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Game of Thrones actor explains how he helped define the show's White Walkers

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Feb 9, 2018, 2:13 PM EST

The White Walkers on Game of Thrones are some of the most intimidating ice zombies on TV... OK, so they’re scary even without that qualifier. But how they gained their signature icy stare was as secretive as their origins until recently. In conversation with the Yorkshire Evening Post, actor Ross Mullan — who played the very first White Walker we ever saw on the show — talked about figuring out how the book’s otherworldly villains influenced season after season of the hyper-popular fantasy show.

Mullan rode up on horseback at the end of Season 2, sending shivers down fans’ spines with his blue-eyed gaze. Apparently this took five months of horse-riding training before getting into fully practical makeup and costume for the brief scene. The blue eyes and steam were added later, sure, but the monstrous effect was born in the makeup chair — which took four people and five hours to create.

This came after his recruitment by Game of Thrones makeup artist Conor O’Sullivan. “Once you’ve done one big prosthetics job, and nearly died doing it, they think you can handle anything,” Mullan said.

That appearance also dictated the future of White Walkers on screen because before that, the Game of Thrones bosses didn’t really know how they should act. That left much of the interpretation up to Mullan.

“You don’t have scripts and lines to work with. You try out different things, and are slowly being dictated to visually,” Mullan said. “It took four or five days to shoot a two-minute scene, because you’re seeing how different approaches and variations work.” The best of these variations was one of “stillness and intensity,” which we’re now well-familiar with as the hallmark of the spooky frozen demons.

After this definitive showcasing of White Walkerdom, Mullan returned as the Walker that Samwell Tarly killed with dragonglass, and the one that offered up Craster’s baby to the Night King. While the White Walkers can be bested by a few different options, it seems like Mullan is an unkillable portrayer of monsters — one likely to return as Game of Thrones nears it finale.

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