Actor Brenock O’Connor, otherwise known as Olly on “Game of Thrones,” said two goodbyes when the show’s Season 5 finale aired back in 2015.
One to Jon Snow, the Night’s Watch commander whom Olly is last to stab in the episode’s mutinous twist ending, and another to his own personal Twitter mentions.
“I finished reading the scene,” O’Connor told HuffPost, “and went, ‘Everyone’s going to hate me.’”
He was right. While “Game of Thrones” is full of well-worn mantras ― “winter is coming” and “all men must die” ― fans came up with a phrase of their own in Season 5: “Fuck Olly.”
Hate for O’Connor’s character inspired the Fuck Olly subreddit and a never-ending stream of memes. More seriously, the actor —who was just a teenager — received constant online abuse.
“Oh, people took it way too far. Way too far,” the actor told HuffPost.
In the four years since that fateful Season 5 moment, a lot has happened in “Game of Thrones” and for O’Connor, too. He took the lead role in the British independent film “The Bromley Boys,” can be seen in other projects, such as “Derry Girls,” and has been releasing music and playing gigs. But through it all, and even with Jon Snow having come back to life, it’s still been “fuck Olly.”
“I get at least one tweet a month telling me to kill myself or that they hate me or telling me to fuck off. And I’m like, yeah, you know what, fair enough,” he said. “It’s strange that people take it so seriously, but it also means I’ve done a decent job of making people hate me. That was the character’s point.”
We continued talking with O’Connor about the moment he killed Jon Snow, his experience with trolls and how he’s since joined in on the memes himself.
In your Twitter bio, it says Woody Harrelson listened to your music. How’d that happen?
Yeah, that was something very strange. When I was shooting “Derry Girls,” Louisa Harland, who plays Orla in the show, she somehow, I don’t know how the connection is there, but she knows Woody Harrelson, and she really loves my song “Ghost Men,” which is on Soundcloud and going to be my new single on Spotify. She really loves that song, so she sent him a link, and the only response he gave back was a text “very good.” … So yeah I’ve got to use and abuse that.
When you’re playing gigs, do people recognize you? Do they recognize you in general now?
Occasionally, I’ve sort of grown up a lot since shooting it. I think it was four years since I was last on the show, and a lot’s changed for me in that time, but I still get the occasional notice. I was in a pub in Belfast the other week … and someone came up to me and was like, “Are you from ‘Game of Thrones’?” And I was like, “Yeah.” He went, “Rickon Stark?”
What’s it been like online?
Yeah, I still tweet occasionally or put a post up on Instagram and someone comments, “Fuck you, Olly.” I’m like, “I’m not Olly anymore. I’m dead. I got my comeuppance. It’s all done.” … But yeah, it’s nice being such a recognizable part from the show.
Olly wasn’t a character in the books. So what was the genesis of it? How did you first join the show?
I auditioned for an unnamed character … and it was three lines in one scene, and that was gonna be my entire role, and then Dave Hill, one of the genius writers of the show, thought it would be a good idea to have me kill Ygritte and have me kill Jon, and eventually have Jon [come back]. So, it was all planned out years in advance, but I didn’t know about any of it until I was shooting the scenes. I went for my one week shoot in Iceland and they went, “Oh, can you come to Belfast in a month?” And I was like, “Yeah.” … It was literally doing this if you want me I’m there kind of thing. I had no idea it was such an important storyline, but it was right place right time. I was very lucky.
I mean, you did kill both Jon and Ygritte, and now the actors, Kit Harington and Rose Leslie, are married.
It’s really strange having killed both of them, and they’re together in real life.
It’s almost like Cupid’s arrow.
Yeah, absolutely. It was an arrow. I don’t want to claim it was all my fault, but yeah.
After the killing of Ygritte seems to be when the Olly memes really took off. There was that one “Shot through the heart!”
Oh, that was a classic. That one made me chuckle.
What’s it like being a kid and then becoming this crazy meme?
It was just mental because I didn’t know what “Game of Thrones” was when I got the part because I was 13, and that’s not the show I watched because it was R-rated, that kind of stuff. So to then have what I still consider to this day a fairly small role in the overall scheme that is “Game of Thrones,” it’s a massive, massive show, and many characters are more important than Olly was, but I’m just glad that he made the impact that he did.
To see the internet take the role and make it their own, there’s a Tumblr [Olly Nods at Things], I nod when I kill Ygritte, I nod at Jon when he wins the vote for Lord Commander, I nod across the courtyard seven times. I didn’t realize I did that. It’s funny what the internet picks out, so yeah the fans are insane. The fans find everything.
How was it finding out you were going to kill Jon Snow?
I think everyone had that sort of feeling that this is something huge, even if it happened at any point in the series, it’s gonna be a huge thing, Jon Snow dying, but the fact that it was the final moment of that series, it’s him lying on the ground covered in blood, and then that’s all you’re left with for a year, that’s the last thing anyone will think about until they watch the show the next year, it was like this huge opportunity given to us to make this iconic.
