For years, A Song of Ice and Fire was one of the most acclaimed fantasy series around. Fans adored how author George R.R. Martin showed a realistic take on the genre and not afraid of breaking the rules. In 2011, TV viewers got to experience this via Game of Thrones which has become an international phenomenon, winning Emmys and every season getting fans talking. Producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have expertly captured the flavor of the novels and present it with a top-notch cast and great effects. Thankfully, they’ve also kept a key concept of the success of the series: No one is safe.
Few other series have been so daring as to kill off what looked like its main character before the end of the first season. Or have others bumped off in a brutal massacre. Or deaths that are more grisly than a slasher movie. The twists and turns of the show are epic and fans fret and worry over who is next to bite the dust. This is a show where a warrior character like Drogo dies not in a blaze of glory but from a minor wound getting infected. With so much work and so many themes, it should be no surprise that several of these deaths have unique stories. Sometimes, it’s how they were made, or the complications of making the scenes work. Other times, they bring up character bits and other touches fans may not be aware of. Here are 15 things you may not have known about the sensational deaths of GoT and why this show remains such an iconic series.
Quite obviously SPOILER ALERT for these deaths.
15. Tywin’s Death Exposes A Huge Plot Hole
Most find the death of Tywin Lannister fitting. After so long set up as the cold-hearted master manipulator of things, he ends up killed on the toilet by the dwarf son he had so long railed against. However, many book fans are annoyed that the death isn’t as meaningful as it exposes one of the greatest omissions from the book to the TV show. Readers know that Tyrion deeply loved a woman named Tysha who he saved, slept with and married. Tywin told Tyrion that Tysha was just a whore he had paid to make Tyrion feel better which rocked him badly. When Jamie helps Tyrion escape jail, he confesses that Tywin made that story up and Tysha really had loved Tyrion deeply. That is what drives Tyrion to confront his father and kill him.
To leave out such a massive character point is something fans just can’t understand. Even George R.R. Martin was surprised as he did interviews after the episode mentioning Tysha and how that was a driving force behind Tywin getting killed. The interviewer had to point out how the show had cut that out. The producers explained they were wary of talking of characters who weren’t actually showing up on the show for fear of confusing viewers who hadn’t read the books. However, to cut out such a key character point for both Tyrion and Tywin is one of the few major complaints fans have over the series and leaves some of the impact out of Tywin’s death.
14. The Golden Crown Could Only Be Done Once
It’s almost forgotten how Daenerys was more of a puppet when the show began. She was being directed by her brother Viserys who clearly wanted to use his sister as part of his greater scheme to get glory. However, Viserys failed to realize that the tribe didn’t treat him with any respect. In “The Golden Crown,” he makes the mistake of trying to boss around Khal Drogo who responds by giving Viserys the “crown” he deserves…by pouring molten gold onto the man’s head, killing him as his sister coldly watches.
The entire scene had to be carefully done because the liquid used for the “gold” would completely ruin the costume and they didn’t have the budget back then for a replacement. The props department mixed glue and some other components to create a liquid close to gold as Harry Lloyd put on a bald cap over his wig. Smoke machines were strapped to his bag and neck to sell the idea of molten hot gold poured onto him and a special cap was added to put “gold” onto his face. The rest was Lloyd offering a scream and it was to be longer until someone pointed out how fast this would actually take so it was just seconds before he slumps over. It was one of the more memorable deaths of the show and good thing they got it right the first time.
13. Sean Bean Kicked Ned’s Head Around
The death of Ned Stark is the key turning point of the entire saga. Book fans were rocked that the man they assumed would be the main character is beheaded two-thirds into the first book. TV viewers were just as rocked as Sean Bean was a big star and it was assumed he would stay around. Instead, the scene was pulled off in the ninth episode and quite horrific. Bean would admit he was thrown reading it but went alone to make the ending a good one, knowing Ned’s death would have huge ramifications.
A big turn was the following episode which has daughter Sansa horrified to see her father’s head on a spike. The special effects guys had some fun making an exact replica of Bean to make it look good and Bean himself was impressed when he saw it. However, he couldn’t resist some fun as soon as shooting was done, Bean took the head down to pose for some photographs with it. He then went about playing soccer with the head, literally kicking it around. At least Bean had some fun with his exit from the show.
