The fight scenes
By Winter Is Coming on in Speculation.

Over at Westeros there is an interesting thread that poses the question of sword fighting and how it will be translated to the screen. There are a couple different schools of though, is it better to make it historically accurate to the time period the series is based on? Or should HBO Hollywood-ize it, a la the film 300? Check out the whole thread for some interesting discussion and cool videos of medieval swordplay.

Winter Is Coming: I’m not as knowledgable as some of the folks in that thread when it comes to medieval fighting styles. Although the videos looked pretty cool. In my opinion, Benioff and Weiss need to find a middle ground between accurate, realistic sword combat technique and something with a little more stylistic flair and showmanship. Even more important is they need to differentiate between the different fighting styles. Sandor, for example, will fight much differently than Jaime or Ned.


29 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    There is no such thing as historically accurate in a fantasy setting, in a fantasy world. They have free license to make it work, and anyone getting their panties in a bunch over it is an idiot.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    That’s a ridiculous comment. I’d be pissed if they had something like Ned jumping 20 feet into the air, swinging down the behemoth that is Ice. (not that he ever fights in the books, but still)

    GRRM went out of his way to make most aspects of his world very realistic, from politics, to cultures, to swordplay. Does it need to be historically accurate to every detail? No, but I expect some semblance to realism.

  3. Steppe Merc
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the second comment. I can’t stand inaccurate fighting or costumes. Even in a fantasy world. I would be fine with Lord of the Rings style swordplay – a bit over the top, but still realistic compared to crap like 300, or the fencing style duels in other fantasy. But I would prefer realistic, though I care far more about cavalry warfare than sword duels. I will be devastated if they show the Dothraki in a lame barbarian manner rather than Turco-Mongol horse archers, complete with fake charges, the Parthian shot, and the composite bow.

    We need to have brutal, realistic fighting, that’s part of why this is such a good series, none of that namby pamby type stuff in Hollywood and other fantasy books.

  4. Brian
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    As long as it looks good to the Powers That Be at HBO….they can dance around like Jedis for all that matters…its the plot and the FX that will carry this series…you never know…one of the money men at HBO might list Highlander 2 as one of his favorite flicks.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    You know, to be fair there IS a difference between “Realistic” and “Historically Accurate”. It should be realistic, but historically accurate… how exactly?

  6. Anonymous
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I think the best thing about the production of the series is that it will be primarily run by the BBC. Watch how they did Rome. Very dirty, gritty, and bloody. Not overly fancy. Kind of an in your face, straight to the point, kill or be killed fighting style.

  7. Brian
    Posted December 23, 2008 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    I think the whole concept of war and deception is going to make GAME OF THRONES stand out. The good guy doesnt always win in GRRM’s Westeros. HBO has had the ability to capture peoples attention with its blunt take on good vs. evil in the past. I think we will be able to put Jaime Lannister on the same pedestal as Tony Soprano and Omar Little (The Wire)….I think Jason Patric would be pretty cool in his role…

  8. Anonymous
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    Do you remember the gladiator fight in the Rome series? That is the way to go.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Actually, Martin used books of weaponry, fighting styles, and all that junk to base his battles on. There’s a link somewhere on his website that links you to the books, I think. Check it out

  10. Anonymous
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 4:25 am | Permalink

    The fighting moves posted on westeros would be great to showcase Jaimes prowess at the Whispering Wood as he carves his way through Karstarks. Even though the WW is offscreen in the books, Robb does describe it later… it would nice to see that small window into the battle as a flashback. We need to see how gifted the Kingslayer is. (in contrast to, say little Lord Snow’s exploits vs. green poachers and rapers)

  11. Oeffinger Freidenker
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    I don’t think we need something like historical accuracy. Especially in the pilot the fighting scenes will provide much of the tension that decides if the series done or not, because without action or stylish looking action, there are small chances. In the pilot will be fighting between the Dothraki.
    I want fighting scenes that look “realistic” (whatever that is – most people don’t know much about fighting with swords anyway, so it should feel “real”), not historical accurate. The fights of Lord of the Rings would be the way to go. I want to see Jaime smash lesser foes lefthanded, just to show how DAMN GOOD HE IS. Or Sandor jerk his enemy in half to show his brutal strength, things like that. There are not that much fights anyway, and mist end very fast (because they are more murder than fight). Those fight scenes which are made should look cool.
    I personally didn’t like the gladiator fight in “Rome” very much (right ammount of realistic violence, but not “action” enough in some way), I would like a bit more cinematical style. 300, by the way, is a product of fantasy, and not the fantasy ASOIAF is made of, so that wouldn’t fit and won’t be done. 300 doesn’t take itself seriously, and AGOT will. That’s for sure. So, LotR seems an appropriate example.

  12. Hurga
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I hope they won’t use many cuts to make the fight scenes look more dynamic (the great lord of the rings movies just have so much silly shacking-camera-fight-scenes).

    regarding Jamie: I think some additional fight scenes would be a good idea. Besides the whispering woods, you could also show his prison break attempt in acok.

