[Warning: Spoilers ahead. Do not read this article if you haven’t seen Episode 3 of the final season of “Game of Thrones” and still want to see it without knowing its secrets.]
By leaping off the roof of Winterfell, Kristina Baskett solidified one of the coolest post-gymnastics resumés ever.
“Hi, my name is Kristina Baskett. I am experienced in flips, twists and knife fights,” she might say. “Oh, and I was the stunt double for the killer of the Night King.”
OK, so the former Utah gymnast didn’t have the glory of slaying TV’s baddest cold-hearted villain on “Game of Thrones.” That honor went to actress Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which is in its eighth and final season.
But Baskett has been Williams’ stunt double since Season 5. She’s appeared in 11 episodes, including “The Spoils of War” in Season 7 — the episode in which Arya sparred with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) at the Stark castle, Winterfell. So maybe she deserves some of the credit for saving all of humanity from joining the army of the dead.
(If you’ve resisted falling for the series this long, or are behind in your “GOT” binge-watching, this discussion isn’t for you. You’re going to be as lost as Bran looks.)
Baskett can’t discuss her role in the show until the series is complete, but here’s a quick summary of how she came to help create the character everyone is talking about right now.
Baskett competed for the Utes from 2006 to 2009, becoming an All-American national champion and one of the program’s most popular gymnasts for her skills and easygoing attitude.
She planned to turn her photography hobby into a career, but life had other plans for her. She landed a part in the performance art production “Le Reve” in Las Vegas, which led to more than 75 credits as a stunt performer or stunt double onscreen — including the TV movie “Sharknado,” theatrical films “Divergent” (2014), “Jason Bourne” and “The Great Wall,” as well as TV series like “Bones,” “Scandal,” “The Goldbergs,” “Castle,” “Teen Wolf” and “American Horror Story.”
Among those she’s stunt-doubled for are Reese Witherspoon in “Wild,” Lea Michele in “Glee,” Sarah Hyland in “Modern Family,” Chloe Bennet and Ming-Na Wen in “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” and Utahn Ally Ioannides in “Into the Badlands.”
Those are cool, but arguably nothing compares to one of her most recent gigs, flying around and playing with swords on “Game of Thrones.” In 2014, Baskett told The Salt Lake Tribune how much she was relishing learning more knife and combat skills.
The former gymnast did not, however, make ice chips out of the Night King. A behind-the-scenes online feature about “The Long Night” showed that it was Williams who flew in (on ropes removed digitally in post-production) to deliver the death blow that shattered the Night King.
In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam confirmed that in last Sunday’s episode, “Maisie did all her own stunts, apart from the Winterfell roof jump” and a scene in which Arya tumbled down the stairs while battling the undead wights.
In the making-of feature, executive producer/writer/co-creator David Benioff noted that Williams “has an excellent stuntwoman for the dangerous stuff.” But it was the actress herself who leapt, twirled and stabbed her way through corridors slaying wights, then avoided being killed as she tiptoed though the library in one of TV’s most suspenseful moments of the year.
And Baskett was not, of course, involved in Arya’s second-biggest scene to date in the final season — when the character who has grown from a young girl to a young woman since the show premiered in 2011 bedded Gendry (Joe Dempsie) because she didn’t want to die a virgin.
That was an uncomfortable moment for some “GOT” fans, who still think of Arya as a child — even though the same viewers seem totally fine that she’s killed a lot of people. (Wrap.com has her official kill count at 65; we don’t know if any of them died at Baskett’s hand.)
But the show clearly needs stunt performers like Baskett — there were more than 130 in Sunday’s episode — the way Daenerys needs her dragons.
So what happens now? In the real world, Baskett has moved on to her next project and will be inducted into Utah’s Hall of Fame in the fall for winning the 2006 uneven bars national title and earning 12 all-America awards.
In the “GOT” world, previews reveal there is a showdown coming with Cersei Lannister for the Iron Throne. And, heading into the final three episodes, fans wonder if Arya is the Azor Ahai, the Prince/Princess that was Promised, a messianic figure who will save Westeros. (The series continues Sunday at 7 p.m. on HBO.)
As for Arya, sometimes aka Baskett, she’ll keep dancing and tumbling and sticking them with the pointy end. In the “GOT” world, those skills are worthy of a 10.0.
— Tribune reporter Scott D. Pierce contributed to this report.