12. Mance’s Death Was Old School
Played by Ciaran Hinds, Mance Rayder was the leader of the Wildlings who soon aided Jon Snow in his fight against the White Walkers. It was a powerful role and Hinds did well with it but his days were numbered. Refusing to bend the knee to Stannis, Mance is sentenced to death for being a deserter from the Night’s Watch. He’s then burned at the stake with Jon putting an arrow into the man’s heart to spare him this agony. One would think with today’s technology, this was all CGI fire with Hinds acting as if in agony. Instead, the crew went to some “old school” special effects work. They filmed with a long lens and a fire bar filmed at an angle that made it look much closer than it was. For the final shot of Mance’s corpse catching on fire, it was just a remote controlled dummy. Funny how sometimes the producers realize the simple ways are the best.
11. Ramsey’s Death Was Going To Be Bigger
“Battle of the Bastards” is the single most daunting episode the series has ever shot. It should be as it features a full scale battle sequence of Jon taking his forces against the sadistic Ramsey Bolton. The key problem was that producers Benioff and Weiss had ideas of massive armies going at it without fully taking in the cost. Director Miguel Sapochnick was annoyed to realize the duo wanted to do a 45-day long shoot in just two weeks and thus had to cut ideas. One thing they did keep was that the reason for Ramsey’s cool resolve when his army is being routed is simple: The man’s mind literally cannot fathom he’s lost. That’s why he seems so cocky against Jon even when the latter is beating him down; Ramsey is so used to being in control, he can’t grasp it’s over.
This brings us to the death as Jon realizes Sansa deserves to get the kill instead of him. This leads to the genius touch of how Ramsey is eaten by his own dogs, who he’d starved in preparation of throwing Jon to them. Sapochnick wanted to show the death a bit grisly with close-ups of Ramsey screaming so audiences would feel sorry for him. But Benioff and Weiss stated that there should be no sympathy but Ramsey getting what he deserved. The sound effect was a squealing pig which they felt was perfect for Ramsey dying like a coward and one of the more fitting ends met on the show.
10. Making The Wildfire Destruction Was Truly Wild
The season six finale seemed to have Cersei finally down and out, losing all allies and called upon to trial by the High Sparrow. However, Cersei manages to create a huge twist by setting off a cache of wildfire that destroys the Great Sept. In one stroke, Cersei takes out the High Sparrow, Margaery, Mace, Tyrell and others in a massive explosion. Naturally, making this event work was a huge challenge for the effects guys as it couldn’t be just pure CGI. The Sept set was covered by a combination of wind machines to stage the effect of the explosion with the nearly 300 actors and extras told to jump back as if showing the reaction to the blast.
The FX guys added to it with a green light to sell the initial explosion, combined with a florescent liquid. Indeed, the initial strike is actual fire as it’s hard to make CGI fire look right. The decision was made to have the Wildfire erupt from below due to the fact that real fire tends to go outward and up. It all worked out to a sensational sequence that may well be Cersei’s crowning (literally) moment of the show.
9. Hodor Died Happy
For years, the character of Hodor was beloved by fans. A gentle giant and loyal aide to the Starks, he only spoke his name and while put through wild stuff, he could be a fantastic fighter. Season six’s “The Door” was a key episode where Bran finds himself bouncing back and forth in time and somehow able to mentally connect to the younger version of Hodor. In the present, they’re attacked by White Walkers with Bran’s final command to Hodor being “hold the door!” to hold them back. He does so and somehow his younger self collapses, feeling the agony of his future death and the line “hold the door” becomes “Hodor” and all he can say.
It was a powerful death for fans who had loved the character deeply. Benioff and Weiss have admitted his is one time Martin told them his plans for the novel so they used that for the series first. Many accused Bran of selfishly using Hodor like that and it was a wasted death. But actor Kristian Nairn stated he would never have agreed to that and it’s not how he played the role. Instead, he stated that he felt the character was actually happy to finally have the agony of his mind finished and despite his terror, he’s happy to see Bran escape to survive. So it may have been a nasty death but Hodor himself went out finally at peace.
