Joanna Hunkin is the Head of Entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Bright Stark: Why Maisie Williams kicks ass

Maisie Williams has spent her teen years on Game of Thrones playing Arya Stark. With the imminent sixth season shaping up as her character’s most challenging yet, Williams talks about the role to Joanna Hunkin in London .

Dressed a micro-mini, clumpy boots and wearing thick kohl eyeliner, Maisie Williams looks like a fairly typical 18-year-old girl.

And, she would argue, she is.

Sure, she plays one of the best-loved characters on one of the world's biggest television series, but so what? Young women everywhere are achieving all kinds of extraordinary feats. She is just one of them.

Fair to say, if you think Arya Stark is a kick-ass young lady, just wait until you meet Williams.

Her effervescence fizzes as she enters the room, giggling alongside friend and co-star Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H'ghar) and completely unfazed by the roomful of journalists staring at her.

Instead, she holds court, politely dismissing the more pointless of questions and laughing off the downright ridiculous.

When asked how Game of Thrones had affected her puberty (by a German journalist who may have been struggling with his translation), she cackles and says animatedly: "I went round and killed everyone. When it was my time of the month, I just went round killing people."

Before deadpanning: "No, I'm kidding."

But given the chance to talk about Arya and the role of women in film and television, Williams gets serious. And passionate.

Cast in Game of Thrones at the age of 12, Williams didn't realise just how unusual the quick-thinking, sword-swinging Arya was.

"I remember thinking that she's just like a normal girl," she explains.

It was only later that she came to realise that characters like Arya - strong, independent females - are few and far between.

"Young girls are usually portrayed as the sweet little princess who always does the right thing or she's a bit of a sap and tells on the boys.

"I was quite naive to that, which was really helpful to me."

As the success of the show grew and Williams was offered more scripts, she saw a pattern emerge - and finally grasped just how extraordinary the character of Arya was.

"I realised there's not a lot of great female characters written, particularly not for girls my age. So I made a little bit of a promise to myself that I'm not going to ever take a role that I don't 100 per cent believe in.

"Hopefully, if everyone refuses to play those roles, they will start writing women that are believable and realistic and actual women."

It's the same kind of defiant attitude that has made Arya such a standout character in the series. And the similarities don't end there, with Williams comparing her own journey to Arya's.

"Both of us have had to grow up really quickly and have been thrust into worlds that we know nothing about. [Arya's] been surrounded by such loyal, thoughtful, honest people her whole life that she thought the whole world was quite black and white. That everyone tells the truth.

"She slowly realises that it's actually a big, wide world and I think it was the same for me. I thought that 'if I say something and I mean it like this', then that's what people will hear and understand. But I slowly realised that in this big world people twist and turn whatever they want you to say. They can make you say something completely different. We both had to learn that journey in our respective worlds."

Williams says she's grateful for the experience and wouldn't change a thing. But she admits, it hasn't been easy growing up on screen.

"Looking back, it's just like all the worst pictures that have ever been taken of you are now documented for life. It's just so uncomfortable.

"My body was totally changing and I'd been put in this outfit ... They used to put this thing around my chest so my boobs didn't look too big.

"Now I look back and think, 'gosh, that was a lot for a young girl to go through every day.' You just go with it because that's what was on the table. But I'm very grateful Arya doesn't have to pretend to be a boy any more, because that little corset thing was very, very uncomfortable."

But just as one uncomfortable chapter ends, another begins.

As Game of Thrones returns for its sixth season, Arya is now blind - her punishment for defying Jaqen H'ghar's rules. Which meant a new wardrobe addition for Williams.

"We used contact lenses that were 22mm wide so they covered all of your eye, rather than just a little bit, so they could make it look all cloudy and murky.

"It was really exciting and I really loved that I couldn't see anything walking on set. The nice thing about acting blind when you can't see anything is that you really can't see anything! I was really grateful that we started using them and then, coming into the new season, I realised how painful they are when you wear them for a long amount of time."

That's about as much as Williams can reveal about the upcoming season, which marks the first time the series has moved beyond the novels by George R.R. Martin.

However, it's widely considered - in a series where nothing is ever for certain - that Arya Stark is the one character who won't be killed.

For obvious reasons, Williams won't comment on this, instead saying: "The nice thing about Arya is that she's always had this one goal and stuck with it.

Arya Stark was left blinded at the end of season five of Game of Thrones.
Arya Stark was left blinded at the end of season five of Game of Thrones.

"She's not fighting for the Iron Throne, she never has ... So many characters, they believe they are fighting for revenge, they believe they are fighting for their mothers/brothers/sisters. But really, a lot of them are fighting for power and it's a dangerous path to go down.

"Arya isn't fussed by that and I don't think she ever will be. I think that's what makes her such a great contender. She is doing everything for the right reasons."

Whether Arya lives or dies, Williams says she's simply happy to have been part of the story.

"The best thing I'm going to take away from this is that I'll never be satisfied with the easy outcome of a story; to always be pushing things and questioning things."

It's a lesson she has embraced both on screen and off.

What: Game of Thrones series six
When and where: On SoHo from Monday, April 25 at 1pm and 8.30pm.

- TimeOut

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