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Full spoilers for Game of Thrones continue below.
Game of Thrones delivered its most impressive episode to date in Sunday\'s "Battle of the Bastards," and that\'s largely thanks to the direction of Miguel Sapochnik. Sapochnik was also the man behind the camera for Season 5\'s "Hardhome," and is the person who is going to be helming Season 6\'s finale.
Following the airing of "Battle of the Bastards," Sapochnik took some time to answer a few of our biggest questions over e-mail about what went into pulling off Game of Thrones\' most action-packed episode. For more on this week\'s episode, check out our interview with Ramsay Bolton himself, Iwan Rheon, read Matt Fowler\'s review and watch the latest episode of Dragons on the Wall.
IGN: This episode took 25 days to shoot and also featured arguably the most impressive special effects of the series. Was there anything that needed to be cut because you didn\'t have money or time, or was this a case where HBO gave you all the resources needed to pull this off?
Miguel Sapochnik: As with last year the sequence was originally twice the size when it was first presented to me. That’s just the process Dan and David like to follow and my job was to work out what we could and could not do and then present ideas to them and ways to achieve the same idea but in the time we had.
Many things were cut. For example the original "wall of shields" was actually a wall of horses. However horses do not actually do well if they are marched into people and it also takes a very long time to shoot so we cut it. Also the entire field was meant to be covered in snow but the resets every time the horses ran up and down it was going to take so long that we just couldn’t do it and had to think of another way of representing cold.
Making movies is all about compromise, negotiation and sacrifice but the process helps you distill what’s really important to you and once you have identified what those these things are for any particular sequence, you hold onto them and don’t let them go.
Game of Thrones - "Battle of the Bastards" - Dragons on the Wall
IGN: Talk to me about choreographing the single-take Jon Snow scene. Was that in the script already or something you added? How long did it take to execute from conception to the winning take?
Sapochnik: That was something we added to answer a description in the script of Jon being in the center of chaos. It was also an idea that came from the desire to not get stuck shooting a bunch of aerial shots of a cavalry charge that would take us out of the feeling of being in there with Jon.
As with all of these thing , it’s always a process. We put together a previz that is essentially a rough animation of the sequence and then showed it to David and Dan for approval. After various tweaks we took that privet and showed it to the other heads of departments, especially VFX, stunts and Kit and then begin a process of asking ourselves how do we pull this off? What are each department’s needs? Slowly we acquired all the info and then adjusted again till it became something that we actually felt we could achieve in the time we had (about two days to actually shoot).
It’s a bit like a dance: you choreograph it, teach it to the cast and crew and then introduce the camera, then the horses and eventually the rest of the stunts.
In theory this all takes several weeks and by the time you get to the set, you’ve got it down. Till something goes wrong.
Even with all this prep once we were there we changed things because so much of being a director is about thinking on your feet and being able to run with the ball, this was a perfect example of that.
Once we’d shot the take we were most satisfied with it was handed over the VFX guys and I did a pass where I drew on every frame exactly what I thought could be happening in addition to the stuff we’d shot and animated and they began building an army of CGI horse and soldiers to add to the existing ones and blend it together into what you see in the finished piece.
All told it took about 8 months from conception to when I saw it finished the first time.
IGN: This is an incredibly emotional episode -- cross my heart, I cried from joy and relief when the Army of the Vale showed up! What was key for you to make even outcomes fans might have expected or hoped for have that dramatic and satisfying payoff? Which was your favorite scene that did this?
Sapochnik: I think taking a subjective viewpoint in a battle is a way of not letting the audience off the hook and it heightens the emotional and visceral response (not always to the filmmakers advantage). By doing it here especially in the "drowning" sequence I think it helped to get the audience caught up in the moment rather than retain that objective omniscience one usually associates with action set pieces where we know what’s going on. At least this was the aim and I’m very glad if it actually worked to enhance the experience.
All that said and maybe on a more general note I think it’s very hard to predict what people will respond to and what they will or will not question. They always surprise you and see things you didn’t. I try to just focus on what feels right to me when I am conceiving it, conceptualizing, designing, etc. and then talk it through with the team and listen to what they have to say. This kind of thing is a team effort and working with a great team is the most important part of filmmaking for me.
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones
Michiel Huisman as Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones
Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth on Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke, Alfie Allen and Gemma Whelan on Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke, Jacob Anderson, Peter Dinklage and Nathalie Emmanuel on Game of Thrones
Sophie Turner as Sansa Stark and Kit Harington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Iwan Rheon as Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones
Kristofer Hivju as Tormund Giantsbane in Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones: "The Battle of the Bastards" Images
Terri Schwartz is Entertainment Editor at IGN. Talk to her on Twitter at @Terri_Schwartz.
Game of Thrones First Aired Apr. 2011
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