Since the show came out, we have been fascinated by Game of Thrones. We’ve waited with bated breath for every new season, gone crazy in anticipation for the sixth book in the series, and spent hours theorizing on the series’ biggest questions. Who gets to live at the end? Who gets to take the Iron Throne? When do the ice zombies die? These are burning questions that we still don’t know the answers to. Fortunately, we’ve gotten to see some awesome things along the way. For example, three of the most expensive scenes to shoot of the show were the battle between Jon and Ramsay Snow, Cersei’s walk from the Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep, and the battle of Blackwater. These three scenes are a great example of what Game of Thrones does right: incredible imagery combined with compelling action and character work.
There are a lot of scenes that are interesting, but we decided to focus on these three scenes because they’re some of the most famous and we know the most about how they were made. Here, we have fifteen facts about these three scenes that show how they were shot, how they were changed from the source material in the books, and what they were inspired by. Game of Thrones is a fantastical world with magic and ice zombies, but a lot of the inspiration for that world has been drawn from real life events and even battles. Here’s what you need to know about the makings of three defining and expensive moments in Game of Thrones history.
15. The Soldiers In Battle Of The Bastards Weren’t CGI
Normally when a scene like this gets filmed, an actor is standing in front of a green or blue screen, well away from the actual hooves of real horses. That way, the actor is in a safer position to film the scene. However, that’s not the way Kit Harington did the scene. Instead of special effects, the crew gathered forty horses together and had them charge right at him and stop right at the last second. “We’re a bit annoyed because I think everyone’s going to think it was CGI,” Harington said, “but it wasn’t.” This is just one of the things that make this scene the most expensive thing the show has ever done. They could have done a lot of this with CGI and saved a lot of money, but they didn’t. They created a real experience that really resonated with the viewers by physically shooting as much as they physically could.
14. Cersei’s Walk Was Based On An Actual Historical Event
Many events in Game of Thrones have been inspired by actual events, and Cersei’s walk is no exception. Back in 2011, George R. R. R. Martin explained that the scene, which took place in his 2011 book A Dance with Dragons, was based on a real-life story from medieval Britain. Her name was Elizabeth Shore, but history remembers her as Jane Shore. Everything else is accurate. Elizabeth was a mistress to King Edward and a few other noblemen, but when Edward died, his brother Richard III took over and did not like her. She was then forced to take a walk of penance, but fortunately for her, she at least got to keep her underwear during the walk. “Jane Shore, the mistress of King Edward IV, was punished that way after Edward died,” he explained. “It wasn’t a punishment ever inflicted on men. It was a punishment directed at women to break their pride. And Cersei is defined by her pride.” Unfortunately, things like this happen every day. “They still do it now,” Lena Headey said. “They take women out and stone them to death.”
13. Rickon’s Death Was Filmed By Russian Arm
One of the most heartbreaking parts of the Battle of the Bastards was the rush to retrieve Rickon Stark from Ramsay’s clutches. Rickon was sent to run to Jon while Ramsay shot arrows at him, deliberately missing him until the moment when it would hurt Jon the most. (In an unrelated gripe: why didn’t Rickon zig-zag his way across the field instead of running in a straight line? That way he might have actually lived!) The scene was shot using a common rig known as a “Russian arm” setup. A Russian arm is a remote controlled camera which is mounted on a long rig, which is then mounted to a moving car. It’s a camera that’s really helpful if you want an epic tracking shot like the one we’re talking about here. The car they used to film this particular scene was a Land Rover, primarily because the terrain there was really muddy and uneven.
12. 80 Horses Were On Set At Battle Of The Bastards
According to the horse master on the Game of Thrones crew at the time, there were more horses in this scene than in any other scene. Camilla Naprous was really excited to be working with this many horses, especially on a scene like this. All the other scenes involving horses didn’t really have them doing all that much, or at least not what they’re doing in this scene. Even the bigger battles didn’t use horses. Blackwater relied mostly on boats, while the battle at the Wall was basically the Night’s Watch defending it and throwing fireballs down on the wildlings. She’d been wanting more responsibility in the show and asked the showrunners to let her train the horses to do more exciting things on camera. This battle definitely gave her that. While a lot of the horses were CGI, it seems like the only ones that were definitely CGI were the ones that got harmed on camera. The first wave of the battle is one of the most unforgettable parts of the whole series. The whole thing looks almost unbelievable in its planning, especially since there were 80 horses on the scene. While the clashes were created by CGI and layering, the horses were the ones actually charging at each other and stopping at the very last second.
