that being scarce and incredibly hardy helps keep the legend of the First Ranger alive. Joseph Mawle was perfect in the role! Hope he gets lots of job offers after GoT.

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    5. Oh how I’ll miss Joseph Mawle, brief as his appearances were…just knowing he was out there! The last of that generation of Starks… ☹

      As a person with a friend who is deaf, I really admire how he has been successful with added challenges…he said in an interview I read that he prefers to act without hearing aids, which has to be more difficult in some situations.

      Benjen is dear to my heart and I felt his loss the most last Sunday. Poor Jon only got 5 words in to his favourite relative.

      And that flaming wight-flail though….👍

      Great Curtain Call, David – I can’t even be too jealous as although I would love to meet him, I am so happy that you did! What a great photo and memory. 😊

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    6. I’m glad the show decided to bring Uncle Benjen back and to finally explain what happened to him. A big shout out to Joseph Mawle!! I always loved the way he watched at Jon when they were talking atop the Wall.

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    7. For a character with relatively minimal appearances, I’m amazed at how much I (and many others) cared about Benjen. Even my mother (a more casual fan) remembered exactly who he was when he reappeared in season 6, despite having been absent for 5 whole seasons. I attribute much of this to Joseph Mawle’s wonderful performance.

      Benjen endeared himself to us with his love for his brother and his kindness towards Jon Snow, as well as the wisdom he provided the latter (whether Jon wanted to hear it than not). The way Joseph delivered the line “Better than no one!” in episode 3 of season 1 has always stuck in my memory.

      I really wish we could have seen more of Benjen, and that is due, in large part, to Joseph Mawle. He really added a lot to a character who could easily have left very little impression, and for that I give him all the credit in the world.

      In the end, Benjen went out exactly how he would have wanted – saving the life of his nephew, while taking out as many Wights as he could. RIP, benjen, and good luck, Joseph.

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    8. Uncle Benjen !

      I don’t know why I got so attached to this character we only see a few times in the series. Probably thanks to, I quote David, “the one, the only, the incredible Joseph Mawle”.

      I regret we didn’t get to see more of this fabulous actor and Jon didn’t get to spend more time with his uncle.

      And now his watch is ended.

      I wish you all the best, Joseph !

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    9. He did so much with the small but influential role of Benjen. A true Stark to the end…he saved Jon and Bran who will be big players in the end game.

      If you are a fan of Joseph Mawle (as I am), he plays a very different type of role in Ripper Street.

      RIP, Uncle Benjen.

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    10. Loved his work as Benjen Stark, loved to loathe him as Jedidiah Shine on Ripper Street. Talk about two totally different characters! I hope we get to see more of him on the small and big screens.

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    11. Really great actor! Made such an impact in the first season. Did so much with so little.

      And now his watch is truly ended!

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    12. Best of everything to Joseph Mawle and a big thank you for such a memorable performance as Benjen. The relationship with Jon was one of my favorites in the series and I am so happy with the way Joseph played the part. I wish Benjen would have gotten on that horse too, but alas….

      Two years ago I adopted a kitten and one of his two names is Benjen. So, you gotta be special to have me name a pet after you. Thanks to Joseph and GRRM for such wonderful character.

      He also had a part in the series “The Tunnel” which has been seen on PBS in the US.

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    13. I fell in love with the character of Benjen in the pilot, largely due to the warm, vivid portrayal of him by Joseph Mawle. Like many of the rest of you, I screamed when he revealed himself to Bran and Meera, then shed a bitter tear when I saw him go down amid the swarm of wights this last episode.

      Funny David, that you should mention Sense8, because it is my second favorite show after GoT. I may or may not have screamed “Benjen!” when he appeared in the early London sequences in season 1.

      Farewell, Joe Mawle and Uncle Benjen. Though we knew you but little, you were greatly loved.

      And now, your watch is ended, and we’re all a little sadder for it.

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    14. As David astutely notes in his fantastic tribute, Joseph Mawle holds the record for longest gap between appearances by a named character on Game of Thrones – 52 episodes. That’s a long time for any character to be gone, and despite his close ties to the show’s central family it would have been very easy for the First Ranger of the Night’s Watch to fade into the distant reaches of memory, never to reappear again. Yet the fate of Benjen Stark remained an ever-present specter for the show to consider. That was partly because of the mystery surrounding his disappearance and partly because of what he clearly meant to Jon. But most importantly, it was because Joseph Mawle did such an extraordinary job of making Benjen into a significant and beloved figure in his first three episodes that his long absence was deeply felt.

