One of the many surprises from the action-packed season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones was in watching feisty, skilled fighter Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) flailing and failing to win a fight. Not to mention the fact that she is newly blind.
As penance for her murderous deeds in season 5, Arya was cast out of the House of Black and White and the tutelage of mysterious Jaquen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). She’s homeless, begging in the streets and having to endure random beatings from H’ghar’s assistant, the Waif (Faye Marsay).
PEOPLE recently caught up with Williams to find out what we can expect from Arya’s less-than-fortunate circumstances and how the actress learned to fight blind.
The first step: Wear contact lenses that make your eyes look scarily vacant.
“The contacts I use for the fighting and the physical side of Arya’s storyline this year, they had pin prick holes in so I could see through that,” Williams explains of her visual aids. “They were just more uncomfortable than anything. I love learning the fight sequences, so that wasn’t too hard. The most difficult thing was wearing the lenses, not because I couldn’t see but because the lenses make my eyes quite sore.”
While Williams, 19, says she always enjoys learning new fight choreography and is confident in her skills, she admits they aren’t very practical.
“From this series I’ve learned how to fake getting hit quite well, there’s a lot of that,” she says. “Arya gets beaten up this year. I guess I learned a lot in that sense in getting fake hit.”
When it comes to acting blind, Williams had to develop two different tactics.
“During the fight sequences when I could actually see, to fake being blind was difficult, but a lot of that is in the movements rather than the eyes,” she explains. “[The camera] is not super close. If my eyes focus on something they would CGI over my eyes anyway and you wouldn’t know. That was important because I can’t fight not knowing what my weapon is doing because that is really really dangerous. All of the close-up scenes I had big thick opaque lenses in so I couldn’t actually see. That was good because it meant that I didn’t have to fake anything.”
So how will Arya’s blindness affect her storyline? As fans of the show well know, the Stark family does not have a good track record of survival.
“She’s learning to fight without her eyesight,” teases Williams. “It’s definitely a skill she will take with her forever, using her ears and not her eyes. That’s going to be very beneficial and she’ll use to her advantage.”
Game of Thrones airs Sundays (9 p.m. ET) on HBO.