UPDATED:Game of Thrones just unveiled one of the biggest action scenes in its history. But unlike the climactic Thrones battles in previous years, this sequence arrived almost entirely without any build up. Last year’s war for Castle Black and the second season’s Battle of the Blackwater were clashes that characters saw coming well in advance. Sunday’s Hardhome sequence ranks among the show’s most amazing setpieces, as Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and a Wildling camp came under attack by White Walkers.
“It was three to four weeks of shooting for a sequence that should add up to [more than] 20 minutes,” Harington said. “We shot less than a minute a day! It’s so CGI-heavy it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done on Thrones. I’ve always been proud of the way Thrones doesn’t go overboard with special effects, but in this sequence they had too. I think it’s going to be spectacular.”
The set-up: Snow and Tormund arrive at the remote seaside outpost of Hardhome as Snow hopes to unite the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch to defend the realm from the White Walker threat. There they meet a Wildling chieftain named Karsi (Danish Pitch Perfect 2 actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) as they try to convince the remaining tribes to return with them to relative safety of Castle Black. Then the temperature drops, and mayhem ensues.
“Every fight I would shoot three times,” Harington said. “First against a man in a [greenscreen-projectable suit], the second with man who’s not in a green suit, but has full-on makeup to look like a dead person, and the third time I would just fight [without an oppoent, striking open air]. It gave them the option of using whichever way looked the best. [The Battle of Castle Black in] episode 9 last year was the hardest thing I’ve done. This was twice as hard as that. It was exhausting.”
The sequence required about 400 extras and 50 stuntmen. Harington pointed out the production was also aided by having a bigger budget for the battle scene than in previous seasons. “I think [HBO] has realized that to keep people engaged with this show, the big set pieces each year have to be bigger than the ones before,” Harington said. “If this was a classic narrative, then this is the point in Game of Thrones where everything is at its darkest, where nothing seems like it can go right and all is lost—that’s the point where we’re at with episode 8.”
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