      From his very first appearance, when Benjen rides into the Winterfell courtyard and Jon’s face breaks into a genuinely warm smile as he rushes to embrace him, Joseph Mawle conveys all of the most essential aspects of Benjen’s character – namely, his deeply solemn nature and his strong sense of duty, tempered by the deep love that he holds for both of his families, birth and chosen, blood and black. The brotherly bond that Mawle demonstrates with Sean Bean’s Ned Stark in the early scenes exudes real warmth and understanding, conveying the lifelong bond between two men who will sadly never share such a moment again. He also sold why Benjen was such an important figure to Jon, particularly with his scene atop the Wall in “Lord Snow”, where he passes on the lesson that will stay with Jon for the rest of his life: “Here a man gets what he earns, when he earns it.”

      That indelible wisdom and screen presence made Benjen reappearance’s to save Bran and Meera from dire straights in “Blood of My Blood” such a cheer-worthy moment. By that time he had assumed the mantle of Coldhands, a mythical figure in his own right, but I continued to call him Benjen – not to disrespect what he had become, but because that was the character with which Mawle had left such an lasting mark. I love that both times when he revealed his now-ravaged face to his nephews, the connection was instantaneous. It certainly helps that Mawle’s long, lean, lupine face is perhaps the epitome of a classic Stark look. You see it, and you know.

      Benjen Stark’s role on Game of Thrones was small, but Joseph Mawle helped it to make pivotal, and two of the show’s most important characters owe their continued survival directly to him. He’s a very talented man, and I wish him all the best!

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    15. Farcical_Aquatic_Ceremony:
      I fell in love with the character of Benjen in the pilot, largely due to the warm, vivid portrayal of him by Joseph Mawle.Like many of the rest of you, I screamed when he revealed himself to Bran and Meera, then shed a bitter tear when I saw him go down amid the swarm of wights this last episode.

      Funny David, that you should mention Sense8, because it is my second favorite show after GoT.I may or may not have screamed “Benjen!” when he appeared in the early London sequences in season 1.

      Farewell, Joe Mawle and Uncle Benjen.Though we knew you but little, you were greatly loved.

      And now, your watch is ended, and we’re all a little sadder for it.

      Yep – he has the distinction of appearing in 2 of my favorite shows of all time. Go, Joe, Go!!!

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    16. Pigeon:
      Oh how I’ll miss Joseph Mawle, brief as his appearances were…just knowing he was out there! The last of that generation of Starks… ☹

      As a person with a friend who is deaf, I really admire how he has been successful with added challenges…he said in an interview I read that he prefers to act without hearing aids, which has to be more difficult in some situations.

      Benjen is dear to my heart and I felt his loss the most last Sunday. Poor Jon only got 5 words in to his favourite relative.

      And that flaming wight-flail though….👍

      Great Curtain Call, David – I can’t even be too jealous as although I would love to meet him, I am so happy that you did! What a great photo and memory. 😊

      Nahhh 1984 is back in fashion – I don’t mind some good ‘ol fashioned Groupthink – Share the memory with me. 🙂

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    17. 1. I didn’t mind at all that his rescue of Jon cane out of nowhere. I just wish the two of them could’ve had the luxury of at least a few minutes to catch up on things. After all, Jon had been so worried about him ever since he disappeared on his ranging. Maybe just a five minute scene with the two of them on the horse until Benjen hops off and says “we’ll never make it back this way; the horse will collapse if the zombies don’t catch up to us first.” Ahhh…if the show included all of my wish list scenes, each episode would be three hours long.

      2. While I recognize that Ollie is a beacon of fanhate, I couldn’t forgive him for name-dropping Uncle Benjen to lure out Jon to get stabbed. Jon was so excited and then….

      3. It’d be nice if Bran gives Jon an explanation for Uncle Benjen’s absence. I’m not holding my breath for any in depth exposition scenes like that, especially since Bran is now a bot.

      4. I guess it’s a good sign when an actor leaves you wanting more. That’s what Joseph Mawle did.

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    18. You guys sure he wouldn’t be resurrected not as wight but as White Walker? He also took a dragonglass dagger to the heart by The Children.

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    19. Despite the small role, he left quite some impact for me. His performance as Benjen was really great and I felt quite sad when he died in previous episode. I remember at the beginning that I thought he may never return to the show and I was very happy when he did in S6. Just another proof how great the overall cast of GoT is, if the most side characters leave such an impact.

      On a side note, his quote “You know my brother once told me that nothing someone says before the word “But” counts…” has become a very memorable one in our admin chat in LFU, which is not even a GoT group… we had a lot of fun with it.

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    20. “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.”
      ————————–

      There aren’t that many characters left (alive) who appeared in the pilot I wonder if there’s a roster somewhere….

