‘Game of Thrones’ Director and Actors Break Silence on Filming That Massive Season 8 Battle Episode

"It was the most unpleasant experience I’ve had on 'Thrones,'" Iain Glen says about the making of the show's biggest battle.
"Game of Thrones"

Game of Thrones” cast members and director Miguel Sapochnik are finally pulling back the curtain on the final season’s massive battle episode during a new interview with Entertainment Weekly. The upcoming episode has been making headlines since April 2018 when news broke that production spent 55 days filming the battle. To put things into perspective, Sapochnik spent 26 days filming the large-scale battle episode “Battle of the Bastards.” Cast member Peter Dinklage has even admitted the Season 8 battle is “brutal” and  makes “Bastards” look like “a theme park.”

Now more cast members are opening up about filming the episode that Entertainment Weekly says will be “the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film.” The battle takes place at Winterfell and depicts the climactic war against the Night King and his Army of the Dead. Characters taking part in the battle include Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie).

“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,” co-executive producer Bryan Cogman told EW. “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.”

Entertainment Weekly confirms the Season 8 battle episode took 11 weeks of night shoots, which proved burdensome for many of the actors. “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 fucked bunch of actors. But without getting too method [acting] about it, on screen it bleeds through to the reality of the ‘Thrones’ world.”

“Everybody prays they never have to do this again,” added Rory McCann, who plays The Hound on the series. The character fighting at Winterfell more or less confirms there will be a long-anticipated reunion between The Hound and Arya Stark in the final season.

As for Maisie Williams, the Season 8 episode allowed the actress to finally take part in a massive battle. “I skip the battle every year, which is bizarre since Arya’s the one who’s been training the most,” Williams said. “This is my first taste of it. And I’ve been thrown in at the deep end.”

Sapochnik called Williams a year before filming began on the Season 8 battle episode and told her, “Start training now because this is going to be really hard.” Williams admitted she underestimated just how hard it would be at the time.

“Nothing can prepare you for how physically draining it is,” the actress said. “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…The hard work pays off on this show. After one of those really tough days, you know it’s going to be part of something so iconic and it will look amazing.”

Game of Thrones Season 8 Kit Harington
Kit Harington in “Game of Thrones”Helen Sloane/HBO

Sapochnik said that while prepping for the episode he studied the way Peter Jackson approached the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.” The sequence is largely considered one of the best extended battle sequences in film history. What Sapochnik was particularly interested in was finding the ways Jackson avoided “battle fatigue” and kept the viewer engaged in all the story threads taking place within the battle itself.

“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?’” Sapochnik said. “One thing I found is the less action — the less fighting — you can have in a sequence, the better.”

Since so many characters are involved in the Season 8 battle, Sapochnik had to also figure out a way to open up the perspective of a battle episode. “The [‘Thrones’ battles] I’ve done previously were generally from Jon’s perspective,” the director said. “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?’”

The battle was such a large scale endeavor that at times Sapochnik would be directing three different filmmaking units shooting three separate scenes all at the same time. A new Winterfell set was built from the ground up to accommodate the battle setting.

“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,” Sapochnik said. “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.’”

Sapochnik is directing two of the show’s six final episodes. The penultimate episode, airing May 12, is expected to feature the battle at Winterfell. Sophie Turner told EW the episode is expected to clock in at 90 minutes. “Game of Thrones” Season 8 begins its run Sunday, April 14.

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