Game of Thrones storyboard artist breaks down the death of Jon Snow
A hero falls
Before episodes of Game of Thrones are even shot, it's up to storyboard artists like Will Simpson to diagram important scenes so directors know what to shoot, and how.
In advance of the eighth and final season of HBO's epic fantasy (premiering April 14), let's look back at a pivotal scene from the season 5 finale, "Mother's Mercy," in which Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is brutally betrayed by his Night's Watch brethren.
After reading a troubling letter from the Boltons, Jon is alerted by Olly (Brenock O'Connor) that one of the wildlings has news of his missing uncle Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle).
Too good to be true
Benjen had been missing since season 1, and the Night's Watch still didn't know what befell their former First Ranger. Neither did viewers, but this was sadly not the time to find out.
Lines of movement
Simpson's storyboards are drawn like comic panels, but some have added arrows to indicate camera direction and character movement.
Who goes there?
Jon's longtime antagonist Ser Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) tells him that a wildling claims to have seen Benjen at Hardhome. But all that's visible is a clustered group of black cloaks.
Time for close-up
Jon Snow has been front and center for some of the most memorable scenes in Game of Thrones. But unlike the epic sweep of the battle at Hardhome, this one is up close and personal.
Jon pushes through the cluster of his Night's Watch brothers, expecting to find a talkative wildling. But that's not what's waiting for him here.
The men of the Night's Watch, it turns out, consider Jon a traitor for bringing wildlings through the Wall as peaceful refugees. What, then, is the proper term for men eager to turn on their elected commander?
The first strike
Back in 2016, Teale explained Thorne's bitterness toward Jon: "I found the most important thing when playing the character was to just get rid of a whole section of feelings that I have as a human being — like joy, for instance, that’s just gone. Once I achieved that, in my mind, to look at Jon Snow, who has the world before him and talent and is this personable human being, to look at him while you’re feeling joyless, then Snow presses all the wrong buttons — that really helped to be able to react to him as a character."
"For the Watch"
Thorne isn't the only one who kills Jon, though. Othell Yarwyck (Brian Fortune), First Builder of the Night's Watch, also gets in on the coup.
Ides of March vibes
Jon's assassination, stabbed to death repeatedly by his onetime comrades, strongly resembles the real-life death of Julius Caesar.
Et tu, Olly?
Olly is the youngest member of this assasin group, but also might be the most fervent believer in their mission.
Olly becomes a one-man destroyer of many fans' favorite onscreen relationship. Having already killed Ygritte (Rose Leslie) at the Battle of Castle Black, Olly now delivers the fatal blow to Jon.
(In real life, of course, Leslie and Harington are happily married).
A recurring theme of Game of Thrones is that revenge doesn't come without a price. By killing Ygritte (who killed his father) and Jon (who allied with the wildlings who destroyed his village), Olly has achieved vengeance for his dead family. But at what cost?
(That question isn't quite rhetorical, since Olly discovered the price for himself in season 6.)
With the final blow struck, the conspirators start to leave the scene of their crime.
As he bleeds out, Jon falls backward onto the snow. In these last moments of Jon's death, the filmed version differs from the storyboards in how close it pulls up to Jon's body. Sometimes directors take the scene in a slightly different direction than Simpson's suggestions.
"I like being the beginner of ideas, somebody who gets to create the feel of the scene," Simpson tells EW.
In Simpson's storyboard depiction, Olly is clearly crying as Jon dies. In the filmed version, O'Connor gives a more ambiguous performance. It's unclear whether Olly is torn by his actions or adamant that killing Jon was the right thing to do.
Facing his fate
The filmed version of the scene stops a little farther away from Jon's face, so viewers can see his blood pooling out in the snow. Simpson wanted to go even closer.
"I like getting in close on characters to show the fear on their faces — the horror, the shock, or whatever the hell it is," he says. "I like to punch in on those things."
The light goes out
"Because he was dying, and it was a light-going-out-of-his-eyes thing, I would have wanted to go in and show that," Simpson says of his conception of the scene. "But I know that when you get into discussions, the directors might have a different version, and there’s a reason for it depending on how they wanted to leave an audience at the end. There’s lots of stuff like that, where there’s divergence. But a lot of it is very close to what we see on screen."
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