Game of Thrones is about to once again raise the bar for depicting battles on TV. For the HBO drama’s sixth season, the producers have filmed the show’s most epic battle sequence yet.
The upcoming episodes have been shrouded in mystery as the series is moving beyond the narrative established in author George R.R. Martin’s fantasy series for the first time. So while we can’t reveal which characters or armies participate in the sequence, we can reveal some exclusive behind-the-scenes detail.
“It’s definitely the biggest [action sequence yet],” Thrones writer-producer Bryan Cogman told EW. “We’ve always wanted to get to a place — story-wise and budget-wise and time-wise and resource-wise — where we would be able to do a proper battle, with one army on one side, one army on another side.”
Previous major clashes on the Emmy-winning series arguably already set a new standard for television productions. It wasn’t that long ago that HBO’s Rome depicted battles by having characters describe what happened afterwards. And while Starz’s Spartacus had some wildly ambitious scenes, the series used a core group of fighters and stuntmen while filling the background with CGI. The previous benchmark was most likely set by HBO’s miniseries Band of Brothers and The Pacific, both of which staged some truly impressive wartime sequences.
On Thrones, the mandate is to keep computer effects to a minimum, using real actors on location with practical effects whenever possible. Previous battles have included an army in ships storming a castle (“Blackwater,” season 2), a group of men defending a wall and castle (The Battle of Castle Black, season 4) and an undead army swarming a seaside outpost (“Hardhome,” season 5). The upcoming sequence, however, is more like a classic campaign that you typically only see in major films: Hundreds of human soldiers on one side of a field, another army on the other side, and then there is a clash that is highly tactical, yet character-driven, and shown from start to finish — a “proper battle,” as Cogman put it.
“We wondered, ‘Why don’t you see more fully fleshed-out battles in movies and TV?'” said Dan Weiss, is a showrunner on the series along with David Benioff. “Then you get into the nitty-gritty of what it takes to actually shoot these things in a way that isn’t just helter-skelter chaos but actually gives you a sense of battle geography and the ebb and flow, and you realize why.”
The sequence is in an episode directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who won widespread praise last season for staging “Hardhome.” Shooting the battle took about a month of principal photography. “Miguel did such a fantastic job with ‘Hardhome’ we thought we should bring him back — this time with horses,” Benioff said. “Horses are not easy, at all. And certainly in terms of numbers — number of extras, number of stuntmen, number of shooting days — it’s the biggest we’ve done.”
On Monday, Benioff and Weiss revealed they believe season 6 will rank as the show’s best season. For more Thrones scoop, Entertainment Weekly is going behind the scenes of season 6 with an exclusive report from the show’s set in Spain and Northern Ireland (including during the battle), plus we have profiles of several stars from the show – get your copy of our big Thrones issue by going here now.
EW has tons of online Thrones coverage planned, too — exclusive news, cast interviews, recaps, and more (without spoiling any of the significant twists to come). Follow @jameshibberd for ongoing GoT scoop, subscribe to our Thrones email newsletter, and bookmark our GoT headlines and recaps hub. Thrones returns to HBO on April 24.
UPDATE NEW STORY: Cersei-Jaime relationship to hit new ‘all-time weird level’ in season 6 (no spoilers)