8. It Took Eight Hours For Joffrey’s Death To Sound Right
Many a death on Game of Thrones has led to fan outrage. However, one death in particular made fans cheer. Even in Westeros, it was clear Joffrey was the worst person around, a sociopathic 13-year-old brat who had no qualms killing anyone who displeased him and throwing his weight around (such as ordering Ned’s death on a whim, not caring it would start a war). Cruel, sadistic and merciless, it was clear to even his mother Cersei that having this maniac as king would be a disaster. So it was a great bit when he finally paid for it all when his wedding to Margaery ended with him collapsing from poison (which turns out to be from Olenna).
The shooting of the scene was already unique as actor Jack Gleeson’s reading of the line “the pie is dry” sounded so dirty that Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey kept cracking up, ruining several takes. Making the choking sounds authentic was tricky as Gleeson couldn’t fake that on set. So the sound mixers spent six to eight hours to craft this 30-second sequence, using everything from animal sounds to a woman impersonating a choking baby. The final death rattle was courtesy of co-producer Greg Spence. It all came together to create a death fans celebrated.
7. Shae Had To Shoot First
Shae is an interesting figure for the series. Her role in the books was quite small, just a prostitute brought to Westeros by Tyrion. However, the performance by Sibel Kekilli was amazingly winning and the producers beefed up her role majorly. It got to the point where George R.R. Martin openly said he was sad to have killed the character off because she had so much potential. As in the books, however, Shae ends up betraying Tyrion for gold to make him seem guilty of Joffrey’s murder. In the series, she tries to kill Tyrion when he’s escaping and he answers back by strangling her in self-defense.
That was nasty but it’s different in the books. There, after escaping, Tyrion goes to Shae in her bedroom as she immediately begs for forgiveness, saying she was forced to lie by Tyrion’s father. He seems to forgive her but instead grabs her by her gold necklace and strangles her in cold blood. However, the producers were worried that because Tyrion was such a huge fan favorite (thanks to Peter Dinklage’s performance), they would hate him killing an unarmed woman. So they had Shae grab a knife to attack to give Tyrion the excuse to kill her which is sort of like the GoT series version of “Greedo Shot First.”
6. The Most Expensive Death
GoT is of course HBO’s most expensive show with massive shooting around the world, the CGI work and huge battles. One would expect that the most expensive death might be one of the huge battle scenes or the complex shooting of dragons or White Walkers. Instead, it was one of the more “discreet” deaths of the show. In season five, Arya finally gets her chance to get revenge on Ser Maryn Trant for helping organize the deaths of her family. Getting him alone, Arya attacks him, slicing him up then proceeding to basically chew his eyes out and spit them out. Apparently, the producers vastly underestimated just how expensive it would be to do this as they needed to create a complete fake head for actor Ian Beattie to be stabbed and pop the eyeballs out yet look realistic enough for some close-ups. That was followed by big makeup for Beattie to sell the eyeless Maryn. Even the producers have admitted they were surprised that this cost so much but it ended up being one of wildest moments of the series.
5. The Red Wedding Was Based On Real Events
The Red Wedding is one of the most dramatic moments of the series. Even George R.R. Martin himself was thrown as “they took the darkest thing I ever wrote and made it darker.” The gripping sequence where a wedding turns into the slaughter of the Stark forces was shocking for viewers and tears flowed at the deaths of Robb and Catelyn, a character most thought would be safe. It was powerful and amazing and everyone who saw it wondered how Martin could come up with something so twisted. As it turned out, he was just drawing from history.
“The Black Dinner” is an infamous event in Scottish history as in 1440, the Earl of Douglas and his brother and allies met at a dinner with King James II to make peace. In the middle of the dinner, a black boar’s head was placed before the Douglas Clan who were then dragged out into the courtyard and beheaded on the spot. There was also the Glencoe Massacre as in 1692, the Clan MacDonald stayed under the roof of the Clan Campbell, believing themselves safer under rules of hospitality. Instead, the Campbells slaughtered over thirty-eight MacDonalds, igniting a bloody feud. It just goes to show how real life can have stuff even worse than what Martin came up with.
