- The wights and White Walkers on “Game of Thrones” make up one of the scariest aspects of the show. One thing that makes them so terrifying: sound.
- We spoke with Tim Kimmel, the show’s Emmy-winning supervising sound editor, who often used the sound of his own voice to make the guttural grunting sounds of white walkers and wights.
- He explained how he used sound to bring these terrifying characters to life, from Hardhome to the Battle of Winterfell.
- He walked us through some of the show’s most memorable moments, like the Night King’s early appearances and the first time Cersei and King’s Landing came face-to-face with a wight.
- Warning: This video contains spoilers.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: This is Tim Kimmel, the supervising sound editor on “Game of Thrones.” Not only is he the voice behind some of the show’s wights and White Walkers, but through a process of mixing and layering, he helped create the stuff of nightmares for the people of Westeros and viewers at home.
Warning: Spoilers are coming.
Kimmel has been working on the show since the start of season three. In fact, he won an Emmy for his work in the episode “Hardhome.” He and the sound team had to bend a few rules to get them to make the sound in the first place.
For example, creatures like this with no skin and likely no vocal chords probably shouldn’t be able to make any sound at all.
Tim: Well, if it comes at you quietly, it doesn’t really have the same impact, especially some of these straight-up skeletons. They don’t have vocal chords.
So, you know, we sometimes would try to lean away from the wights that were so rotted away with no flesh. We talked about the sounds that they’d be making. They’d have vocal chords that are kind of shredded.
Narrator: The sounds they did give them came from a variety of places, and Kimmel has an especially personal connection with the wights. Some of the sounds the wights made actually came directly from him.
The sound, as he describes it, came from the back of his throat. After enough distorting in the editing room, it sounds more like this. You could also hear him doing the sound of Wun Wun the giant.
Tim: I’ll admit, I’m a big metalhead. I grew up in the ’80s, so it is sort of a metal yell. It’s a kind of yell.
Narrator: And with the wight giant, they used the same sound elements but with a grittier feel to it. But it’s not just Kimmel’s voice in there. If you listen carefully, you might hear some animal sounds.
Some of the most vicious sounds coming from the wights were actually sounds of dogs that were manipulated and tweaked enough that you couldn’t tell they were dog sounds originally.
And that wight that Jon Snow smuggled into King’s Landing to show Cersei in season seven was actually making the sounds of a bear cub.
More on this scene in a bit.
After years of work, many sounds are saved in a vast digital library and reused. However, the sounds they used and the sounds the creatures make would still change depending on the scene.
Tim: It has to do with what they look like, what they’re doing. As they’re just walking or slowly attacking, they don’t make much sounds, but as they start to really attack, the more aggressive ones, we’ll go with a more aggressive sound.
A lot of it has to be story-driven. If there’s one that’s right on top of a main character that you’re worried is gonna kill them, we’ll find the most aggressive one we can find and really make the viewer worry, “Oh no, this is it.” It helps compel that story a little bit more.
Narrator: The more aggressive the creatures, the more aggressive the sounds they use will get. You can’t talk about the sounds of the wights and White Walkers without discussing how they move.
Much of the movements are done through Foley, a process in which real objects are used to create sounds of living creatures interacting with the world. When it comes to their movement, they start bare bones, literally, as a lot of the wights are nothing but skeletons.
They used real bones and ceramic objects, but you’ll also hear a lot of other sounds at play in any given scenes where the undead army is scurrying around.
Tim: A lot of those wights were soldiers, and they’d have some armour still hanging off of them or some leather hanging off of them, so we also incorporate that and incorporate some of the flesh sounds a little bit and a little bit of cloth. Just so it’s not just bones, just to, it gives it a little more depth.
Narrator: The further the show has moved along, the more wights they have had to deal with. When Kimmel first started working on the show, they were making sound for just a handful of them.
On the other hand, the Battle of Winterfell saw the North face off against an army of thousands of wights and White Walkers. During this battle, they were dealing with hundreds of different sounds at once.
One of the biggest challenges was capturing sound that really gave the audience the feel of the scope of this army. As the North’s army waited for the undead to approach, it had to be very quiet at first and then get progressively louder as they crept closer and closer to the city’s walls.
Tim: You had to get as big as you can for that first wave, so it just feels huge, but what was tricky in the shot was that first wave hits, and then you get to a reaction shot of the other part of the army, and then there’s a second wave that comes in, so if you go too big on the first wave, you don’t feel the second wave, so you had to find a way to feel big but still have room to get even bigger.
Narrator: But surprisingly, the hardest moments for Kimmel and his team came not when dealing with armies but when dealing with a single wight on screen. Back to that scene where Jon brings a wight into King’s Landing.
Tim: Usually when these wights are going, there’s a lot of stuff to hide behind. There’s other battle things, and so it’s not as out in the open, so you can kinda do more with it and get away with little cheats, but this thing was on its own. It needed to be scary.
Narrator: The thing that made the wights and White Walkers truly terrifying throughout their run wasn’t just the sounds they made but also the ones they didn’t make.
In an early appearance in season two, you can hear a White Walker speak in Skroth, their native tongue. This was then abandoned in later appearances. Kimmel also pointed out that in early appearances, the Night King would open his mouth and show his teeth.
Tim: I think they just found him more intimidating to just be there with a straight look on his face. He’s just standing there confident. You don’t know what he’s gonna do or what he’s capable of.
Narrator: Sometimes, no sound is the scariest sound of all.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.