Inside Game of Thrones’ elaborate, record-breaking final battle scene: 750 crew, 11 weeks, icy rain, horse manure
Directors, showrunners and cast members of Game of Thrones have spoken about the record-breaking final battle scene that fans will see in the show’s final season. In an Entertainment Weekly spread about the HBO series’ eighth season, the crew spoke about their experience filming the elaborate Battle of Winterfell, which was shot over 55 consecutive nights.
The episode will feature a battle between ‘an uneasy collection of allies’ and the Night King and his army. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik (who helms two of the six episodes of the final season), the episode sees Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) ‘fighting for their lives’.
A year before filming was set to begin, Sapochnik, who previously helmed the action-heavy Hardhome and Battle of the Bastards episodes, called up Maisie and said, “Start training now, because this is going to be really hard.”
The episode is said to be the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film, with 750 crew members working 11 weeks of night shoots. Said co-executive producer Bryan Cogman, “What we have asked the production team and crew to do this year truly has never been done in television or in a movie. This final face-off between the Army of the Dead and the army of the living is completely unprecedented and relentless and a mixture of genres even within the battle. There are sequences built within sequences built within sequences. David and Dan [wrote] an amazing puzzle and Miguel came in and took it apart and put it together again. It’s been exhausting but I think it will blow everybody away.”
Williams said, “But nothing can prepare you for how physically draining it is. It’s night after night, and again and again, and it just doesn’t stop. You can’t get sick, and you have to look out for yourself because there’s so much to do that nobody else can do… there are moments you’re just broken as a human and just want to cry.”
Her sentiments were mirrored by Ian Glen, who plays Jorah Mormont. It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had on Thrones,” Glen said. “A real test, really miserable. You get to sleep at seven in the morning and when you wake in the midday you’re still so spent you can’t really do anything, and then you’re back. You have no life outside it. You have an absolute f—ked bunch of actors. But without getting too method [acting] about it, on screen it bleeds through to the reality of the Thrones world.”
Rory McCann, who plays the Hound, agreed. “Everybody prays they never have to do this again.”
To prepare for the sequence, Sapochnik tried to find a similar scene from an earlier film, but couldn’t. The closest comparison he could find was the Battle of Helms Deep from the second Lord of the Rings movie, which lasts 40 minutes. “It feels like the only way to really approach it properly is take every sequence and ask yourself: ‘Why would I care to keep watching?’” he said. “One thing I found is the less action — the less fighting — you can have in a sequence, the better.”
Sapochnik continued, “The [GoT battles] I’ve done previously were generally from Jon’s perspective. Here I’ve got 20-some cast members and everyone would like it to be their scene. That’s complicated because I find the best battle sequences are when you have a strong point of view. I keep thinking: ‘Whose story am I telling right now?’”
To accentuate the scope of the sequence, Sapochnik said, “We built this massive new part of Winterfell and originally thought, ‘We’ll film this part here and this part there,’ and basically broke it down into so many pieces it would be shot like a Marvel movie, with never any flow or improvisation. Even on Star Wars, they build certain parts of the set and then add huge elements of green screen. And that makes sense. There’s an efficiency to that. But I turned to the producers and said, ‘I don’t want to do 11 weeks of night shoots and no one else does. But if we don’t we’re going to lose what makes Game of Thrones cool and that is that it feels real.’”
The final season of Game of Thrones will premiere on April 14. Multiple spin-offs are in various stages of development.
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