11. The Budget For Cersei’s Walk Was $200,000 For Four Days
The entire budget for the walk to the Red Keep was something like $200,000 for four days. The reason why it ended up costing so much is that the church that was being used for the Sept of Baelor didn’t want to do that scene. The request to film scenes at Dubrovnik’s Catholic Church of St Nicholas was rejected by the Catholic Church at large because the Church hates public nudity and “acts of public immorality.” The Game of Thrones crew needed to negotiate to even be able to use the church at all. The negotiations were tense, but eventually, the crew decided to move the shoot to a different location and they were allowed to film. However, because of all the security that they needed, the extras to heckle Cersei, and the fact that the shoot was four days long, the shoot ended up costing $50,000 a day. That’s more than a lot of people make in a year, or even two.
10. Every Fake Body And Horse Needed To Be Dressed Up
Costuming for an epic TV show can be really hard. It’s especially hard when you’re dealing with an epic like this, where everyone gets their own colors, symbols, and style of dress. The Starks need to look different from the Lannisters, and both need to look different from the Boltons. This isn’t even considering the vast cultural differences in the world, like the many looks of Essos, the Free Cities, and Slaver’s Bay. One thing that they had to do for this battle wasn’t just to dress the fighting soldiers but to dress the dead ones. Every single fake corpse on the set was dressed in either Stark blue or Bolton pink and left out with weapons before being added to the pile of bodies the soldiers had to fight around. Production designer Deborah Riley did this to add an emotional impact to the scene. Even though we knew in our heads that the bodies were fake, we were still affected by seeing them on the ground in the battle because they were a symbol of the cost of winning that victory.
9. Lena Headey Ate Pizza Before Walking
Playing a woman who’s barely holding it together after losing everything is hard, especially when you have to walk through a heckling crowd totally naked. Luckily for Lena Headey, she got to take breaks and eat between takes, something that Cersei wouldn’t have been able to do. According to Entertainment Weekly, who were on the set in Dubrovnik, Croatia, she ate pizza between takes. To be fair, anyone would need a good meal before a gruelling scene like that where you need to convey a silent emotional journey while people are screaming abuse at you. According to Lena Headey, finding Cersei’s lowest point wasn’t that hard in a situation like that. “It’s not hard when people are screaming at you and you look like shit and you’re being f–king humiliated to figure out how that would feel,” Headey says. “There’s a part of you that’s f–king terrified. I can’t even imagine people wanting your blood. Cersei has done wrong, but she doesn’t really deserve this.” Luckily for Cersei (or unluckily), her situation is totally different now.
8. Jon Snow Spent Ten Hours Punching Iwan Rheon In The Face
For the last few years, we’ve all wanted to punch Game of Thrones villain Ramsay Snow in the face. He’s done a ton of terrible things, from castrating anti-hero Theon Greyjoy to murdering his dad, stepmom and infant brother. This isn’t discounting everything he’s done to Jon’s sister Sansa. Many people were actually cheering when Ramsay got himself eaten by his own starving dogs, but before that, Jon Snow almost punched him to death. It turns out that that scene was shot over and over again for ten hours. Director Miguel Sapochnik wanted to make sure that the scene was captured from every angle they could get it at, so they had Kit Harington throwing punches for as long as was necessary. He even actually punched Iwan a few times over the course of the scene, but that’s pretty understandable considering the scene was a bunch of fake punches.
7. Davos Had More Than One Kid In The Books
While Davos played a huge part in the Battle of Blackwater, the role of his sons was vastly different. In the show, he has one son, Matthos, who died during a wildfire explosion on one of Stannis’s army boats. In the book, things are a little different. Davos doesn’t have one son in the books, but seven. He doesn’t have one son die during the battle, he has four sons die, leaving him with his three youngest who weren’t at the battle, at all. While Davos’s pain is very much the same, things are very different for him and House Seaworth depending on the medium. In the books, he’s lost more than one child, but he still has three kids to carry on his name. One of his sons is even a squire for Stannis long after Blackwater. In the show, he’s lost only one son, but losing Matthos means that he lost his only son and heir. It’s a similar loss with a vastly different impact on the character and his future legacy.
6. Cersei Had A Body Double
We all know that Cersei’s body wasn’t really Lena Headey’s, but we don’t know much about her double. Her name is Rebecca Van Cleave, and she’s a 27-year-old British-American actress. According to Hannah Waddingham, the woman who “shamed” her way into memes for the last two years, Van Cleave had a brilliant performance. “Our fantastic body double was just so brave,” she said. “I had a lot of respect for her.” The reason why they had to use her in the first place was twofold. One reason was that Lena Headey has a lot of tattoos that would have been really difficult to cover, or at least inconvenient. She was actually really excited to shoot the scene and said so whenever she was asked about it. “It won’t be Cersei being seductive or sexy,” she told Vulture. “It’s better for her regality and her feistiness to not bare her flesh until she has to. When it’s out of her control.”