What was it like when you read that scene?
I finished reading the scene … and went everyone’s going to hate me. Everyone is going to hate me, and I was right. So it was sort of one of those things where it was an immediate reaction. This is big. This is huge, yeah, no, it was a real joy to have that much trust from the writers put on to me like a 14-year-old kid.
And then there was the reaction that you said went too far. What was that like?
I used to have a Vespa, a little 50cc scooter, and I was driving it around the day after I got it. I parked it up in town and one of my mates sent me a screenshot of this Facebook post, and it was, “Just seen that cunt Olly from ‘Game of Thrones’ driving on his scooter. He looked at me as if to say ’Yeah, it’s me. For fuck’s sake don’t look at me.’” And the comments from people in my hometown, people who I would pass in the street, “Should’ve slashed his tires,” “Should’ve clothes-lined him,” “Should’ve shanked him,” “Should’ve stabbed him,” “Should’ve slit his throat.” I was like, I’m 16. I literally just turned 16. This is not OK.
Yeah, it was terrifying. It’s dangerous. It’s a dangerous game, but you just got to be aware that people that say things like that over the internet aren’t the kind of people that do those things in real life. It’s one of these things where it was a real wakeup call into the minds of idiots.
I’ve had like minor experiences with trolls and even that was intense, so I can’t imagine what it was like for you.
Yeah, no, it’s intense. But all you gotta do is think, “It’s an acting job. I was acting.” People believe it. The whole point of acting is to make people believe, so the only way for me to look at it positively is I did my job quite well. In the least braggy way, I think I did all right.
And you at least you’ve learned to have fun with the memes and everything. Your neighbor had a cutout of Kit Harington in his window that you tweeted about. What was going on there?
I have absolutely no idea. I was just walking past my neighbor’s house on the way to mine, and I did a double take. “Why is Kit in the window? No, it’s not. It’s cardboard. Why is there a cardboard cutout of Kit in my neighbor’s window?” I still don’t know why it was there. I still don’t get how it’s there, but it’s there, and I got a good tweet out of it.
When you were filming that scene, did you know Kit was coming back?
Absolutely no idea. I killed him. I stabbed him. We treated it like it was Kit’s last day on set. We all said our emotional goodbyes. By that point it was like a five-year journey Kit had been on, a young actor with such an iconic role, that’s huge.
To say goodbye to that would’ve been a real emotional rollercoaster … but he knew he was coming back. We didn’t. So I got the script for Series 6, and I was told my character was going to die, I was told by [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss], got the infamous call into the office, and was told I was going to die, and I got the script, and there was this character called “LC,” just LC. And I was like, “OK, there’s some new character come in to kill off the people who killed Jon. Is that something?” And I got on set and Kit was there. I was like, “Sorry, what?” And he’s like, “Yeah LC, Lord Commander.” I was like that makes sense. That’s genius. So they’re very good at keeping their secrets. I didn’t know until as late as I could possibly know. That’s why it’s such a mystery, and everyone’s dying to know what happens, even the actors don’t know what’s happening in the series probably.
What was it like filming Olly’s death scene? Because there were a lot of people obviously cheering for it, but I think I wrote this at the time, it’s pretty disturbing how the camera just lingers on this little kid.
Filming the death was — it’s weird of me to say it was fun — but it was fun. We were in full body harness. We were completely safe when we were hanging. There was no pain on us at all, and it was just good. I enjoy doing stunts and stuff you don’t get to do on any other job. Sword fighting is a major bonus, archery is a major bonus, getting to hang is insane. What other job can you get to do that?
So it was the first actual hanging you see in the show. You see people that have been hanged, but you never see the drop, so it was another first for the show and another chance to make it an iconic moment. It was just great to have such an emotional farewell to a character that I’d really fallen in love with for three years because he had a rough old time, Olly. Parents were killed and eaten in front of him and then [he was] thrown into a castle with rapists, murderers and thieves, finding a friend among those and finding out he is on the side of the people that killed your parents. And the character is 11 all the way through my storyline; so the people who found joy in having 11-year-old die, it’s just like, yeah, but realistically that’s really sick. That’s really sickening. Don’t enjoy this moment. But a lot of people did.
Do you watch the show now?
I love the show. I still love the show. Can’t wait for next series.
What are your theories for the end?
I don’t know whether any of this is true, but I really like the idea that Bran is the Night King. That’s one of the fan theories… because you meet him in Series 1, he’s just this kid who likes climbing, and for him to bring about the destruction of the entire world is insane. So I’m really buying into that.
For as small of a role as it was, Olly became pretty recognizable across the internet, so looking back on it, what would you say to fans?
Thank you for having me along for the ride really. It’s been a mad, mad rollercoaster. I never thought I’d still be talking about it all these years later, but I’m thankful. I am. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and probably ever will do. I peaked at thirteen. Sometimes that happens.
Well, I don’t know about “peaked.” Woody Harrelson likes your music.
Exactly. Woody Harrelson likes my music.