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    21. Ten Bears, YES to the Olliehate for using Benjen as bait! Even when I watch it again and know what is going to happen, when he runs in and says Benjen has been found, my heart leaps with hope for just a second.

      I, too, wish he could have been around more, and that is absolutely due to the deep and grounded performance by Joseph Mawle.

      And, David, that was so beautifully written! I love how you pointed out that it is Benjen who is talking about fantasy, but in a way that makes it nonthreatening to an fantasy-averse viewer! A wonderful tribute to a wonderful performance.

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    22. I loved Joseph Mawle as uncle Benjen. I feel like he was part of my family, as he was in the journey for so long. The truth is I have loved Mawle in almost every role I have seen him in. It does not matter if it is the honorable Stark or as an evil criminal, he’s believable and difficult to forget.

      The fun part is that seeing his interview I get a sense of how good an actor he is, as he does not remind me of any of the characters I’ve seen him play!!

      It was great to see Uncle Benjen back, even when it was for short while. I would have loved to see him for bit longer during the initial episodes, but alas it was not to be.

      R.I.P. Uncle Benjen.

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    23. Jared,
      Ten Bears,
      and David

      I especially enjoyed reading what you wrote about Benjen & Joseph. Joseph’s portrayal of Benjen has resonated with many and you three beautifully highlighted the reasons. Enjoying the warm words from other posters as well.

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    24. D&D call him Coldhands.
      Is that the first time?
      Have not done that before that I remember.
      I probably missed the dissuasion .

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    25. A lovely tribute to a very talented actor who did so much with such a small, yet pivotal role. I had always held out hope that Benjen was alive when his horse came back empty and to find him semi-dead was a disappointment. But he was still Benjen through and through, and Joseph Mawle really left an indelible mark. Kudos to him and to the casting folks for selecting him. This show is full of really great talent.

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    26. Although I dislike the use of term Coldhands for un-Benjen (that’s just screwing with impassioned bookreaders), I enjoyed Mawle’s take on the lost Stark. Of all the slain folk beyond the wall (wildlings, etc), why did the CotF bring him back though? His Starkness? Hmmm…(perhaps we’ll know someday). His character’s journey beyond the wall has inspired great, creative fan-fiction and wonderful theories.

      Mawle was wonderful and inspiring as Benjen, alive and undead. His mysterious presence integrated well with the entire GoT story, especially as the story has unfolded with R+L=J and the CotF. I wish we could have had more.

      Thanks for playing, Mr. Mawle!

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    27. Roberta Baratheon:

      And, David, that was so beautifully written!I love how you pointed out that it is Benjen who is talking about fantasy, but in a way that makes it nonthreatening to an fantasy-averse viewer!A wonderful tribute to a wonderful performance.

      Thank you, Lady Baratheon! I did the best I could – luckily Joe treated us to an exceptional performance every time he showed up. Gave me lots to work with. Really appreciate it! 🙂

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    28. Meh ended up being another character that got dispatched of quickly and sloppily because D & D couldn’t think of a better way? Would’ve been better off just not bringing him back into the series.

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    29. Well, I liked Benjen’s return albeit brief no matter what Brian thinks.

      Pigeon,

      I remember seeing Joseph Mawle playing a deaf (well certainly a hard of hearing) person some time ago – I think it was one of his first TV parts and may have been his break-out part. He’s gone on to (and is continuing) to play a number of varied parts competently and will look forward to seeing him in other shows.

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    30. Great actor. If you haven’t seen it, folks should check out a film called Heartless, in which he plays the most terrifying on-screen version of The Devil I ever saw.

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    31. I would have preferred it if Benjen had appeared earlier in the episode, but other than that, they did pretty well with him. I do find it funny that after assuming for so long that he was Coldhands, the show basically used him as such!

      I’ve seen Mawle in bit roles in half a dozen things since Series 1, and it always takes a while: but eventually I go “It’s Benjen!” I expect I’ll keep doing that for a few years.

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    32. Good actor, interesting face… I didn’t mind his deus ex machina qualities at all, but I surely wish he and Jon had time to have this talk Benjen had promised before we left Castle Black.
      Thank you, Mr. Mawle for agreeing to come back after all this time.