  13. Kurt
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    One of the best things about ASOIF is its core realism. That would imply a “Rome” fighting style, but then you’d really have to suspend disbelief for all the Brienne dreck. Troy did sword fights well, particulary the Achilles/Hector battle.

  14. Mark Mitchell
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Guys, I think you need to go to the Historical Armed Combat Assn website and watch some videos. I think historical combat is the way to go, but not because I am some history buff. The truth is that medieval knights were incredibly well trained in battle. There is an artistic flair represented by the fighting form’s true martial arts nature. It isn’t just swinging and dodging. Historical accuracy makes for some amazingly cool fights. It also makes for some amazingly cool violence. I will choke if I see another armored head getting cut off in battle. Real medieval battle wounds were much more cleaving, maiming, piercing and bludgeoning. Movie battle wounds are much more slicing, impaling and amputations. I think there needs to be at least SOME push for this up front lest we wind up with LEGEND OF THE SEEKER.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I think Kingdom of Heaven had good fight scenes. I loved the way it was shot. I would approach ASOIAF in a similar way.

  16. SubTech Zero
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Oeffinger Freidenker: I completely agree with you. I was also let down by the gladiator scene in Rome – it didn’t feel “actiony” enough. I’ve been worried about this affecting Game of Thrones for some time … HBO has great drama, yes, but I’ve yet to find a show of theirs that had terrific action.

    Now, the meat and potatos of this series is ACTING, but the fight scenes are also very important. As far as stylizing them goes, I agree on the LOTR idea. A bit more than real, but nothing absurd. Kingdom of Heaven works as well.

    However, let’s not forget about Water Dancers. They’re straight up Jedi, right outta Star Wars, and I’d expect no less when Syrio fights off Meryn Trant (if they do indeed show this iconic scene in the series)

  17. Anonymous
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I think we’re making too big of a deal out of this whole fighting thing. I believe that the writers will concentrate on more of the politics and other drama of the story just because its more on what Song of Ice and fire is about, it would be cheaper, and it would be more artistic. Personally I hope to God that there is a good balance between the action and the drama. One example of this is the battle on the Blackwater, I got goosebumps imagining it in film. The fighting style should be as diverse as the story, characters, and setting. Some of it should play like Braveheart and LotR, others (maybe in flashback sequences) should be more 300ish, while others (more in the one-on-one category) could be Star Wars-y (the Water Dancers/Arya) or like the scene in Eastern Promises when Viggo fights those mobsters in the bath house (gritty like two animals)= fighting for their lives) one fight that made me think of this was the duel between Gregor Clegane and Prince Doran.

  18. Wired Grenadier
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    IIRC, the Thalhofer school offers a good basic style of fighting that can be “improved” to fit the scenes quite well, I’d say. It’s fast, so it can look flashy, it combines enough swordplay with quite a lot of grappling and wrestling, and it’s an overall good guideline for fighters in an environment who know the (armour) weaknesses and strengths of their opposites. Besides that, there is ample introduction material available in it, and actual fencing schools teaching it.

    Shouldn’t stress their budget too much to give two of those trainers a ticket and fly them in on the set to give pre-shooting group lessons for a couple of days.

  19. Oeffinger Freidenker
    Posted December 24, 2008 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    No, that of course not. I don’t want to speak against historical fighting ways in general, but if they have to make the choice between stylish and realistic, they should go for the stylish part.

  20. Anonymous
    Posted December 25, 2008 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I agree that they should select a middle ground between stylish and realistic: no Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stlye antics, more in the way of LOTR et al.

    I don’t think the Water Dancers are “jedi-like,” it’s just a different stlye of fighting. The Braavosi fight showing their profile and using one hand as they have adapted to an environment where fully armoured Knights are not the norm, and thus blows that would deflect off lairs of leather, plate and mail would do some serious damage to someone like Syrio. His is a more fencing style, it’s not crazy Yoda leaps all over the shop, but a reliance on speed to survive.

    To Freidenker’s post some way up, 300 isn’t born from fantasy, it’s from the story of the Battle of Thermopolyae in 5th century BC Greece, during the second Persian Wars, and chronicled by several scholars, prominently Herodotus and Xenaphon, and thus it has been “fantasised”, but is from real history. [SPOILER] Also Jaime wouldn’t fight people with his left hand just to show how good he is. His right gets cut off by Vargo Hoat and co. and then you see what he’s like with his left.

  21. Anonymous
    Posted December 25, 2008 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    LotR was absolute tripe in the fighting department. I sure hope that ASOIAF doesn’t use a similar style, simply because I don’t want to see armoured knights collapsing in a heap because an old hero with a stick tapped him on the collarbone.

    IMHO, Kingdom of Heaven was one of the better Hollywood movies in the swordsmanship department. I clapped when Liam Neeson used his sword’s guard to demonstrate to Balian why the blade isn’t the only part of the sword that can kill. We need moments like that in ASOIAF, just to get rid of the drivel that movies have filled people’s minds with.

    What I’d appreciate is a good foundation based on historical styles, and a *bit* of stylistic flair and individuality. The Hound would go for the no-nonsense, brutal strikes that emphasize his physical ability and rage, Bronn would fight like Captain Vimes, etc etc.

