How the sounds in 'Game of Thrones' battle scenes are made

Following is a full transcript of the video.

Narrator: Every season of “Game of Thrones” gave us a new battle or two that attempted to top the last. All the blood, gore, and fireballs you saw on screen would mean absolutely nothing without the sound mix behind it. From weapons, to wights, to music, a lot goes into what you hear during a given “Game of Thrones” action scene. It’s not just about how they made all the sounds but how many they need to make.

Warning: Spoilers are coming.

To break down how the sound in the show’s battle scenes was done, we talked to Tim Kimmel, the show’s Emmy-winning supervising sound editor, who’s been around since season three.

Tim: I think one of the hardest parts of these battle scenes is when there’s so much going on, trying to find the detail to not make it just sound like a wall of sound.

Narrator: That’s no exaggeration. The Battle of Winterfell was especially complex.

Tim: I know we maxed out the amount of tracks we were able to use on the system we were using, which I believe is 720 tracks. And that was just for sound effects, and sound design, and Foley, and backgrounds, so I think on the dialog side there was probably another 200 tracks and another 60 tracks or so of music.

Narrator: This is what they were dealing with. It can take weeks to put this much sound together. Obviously, there’s a lot going on here, so let’s break down some of these layers one by one. There are weapons of all shapes and sizes on “Game of Thrones.” Weapons that catch fire, kill White Walkers, and bring dragons out of the sky. Because the show has been on for so long, the sound team had a massive digital library of prerecorded sounds to pull from whenever necessary, but those sounds still had to be made at one point in time. Weapon sounds are usually made with Foley, a process in which real objects are used to create the sounds of humans and other creatures interacting with the world around them. So when you’re hearing two swords clashing against each other, that was likely the sound of two real swords banging together. The sound effects they use will vary depending on the character in the fight. For instance, one factor that makes Jaime Lannister’s fights different from that of the other characters: his fake hand. Kimmel recalls that the sounds for Jaime’s hand were actually created using a frying pan. Listen now, and you might be able to hear it.

Euron: Ahhh!

There is also another incredibly unique use of Foley during the Battle of the Bastards.

Tim: There’s a moment where all the arrows are shot into the air. You hear nothing but the arrows travelling through the air, and instead of a very typical whooshy sound of the arrows flying by, we took all of that out, and all Foley did was the sound of the quills. You just hear that flapping really lightly in the wind before we then quickly dive back down into the battle.


Tim: The sounds of death are such an important thing as these battles get larger and larger as the seasons moved along.

Narrator: A lot of characters on this show have been killed in a variety of ways. Chances are you won’t forget those final screams and gurgles. In these instances, top-notch vocals are essential. After shooting is done, voice actors will come into the studio, partially to provide all the background noises you’ll hear in a given battle scene. These are known in Hollywood as loop groups. The voice actors will give many different options of the sound of, say, someone getting stabbed or burned alive. Depending on the death, sometimes it’s a lower grunt, and other times it’s a high-pitched screech. In season eight, episode four, “The Last of the Starks,” Rhaegal is brought down by one of the scorpions. Before editing and mixing, the sounds were originally made by sound designer Paula Fairfield, who comes up with most of the dragon sounds on the show. Getting the right sound for this major death involves some knowledge of anatomy.

Tim: It started out with a very screechy vocal, painful vocal, and then once it hits the throat, if you listen closely, that vocal turns into more of just of a gurgle. You know, like it hit a vocal cord, and it can’t make much sound, and it’s sadly choking on its own blood at that point. Once it’s about halfway down towards the water, you can see the vocals just kind of disappear.

Narrator: Emmy-winning composer Ramin Djawadi’s score has become an iconic part of “Game of Thrones,” often providing the show’s emotional backbone. While Djawadi and Kimmel work separately, it’s part of the sound team’s job to make sure all elements of the sound work together with the score.

Tim: You know, that way we can say, “Oh, look, he’s going really big in this moment. Let’s let music carry this, and we’ll provide some stuff under it,” or, “All right, he went quiet here. Let’s make sure we have plenty of detail,” or you know, if he’s using, say, higher strings in that moment, frequency-wise, we know let’s hit the lower elements harder so everything can work together.

Narrator: During some of the show’s standout music moments, you’ll notice that other sounds are much more toned-down. A major factor that drives the sounds they make: characters, and the ways they do this are very subtle. For instance, each army sounds different. The Lannister army sounds different from the Stark army, which will both sound different from the Dothraki and the Unsullied.

Tim: Yeah, I mean, each army had their own sounds, their own kind of palette that we worked with to kind of try to set them apart from each other.

Narrator: So a Lannister spear might sound completely different from a Stark spear, and overall battles sound completely different from one another. The Battle of the Bastards was a largely horse-driven battle that then turned into human-versus-human combat. Meanwhile, battles like Hardhome, Beyond the Wall, and Winterfell were about humans versus wights and White Walkers. Once you bring the undead into a battle, you’re dealing with many more layers of different vocals and movements, which often include the sounds of bones to represent their often skinless bodies. When balancing all this sound, the most important part is not to lose track of the moments bringing the characters and stories forward.

Tim: You know, make it feel like a big battle, but make sure you hear that specific sword of, you know, a main character who’s attacking somebody. So even though there’s 30 people around him fighting, and you want to feel that, you gotta make sure you can hear the detail of, you know, your specific guy fighting, and his sword hitting whoever he’s fighting’s sword, and if he stabs them, you know, making all of this stuff cut through.

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

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