4. Even Cast And Crew Thought Jon Snow Was Dead
A major misconception about GoT is regarding the return of Jon Snow in season six. There’s a contingent of fans who believe that the producers were affected by the massively hostile reaction to killing off Kit Harrington and so backtracked to bring Jon back. In truth, the plan was always to resurrect Jon in season six but the producers knew they had to make it mean something. Thus, they talked Harrington into agreeing to make everyone on set think it was a final death. They said they wanted to make sure the stabbing of Jon by his own men looked good enough “so they know he’s dead.” They kept it up, complete with a goodbye party and Harrington admitted feeling guilty when cast mates came up to give him tearful hugs goodbye, thinking he was done.
Harrington continued to sell it by cutting his long hair shorter and making noise about mulling over other movie and TV offers. Even his agent had no idea as he was trying to get Harrington a new show fast. It wasn’t until the first table read for the next season that the cast realized Harrington was returning and their joy overwhelmed annoyance at this ploy. Harrington came back (with a wig at first to handle the hair) and his return an epic event for the fans. Thus, as great as they can be with the deaths on the show, the GoT producers are just as savvy faking one.
3. The Making Of Martell’s Death
One of the more epic fights of the series was in “The Mountain and the Viper.” The massive Gregor Clegane took on Oberyn Martell in a trial by combat for Tyrion’s freedom. Martell also wants revenge for Gregor killing his sister years before. The Viper is cocky, acting up before the audience, confident his skill will win out. He ends up striking a mortal blow but makes the mistake of wasting time wanting Clegane to confess to his sister’s death. This gives the Mountain the chance to yank him down and proceed to literally crush Oberyn’s head like a pumpkin before the horrified eyes of his wife.
To make this work, the effects department made a bust of actor Pedro Pascal’s head. They joke they had to read up on a lot of crime scenes to find just the right mix to be believable for busted brains and how they would leak as Clegane crushes Martell’s eyes and then smashes it in. Pascal played the role without the piece at first to show his face in agony and withering and special tubes to spray blood around his eyes. They then shot it with the headpiece fitted onto a special brace to get crushed. The final touches were some CGI to mix the ruined head with Pascal’s real one to make it look right. Amazingly, they had the idea of the Mountain ripping Oberyn’s head apart but they realized that was way too grisly. That’s right; one of the most gruesome deaths in the show’s history could have been even worse.
2. Osha Still Lives In The Books
Season six was a major turning point for the series as it has finally started to outpace the books. It’s almost a joke now how massively behind George R.R. Martin is with his much-anticipated new volume and many are concerned the show has given away some key points already. One unique character affected by this is Osha. The Wildling in service to the Starks won fans over in season two thanks to the performance by Natalie Tena who showed off both her body and good skills. When last seen in the books, Osha was taking Rickon Stark to safety and that happened much the same way on the show.
In season six, the character returns, captured by Ramsey. She attempts to seduce him in order to stab him but he manages to overpower her and kill her instead. Thus, you have one big death that has yet to happen in the books. However, it should be noted that the Osha in the books is older and more sardonic. Thus, it’s possible she might avoid the same fate. Martin has stated he actually enjoys the TV version of Osha thanks to Tena’s performance and one can hope she avoids the same fate. But then again, it’s not like Martin hasn’t enjoyed messing with readers before.
1. Rose Leslie Really Did Shoot Her Death Last
Often, TV shows mix up their shooting schedules from what is going to be on screen. With GoT, that means it’s not at all unusual for an actor to film a death scene then come back for a few minor scenes for an episode to air earlier. Rose Leslie, who played the Wildling Ygritte was a bit different. When she’s shot, it’s one of the few times that the producers have used slow-motion as they can find it a cheesy thing to avoid. But they wanted her death to mean more and so went through with it. Also, they cut out the sounds of the battle to make her dying more impactful, meaning Leslie had to come to an ADR booth to do special voice work for the scene as she dies in Snow’s arms. It was the last scene Leslie did for the series and she said she was happy as there was no way she could continue to work after such a powerfully emotional moment. It was a gripping sequence and saving it for last made it more moving for viewers.