- The Battle of Winterfell was the most epic “Game of Thrones” battle yet.
- A cast and crew of 750 people spent months in freezing weather conditions bringing the battle to life.
- For Arya’s fight scenes, Maisie Williams does many of her own stunts and even learned how to fight with both hands.
- Warning: this video contains spoilers.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: The Battle of Winterfell, which took place during season eight, episode three, “The Long Night,” was the most epic battle on “Game of Thrones” yet. The production was, to say the least, a brutal labour of love. Here are just a few of the most amazing things about it and how they were brought to life.
Warning: spoilers ahead.
Over the course of 11 weeks, a cast and crew of 750 people worked in the worst imaginable weather conditions, battling freezing temperatures and all the elements, to make history. Director Miguel Sapochnik, who has directed some of the most legendary “Thrones” episodes to date, took the helm here.
In order to keep off the undead army, a giant moat was created around Winterfell. The wights famously do not like fire, so to keep them away, Melisandre lights it all on fire. Yes, the fire you saw was real. In order to achieve this effect, they used about 900 steel logs. They chose steel instead of wood as they would appear to catch fire without completely burning away. To make the fire spread in the first place, they filled water troughs with gallons and gallons of propane. The fire was important to add light to a battle that was mostly shot in the dark of night, a fact that has been controversial for “Game of Thrones” fans as it made it hard to know what was happening at times. Cinematographer Fabian Wagner told Wired, “The showrunners decided that this had to be a dark episode,” and, “Everything they wanted the audience to see is there.”
A lot of dead bodies pile up in this episode, and the crew used practical effects whenever they could. Many of the wights that pop up in the crypt were heavily inspired by the look of ancient mummies, decaying skin and all. The wights were mostly a combination of prosthetics and CGI.
Prop dead bodies, meanwhile, are not easy to handle. They’re expensive, heavy, and hard to move around. The prop makers came up with a trick following the Battle of the Bastards. Instead of having to stick individual bodies up, they would stack up a mound of dummies and create a detailed mould of them. The team created around 300 of these body piles.
This episode wasn’t going to end without the death of a fan favourite, and “The Long Night” gave us the demise of Lyanna Mormont, played by Bella Ramsey, who sacrifices herself to kill off the giant wight. Achieving this involved complicated and groundbreaking CGI. They shot a piece of the scene on location in order to get the backdrop. While on set, a crew member held a giant head on a tall pole. While this was happening, the camera operators were using Incam. This technology allowed them to play back animation of what the giant’s performance would look like that was then synced to the camera. This allowed the camera operators to actually see the giant at his proper scale while on set. Then, against a green screen, actor Ian Whyte, who is over 7 feet tall, actually played the giant. He was filmed in a way that made him seem like he was double his size.
Ramsey wasn’t actually on set with him, so for the shots where the giant picks her up, he instead lifted up a green doll covered in tracking markers. That scene was then motion-captured. In the final layer, for closeup shots, Ramsey was lifted up by a giant robotic arm that picked her up and moved her exactly as the giant would.
The giant wasn’t even close to the biggest creature involved in the battle. There were the three dragons, Rhaegal, Drogon, and Viserion. Famously, whenever you see shots of Jon and Daenerys riding the dragons, in reality, they’re actually riding on what looks like a big mechanical bull. They also actually shoot fire on set. The rest of what you see on screen as well as the colour of Viserion’s flames is largely a result of CGI.
Animating Viserion breathing fire differed from the two alive dragons. Part of that was because Viserion breathes blue fire, but also, this dragon is injured. He’s leaking, as VFX supervisor Joe Bauer points out. He has a hole in his neck, and he’s missing half his face by the time Jon Snow comes face-to-face with him. You can see fire coming out of different parts of his face. The damage caused by the dragon’s fire was added by production designers. They walked around with flamethrowers and covered rubble with dirt and mud. “After 20 minutes of watching a battle, you’re over it,” Sapochnik said to Entertainment Weekly.
So how do you stop it from being a battle in that sense? The biggest inspiration for this battle was the Battle of Helm’s Deep from the “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which Sapochnik notes is actually three different intercut battles. But that doesn’t mean the action wasn’t incredibly important.
The star of the episode might’ve been Maisie Williams, whose Arya Stark delivers the fatal blow to the Night King that saves Winterfell. It was a long road for Williams leading to this episode. She said the director called her a year before “The Long Night” started shooting and told her to start training, but she had no idea what exactly she was training for.
To prepare for some of the set’s tight spaces, weapons master Tommy Dunne gave Arya a staff that would disassemble, allowing her to fight in narrow spaces. With the exception of some of the more dangerous moments, Williams does most of her own stunts. In fact, she’s so committed to Arya that the right-handed Williams learned how to fight left-handed just so she could fight the same way Arya did in the books. When she took down the Night King, she was attached to a wire and launched into him. That sequence was mostly shot in front of a green screen so the crew could have better control over the environment.
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