5. Weta Workship Almost Did Blackwater
Weta Workshop offered to animate the scenes at the Battle of Blackwater, which took up the whole episode. Sadly, George R.R. Martin said no. This made me wonder what could have been. While the scenes at Blackwater were unique and beautiful in their own way, Weta could have taken things in a totally different direction. Weta Workshop is the company that made every single prop, weapon and rubber orc suit in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (and the Hobbit trilogy nearly twelve years later). They’re also involved with movies like Ghost in the Shell, Furious 7, Mad Max: Fury Road, Avatar, District 9, the new Power Rangers movie, the Chronicles of Narnia series and more. They’ve also been involved with animated movies like BFG and GKR Heavy Hitters! While they can’t add Blackwater to their resume and the scene still looks great without their involvement, it’s fun to wonder how it would have looked if Weta had bene involved.
4. Lena Headey Hates Spiders
Evidently walking through the crowd naked was not the scariest thing about filming her scenes with Jonathan Pryce, which eventually led to her walk of penance through King’s Landing. She had to confess to her crimes to try and get mercy out of the High Sparrow. However, she needed to be smart about it and admit only to the things that wouldn’t get her into too much trouble. For example, she could admit to cheating on Robert Baratheon, but she couldn’t admit to her twin Jaime Lannister being the father of all three of her children. Given the events of season six, her confession doesn’t matter all that much. Weirdly enough, the weirdest part of that was what she was actually scared of. “Spiders on the roof that were not small. I don’t like spiders,” she told Variety.
3. There Are Civil War Influences In The Battle Of The Bastards
The Battle of the Bastards drew a lot on actual historical battles throughout history. For example, the mound of corpses was based on actual accounts of the Civil War, where soldiers told stories of piles of the dead that actually blocked the soldiers from continuing to fight. “‘The Battle of the Bastards’ becomes incredibly compact,” showrunner David Benioff told IGN. “All these men, all these combatants, crammed into this incredibly tight space on the battlefield. You read accounts of the battles in the Civil War where the battles were piled so thick it was actually an obstruction on the battlefield.” They also wanted to make this a real pitched battle between two armies, without magic, boats or a wall getting in the way. “From the beginning we knew that one thing we’d never had on the show was a true medieval pitched battle where two sides bring all the forces they can into play in some battlefield that’s somehow negotiated or agreed upon and they go at each other until one of them wins and the other one loses,” said D.B. Weiss. “This is a staple of human history, and we started to look through film samples of it. There really wasn’t one that both made you feel what it was like to be there on the ground and gave you a sense of the geography of the battle.”
2. Blackwater Had A Lot Of Foreshadowing
Blackwater, aside from being a huge battle and the biggest for the show to date, really set the stage for the shape of things to come. For one, the wildfire under the city was mentioned in season 2, and used in this battle, long before Cersei used it to permanently get her Tyrell rivals off the stage by blowing up the sept in season six. Additionally, Bronn was in a pub at the beginning of the episode, singing the Lannister theme song “The Rains of Castamere.” The song is used throughout season 3, culminating at the Red Wedding, where a band plays the song as the Freys stab all the Starks to death, including Robb and Catelyn. The song was then used again, when Sigur Ros played at Joffrey’s wedding minutes before he choked to death on pigeon pie, giving the event the nickname “The Purple Wedding.” On top of that, the tunnels the Targaryens built to escape the city were also brought up during this episode and were actually used at the end of season 4, to get Tyrion out of the city after he shot his father with a crossbow while he was on the toilet. The tunnels were used again during season 6, again during the wildfire incident at the Sept of Baelor.
1. The Battle Of Cannae
The biggest influence on the Battle of the Bastards was the Second Punic War. That war had Carthage putting their smaller army against the Roman Empire, the great military power at the time. However, his smaller army won the day many times before ultimately losing the war to Rome (in no small part thanks to what would later be called Fabian tactics, which were used by George Washington during the American Revolution). One example of that was the Battle of Cannae, where Carthage general Hannibal employed a Macedonian phalanx, a tactic that involves totally surrounding a much larger army with a smaller one. Ramsay waited until Davos came out with the backup troops, then surrounded the Stark army, pinning them between Bolton troops and a mountain of corpses. While the Macedonian phalanx was first invented by Philip of Macedon and used during the battle of Agincourt (the battle that this scene was originally based on before budgets and needs changed), the most famous use of it was during the battle of Cannae. Hannibal used his 50,000 soldiers to surround the Roman army, which was twice as big. They then slaughtered the whole army and only a few thousand Roman troops managed to escape. Unlike Game of Thrones, the Romans didn’t have Littlefinger and Sansa come with a fresh army to break the line, either. Regardless, this incredibly expensive scene borrowed heavily from history, showing that we learn something new every day.
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