Five things you didn't know about Maisie Williams

The actress, who plays Arya Stark, also guest starred as Doctor Who's 'Girl Who Died'

Maisie Williams
(Image credit: BBC)

Actress Maisie Williams made her hotly-anticipated appearance on Doctor Who over the weekend. The 18-year-old, was cast as Arya Stark in the fantasy saga Game of Thrones when she was 12, is guest starring as Ashildr, a feisty Viking girl who teams up with the Doctor to defend her village from alien invaders.

The last six years have been a rollercoaster ride for Williams, who went from obscurity to global recognition thanks to her role as Arya in Game of Thrones. But even though she has been the subject of fervent press attention, there are still a few things you may not know about her…

Acting isn't her first love

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Although she has shot to fame through her television work, Williams started off as a keen dancer, and only got into acting by chance. She has studied musical theatre, ballet, tap, street and freestyle, and still considers dancing her first love. In fact, she almost ditched her Game of Thrones audition to go on a school trip. Instead, she ended up being cast as Arya Stark, her first ever professional acting role.

She didn't sit her GCSEs

Once it became clear that Game of Thrones was a massive hit, Williams decided to leave her Somerset secondary school aged 14 and get private tutoring on set. "Are we really going to say, 'No, Maisie, you need to be in school doing your exams' when somebody is offering the chance to travel the world and act in all these wonderful things?" her mother Hilary explained to the Mail on Sunday. Despite getting As and Bs at school, Williams never took her GCSEs. Now 18, she says that she has no current plans to return to education.

She's no shrinking violet

Williams has never been one to shy away from controversial topics. "She's very opinionated about social and political stuff," Ben Chanan, who directed her in Cyberbully, tells Dazed Digital. "I've never met anyone around that age more sure of themselves." Williams has been happy to stray from the usual lightweight interview topics and talk frankly about her opinions on politics, sexuality and social issues. The outspoken teenager even criticised Hollywood royalty Emma Watson's brand of "first-world feminism", although she thought that Watson's speech to the UN was "amazing" nonetheless.

She's an animal rights activist

Earlier this year, the young star was spotted joining a march at Trafalgar Square protesting against Japanese fishermen who capture dolphins from the oceans and sell them to zoos and aquariums. "There are so many ways to get in touch with animals in the wild, in their natural habitat. The fact that we think putting them in tanks is good for anyone is just nonsense," she told The Independent.

She loves Monopoly

When asked how she passes the time on set, Williams told EW that she has a passion for board game Monopoly, and has a cunning method of avoiding disappointment. "I love playing Monopoly on my phone," she said. "I play as the boot because I see that as the best piece. Then I put the other player as a thimble, or something really stupid like the wheelbarrow. This is just to make me feel better if they do win. I'm like, 'Yeah, but you're still a wheelbarrow.'"

How did Williams do on Doctor Who?

Critics were impressed with Williams's performance on Saturday night's episode, 'The Girl Who Died', but several suggest she could have been given more opportunity to show off her skills.

Neil Midgley at Forbes says Williams is "such a compelling actor that she could cut her toenails on camera and be engrossing", but he was left "irritated" by the character and scenario that had been written for her in Doctor Who.

"Ashildr was so much like Arya Stark – spunky young girl, destined to go far, but her hot temper gets her into trouble – that I found the parallels lazy," says Midgley.

"Perhaps next week's second half of this two-episode story will redeem it. For now, though, I'm left thinking that poor Williams might have been better off sticking with Game of Thrones."

Alasdair Wilkins at AV Club says Williams's best quality was one that won't surprise Game of Thrones fans: she has a presence that feels "both authentically medieval and eminently relatable".

She also "nailed" a speech about not fitting in with either girls or boys, says Chris Taylor at Mashable, although he adds that this was "way too short to showcase her talents". We are used to seeing Williams dominate a scene as Arya, but 'The Girl Who Died' didn't give Williams "anything like that level of opportunity for sustained acting", says Taylor.

The Daily Telegraph's Catherine Gee asks whether Williams might appear beyond next week, especially as Time Lord companion Jenna Coleman is due to depart. Williams would be "wonderful" in the role of companion, says Gee, but she adds that it is unlikely because of her "very highly demanding" job in Game of Thrones.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.