  22. Steppe Merc
    Posted December 25, 2008 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Kingdom of Heaven’s cavalry battles were mediocre, especially with the none knights. There was not one horse archer amongst Sal-al Din’s Turks, and that was one of the many reasons they mopped the floor with the Crusaders!
    Then you compare it to the the brilliant cavalry charge in Return of the King. And cavalry is what its about military wise, not dueling with swords. Sure it looks nice, but it doesn’t win battles.

  23. Anonymous
    Posted December 26, 2008 at 2:02 am | Permalink

    Note that I singled out the swordsmanship and not the battle scenes.

    I noticed that in KoH, there weren’t any scenes where horse archers could have put in an appearance. The initial confrontation between the opposing forces at Kerak ended without bloodshed, so you wouldn’t have had a chance to see them in action. There was a later scene where the Muslims were maneuvering on horseback, but this focuses on the lancers and the shock cavalry. Also, you only get to see the aftermath of the destruction of the Crusader forces under Guy, so that rules out another scene. That leaves the siege. We do not know, but they may have fought dismounted. It’s certainly rather hard to tell when there’s no label on the soldiers. Saladin was known as a good commander, so I’ll leave you to decide if he’d have deployed mounted archers in a siege. :P

    The cavalry charge in LotR was suitably epic, but there’s a great number of flaws with the scene. Also, note the general exaggeration of strikes and wounds throughout the trilogy. You have Aragorn cleaving off the armoured arm of the orc commander (?) and Gandalf killing an orc by tapping Glamdring on his collarbone (!), just to name a few. You also have the classic pirouettes and spins just to demonstrate how superior these heroes are to unnamed mooks, which is not something you want to have in ASOIAF. It is emphasized throughout the series that combat is deadly, and you see many characters in the series and novellas succumb to wounds that the typical fantasy heroes would have shrugged off. It would cheapen GRRM’s efforts to depict this if we were to have heroes who repeatedly violate the basics of melee combat.

  24. SteppeMerc
    Posted December 27, 2008 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Of course he wouldn’t use horse archers in a siege. He also wouldn’t use flaming projectiles against a STONE wall. And most if not all of his shock cavalry, the ghulam slave warrior elite, would have been equipped with bows. That is why they were superior to knights, the ability to use bows, swords and lances.

  25. Anonymous
    Posted December 28, 2008 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    That detracts from their purpose, doesn’t it? Shock cavalry are supposed to do what it says on the tin, not be a jack of all trades.

    Also, I’d like a response to something other than the obvious joke.

  26. world-dancer
    Posted December 30, 2008 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how much realism they can manage. I think the best plan for realism with the larger weaponry is to focus on momentum and where the weight of a sword will carry the person and the sword itself during the blocking.

    I can’t remember the name of Arya’s teacher off hand (is that the Sandor you’re referring to?) but I would presume its much more a traditional fencing style. I know the absolutely perfect actor who would also be a geeky shout out — Mandy Patinkin. He played in Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride and is a well-known stage actor. Getting him would set the style up as different via visual cues very easily, and lend a sort of credibility and background to a character we don’t see much and who is likely dead at the end of the first book.

  27. Farris
    Posted December 31, 2008 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Get F Braun McAsh, the sword coordinater from the Highlander TV Series to do it. See, he will actually read the books before he choriographs the fights. he is seasoned, accurate, and true to the story with his fighting scenes. He wants his fights to help tell the story of the character fighting, not just be flashy, unrealistic screen porn. He would make a good addition to this cast.

  28. Anonymous
    Posted July 29, 2009 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    First of all sorry for such a quick response to this discussion;p
    Second – sorry for my poor english.

    I can't agree that historically acurate fighting scenes means "boring".

    Please acknowledge that
    (i) the use of historically acurate western martial techniques is NOT equal with making realistic fight choreography…In fact one has nothing to do with the other ;] Historically accurate fights would mean only use of proper sword techniques and not katana/rapier moves used in most of productions.

    (ii)There are hundreds of moves that are both great looking and historically accurate. Please look at some of them:

    ———DISCLAIMER———————–
    All of above techniques are not made-up but carefully recreated from medieval manuals.
    ——————————————

    just check this and definitely some halfsword throws

    and above else – look what the guys in silly hats can do!

    Recently HBO did a great job in debunking myths about various settings (western, ancient Rome) and showing how things really were I hope they'll do the same with medieval swordsmanship. I certainly couldn't take any more idiotic edge bashing

    Love to WIC and all the readers.

  29. F. Braun McAsh
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    As a professional choreographer, I strive to combine realistic and authentic technique with a certain degree of dramatic license since the first duty of the choreographer is to tell the story of the fight. If you are using nothing but historical techniques you are making a documentary.
    That having been said, you must understand that one of the main reasons I strive to use historically authentic technique is that I almost always use accurate replicas of the ancient weapons. Using authentic technique is safer since you are not attempting to force the weapon to execute moves for which it was not designed.
    You might wish to look at my book, FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY – a Practical Guide, from Crowood Press.


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