By James Hibberd
March 13, 2019 at 11:07 AM EDT
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Even if you read every story written about Game of Thrones, you probably haven’t seen an interview with one of the show’s hundreds of extras.

They’re not permitted to speak to the media, yet the legions of anonymous GoT background actors are integral to the production and have incredibly difficult and important jobs. Many have been with the show for years playing various soldiers, tradesmen, and Westrosi residents. Some even have tattoos commemorating their roles. They’re among the first to arrive on set, and among the last to leave while earning roughly $100 a day.

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“Obviously they’re called ‘extras’ so there’s not a whole lot of money or respect that comes with that job,” showrunner David Benioff told EW. “But the extras in Northern Ireland were spectacular in terms of their enthusiasm, and the realism they brought to it. They work so hard with these insane hours. You think back on how many of our scenes where the extras play such a major part.”

Continued Benioff: “Many of these guys kept long hair and beards purely for the show, and they even came up with character names and backstories for themselves, their childhood traumas, what House they owed allegiance to, even though [those details] are not in the show … It really adds to the believability of so many shots — whether they’re behind Jon Snow at Castle Black or at Winterfell or wherever — that these dudes really take this seriously and have passion for it.”

Added showrunner Dan Weiss: “Extras can make a scene or they can destroy a scene if you don’t give what they do the respect and attention it deserves.”

During the filming of “The Battle of the Bastards,” for instance, various extras were separately trained for each army in the battle to develop a group’s sense of comradery, coordination, and teamwork. Some had the rather grueling job of serving in 20-foot-high body pile, spending all day intermingled with gory mock corpses (as a guest to the set, I couldn’t even tell which bodies were actual people and which were fakes until a take ended and the extras began to move).

Many celebrities, particularly from bands enjoyed by the producers, have been Game of Thrones background performers. Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody was a soldier in season 3. Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men were a Braavosi band in season 6. Metal band Mastodon appeared as wights in season 5’s “Hardhome.” And Coldplay drummer Will Champion was a drummer at The Red Wedding in season 3.

Yet oftentimes celebrities are surprised how tough the demands of a seemingly easy walk-on role really is.

Recalled Weiss:  “A lot of people — especially bands that would come on the show — would come on [as extras] and we would warn them: ‘You realize this is going to intensely, numbingly boring for you.’ And they say, ‘No, no, it’s great,’ and then six hours into their three-day shoot you have Sigur Ros asking if they can go home and you’re like, ‘No, you’re in this shot, and this shot lasts for three days.’ They were as far from being divas about it as you can imagine but you could see this little piece of them die when they realized they were going to be there for another two-and-a-half days.”

EW.com will have daily GoT coverage until the end of Game of Thrones, including post-episode recaps and interviews. Follow @jameshibberd for GoT scoop. 

Get your copy of Entertainment Weekly’s biggest Game of Thrones issue ever: 78 pages of exclusive stories and photos on the past, present, and future of the HBO hit. Buy your choice of 16 different covers, or pick up the issue on stands now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Episode Recaps

HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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  • TV Show
seasons
  • 8
episodes
  • 73
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  • 04/17/11-05/19/19
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