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    33. In my opinion, Joseph Mawle was one of *the* most perfectly-cast actors of the entire ensemble. He embodied Benjen so beautifully, and was the only “Stark” actor to convey physically so much of their somber, cool profundity as described in the books. (Also, he’s sexy as hell so that definitely helps.) In terms of the story, I cannot imagine that Ned kept the truth about Jon from him! Benjen was the last of his family, was incredibly close to Lyanna, and knew his brother through and through. He’s also intelligent enough to suspect. Look at the way Benjen looks at Jon on the wall: lovingly, proudly, protectively, but with a glimmer of something else. He knows. To me that was always the reason he disappeared: it was the plot device to keep Jon ignorant about his origins. Ned and Benjen would have revealed the truth to him once he was “safe” as a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, bound by loyalty to take no action, so neither of them could meet him after he had joined officially. It’s what I love so much about the pure joy and delight of their relationship: it’s the sole, completely “honest” relationship that Jon has with anyone in his family. Benjen is his uncle! RIP Benjen; I hope his story is longer and brighter in the books, but Joseph Mawle was absolute perfection and sadly underused. Luckily his body of work is so rich, so we can continue to cheer him on in other roles.

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    34. It’s testament to Joe Mawle’s charisma and skill that even casual viewers remember him from S1 and recognize (and squeeeal!) in S6 when he saves his nephew Bran. And squeel again when he saves the other nephew, and feel bereft and sad seeing him swarmed by wights. And now his watch is ended. snif.

      I think all show watchers remember legendary Uncle Benjen because of the way he made his entrance to the show. Rode his distinctive horse, all cantering and clattering to a stop in a WF courtyard… Where the first character he interacts with is Jon Snow. Jon’s delighted yelp “Uncle Benjen!” and his smile and hug told us all we needed to know. Uncle Benjen was the first character we saw treat Jon with real love and warmth. Uncle Benjen then has duties to attend, and we get that amazing little scene between Ned and Benjen.

      By then it’s established Ned is the Lord of Winterfell and the Warden of the North, solemn, serious though not without great love for all of his children. But uncle Benjen is something else. He’s younger, he’s more handsome, he’s more exciting, he’s the fucking First Ranger of the Night’s Watch. He ranges beyond the Wall and does all kinds of heroic things. Dad’s boring, uncle Benjen is exciting!

      Joe Mawle portrayed that so low-key but so perfectly, we all bought it, and thought uncle Benjen would have a large part to play in the story at the Wall and beyond. And then he just disappears, and we, like Jon Snow, refuse to believe it and hope against hope…

      Before he disappeared, uncle Benjen imparted to Jon one of Jon’s first important lessons: here at the Wall, we only get what we earn. Though I’m sure being a Stark eased Benjen’s path to First Ranger. Castle-educated, he could read and write, had superior fighting and hunting skills… and a name. But, whatever, uncle Benjen gave some tough love to Jon. And the famous last words, “We’ll talk when I get back”. (Echoing Ned earlier, and the trope that decrees if you say those words, you’ll never talk again.)

      Joe Mawle as uncle Benjen made such an impact in S1 that even casual viewers, let alone fans, never forgot and wanted to know what happened to him. Much like his nephew Jon. Now we’ve got closure. Semi-dead uncle Bejen properly died saving his nephew.

      Thank you, Joe Mawle, for being the perfect uncle Benjen. All the best in your next projects.

      Oh, and as to what uncle Benjen knows… He was closest to Lyanna (Brandon was older, warded with the Dustins in Barrowtown, Ned was also older and away in the Vale/Eyrie being warded by Jon Arryn, with Robert Baratheon). Ned certainly never told Benjen anything about Jon’s parentage, but being there at the Harrenhall tourney and perhaps after, and knowing Lyanna (the one with wild “wolf blood”) and knowing Ned (über-honourable), Benjen might’ve pieced together the puzzle and had a very strong suspicion about Jon’s true parentage. He never knew for sure, and now he never will. (There’s a book fan theory that GRRM made Benjen disappear in the books because he knew, and revealing it too early would’ve screwed the story.)

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    35. “Is it dead yet?” 😀

      I agree with the other comments and just want to add, that Benjen is my favourite character and Mawles striking features TOGETHER with the costume, hairdo, camera and lighting makes Benjen a Gesamtkunstwerk: Every still image an eyecatching masterpiece (the dark and light contrast, the edges, just splendid).
      The main characters may have the fanciest dresses, but what really makes GoT a piece of ART is the detail and care given even to “tertiary” or background characters…

      Seriously, Joseph Mawle as Benjen Stark invoked a mysterious backstory with just sitting silently next to a tree…

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    36. Not going to lie his final ‘death’ could have been handled a lot better in my opinion. Why not show Bran pulling him in to save Jon, and/or Benjen sacrificing himself to save Jon and make sure he gets back rather than just jumping off and telling him to go.

      Anyway I thought the actor played his part very well for all the small scenes he was in.

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