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Hardhome. The Battle of the Bastards. Blackwater. The Battle of Castle Black. Now, Game of Thrones has yet another epic clash for its list of war scenes: Sunday night’s “The Spoils of War” showed what fully grown dragons can accomplish in an epic clash that fans have been waiting years to witness. The sequence depicted a battle of civilizations with the Roman-inspired Lannister army facing off against the Mongol Empire-inspired Dothraki — and with the high-fantasy X-factor of fire-breathing dragons thrown into the mix.
“It was an extraordinary directing from Matt Shakman, who came in with a lot of pressure on his shoulders,” showrunner David Benioff tells EW. “He’s a phenomenal director, but he’s mostly known for doing shows like The Good Wife, which is an excellent smart drama, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which is an excellent smart comedy. He’s never done a major battle like this. And it worked because of the massive planning he put into it and the crew really coming together. It’s very difficult to shoot a three-dimensional battle in terms of like the ground forces, the sky element… it was a lot to pull off.”
Added showrunner D.B. Weiss: “It’s the first major battle we’ve ever done that has a cavalry and creature effects — and it happens to include lots of things catching on fire. We’ve never really blown s— up like we’ve done in this episode.”
The sequence also set a record for the most people simultaneously set on fire for an entertainment production. Oftentimes, movies and shows use computer effects for fire scenes, but the Thrones showrunners prefer to use real fire whenever possible to add realism. The battle had 73 “fire burns” plus 20 people set ablaze simultaneously for a single shot — both of which had never been done by a single movie or TV production before.
RELATED: Hear the latest from EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast
When we met Shakman on the GoT set last fall, he confessed to being a bit nervous about living up to the standards set by his experienced action-director predecessors on the saga (such as last year’s “Battle of the Bastards” Emmy-winner for best drama director, Miguel Sapochnik). But by all accounts from critics and fans, Shakman delivered, with some fans even declaring Dany’s fiery loot train ambush to be the show’s best fight sequence yet.
“I wanted to tell the story of what it would be like to be on the ground in the middle of a dragon attack, to see what it’s like; to be in a napalm attack, to see the birth of a new weapon,” Shakman says. “And all of a sudden the Lannister army — which is a Roman army in a way, an army of order and precision, who can handle pretty much any obstacle — they encounter something they cannot handle and realize that war has changed forever. Jaime, especially, is a great soldier and realizes this is going to be a new era.”
The scene concludes with Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who spoke about this sequence separately here) charging at Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in a desperate attempt to end the war with one bold — and foolish — move.
“There’s a point where we think someone is going to die — either Jaime or Dany,” Shakman says. “And when he charges, it’s meant to be the most beautiful death you’ve ever seen. He’s charging through the ash and, in a way, tilting at windmills like Don Quixote. Then he’s obviously saved at the last second — from the dragon fire at least.”
Here’s a terrific behind-the-scenes video on the sequence from HBO:
More ‘The Spoils of War’ coverage:
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.