Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss deliberately tasked Alex Graves with directing Season 4’s biggest moments. After tackling the Purple Wedding and its fallout, and the trial by combat that crushed viewer hearts around the world, Sunday’s finale proved to be the hardest task of all, packed with huge moments from start to finish. In a number of new interviews this week, Graves details the challenges of creating such important scenes, and the major turn we’ve taken in the story.
TV Guide teased us late last week with some quotes from their interview with Graves, and now we have the answers to which scene contained the best writing he’s even seen, which was the toughest to film, and which had been a decade in the making.
Was there anything tricky about that Tywin-Tyrion scene, such as the logistics of shooting in a confined space?
It was an extremely small set, and it was built on the second floor of another set, so we had to have elevated platforms to get close-ups and stuff. The entire thing was about Charles’ and Peter’s performances before the moment and really delivering a face-off that I’ve known about for over a year, Peter has known about it since he’s signed on to the show and [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have been waiting to make it for something like a decade. And also for me personally, it was Charles Dance’s final scene in the show. I’ve loved all of them, loved working with him. I really wanted it to be something to be proud of. And it was easy because Charles was incredible, and Peter was too. It turned out incredibly well.
Similarly, Tyrion has an emotional scene with his ex-lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli). What was the key to that scene — the initial confrontation and of course his eventually killing her?
The key to that scene was capturing the unfolding panic that results in her death. Peter and I talked a lot about it. We’ve thought a lot about the fact that they had been so successful in portraying that love story, moreso than the [in] the books, that it was very hard. I was terrified of that scene. That was one of my toughest … much harder for me than Joffrey’s death by far. It was really making sure that we were with [Tyrion] in the moment of, “This can’t possibly be happening. It’s the most psychologically traumatic event that I could imagine, and she’s reaching for a knife — what do I do?” And it goes wrong fast, like everything else does that night. One thing leads to another.
Can you discuss the challenges of the Brienne-Hound fight and Arya and Brienne’s meeting?
It started with a just a meeting about the story of the fight. What happened and who’s winning and why are they winning this point? The other thing is that, you’re also taking two knights in a way that’s never been done on the show, pitting them against another knight, the likes of which they have never seen. You’ve got the Hound fighting a woman, and you’ve got Brienne fighting a guy who could kill her, and she’s not used to that. They were taken to a place that’s so primal, a place they’ve never been before, because each of them takes place in the fight with the thought that they’re going to get killed. There’s a little buildup, there’s a huge rise and fall to it that has to do with people who have beat the odds and also has to do with who has any strength left internally. They’ve both been through so much. Who’s more determined to save a little girl who they don’t realize yet is too old to be saved?
The thing with Brienne where she finds Arya (Maisie Williams) and they chitchat until the Hound comes out was possibly my favorite. It was one of those scenes when I read it that I thought about every day until I directed it. I couldn’t wait to direct it because it’s four people coming together at exactly the wrong moment and everything going wrong. The more they try to make everything right, the more everything’s going wrong. It’s some of the best writing I’ve ever seen.
In an interview with Variety, Graves shares his insight on David and Dan’s decision to accelerate Bran Stark’s storyline and have it peak in the season’s final episode, and details how the complicated skeleton battle came together.
“One of the brilliant moves that David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] did … is they pulled this crescendo in Brandon Stark’s story up and put it into this episode. In other words, they almost jumped forward a year in what happens to Bran, because let’s face it, we’re tired of him being carried across the continent by Hodor. When I read the outline, I called David and Dan, I went straight to Hollywood and met them and I said, ‘Are we talking about the zombie guys that we’ve been doing or could these guys be viciously dangerous?’ They said, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be great.’ So they go across this snow plain and skeletons start to come out of the snow, à la Ray Harryhausen, who we sort of privately dedicated the sequence to. They come out of the snow at 90 miles per hour, and they are there to kill Brandon and Jojen before they get there, and they’ve been waiting for like a thousand years. Nobody knew about the sequence and it [wasn't] in any of the marketing, which is the most brilliant marketing move I’ve seen.”
“The logistics were that it was far too complex to shoot in Iceland in six hours of daylight and ten below weather. So we had a couple meetings about it, and I was really worried about needing to film it where the backgrounds were neutral in case whatever we did with skeletons needed to be manipulated dramatically with green screen. Chris Newman, who is one of the great producers on the show, had found this French film where they created these skeletons using guys with a certain technical approach. It was a poor man’s motion control but it worked really well. We needed to do something like that, because it was such a fast-paced action sequence … I storyboarded that sequence on napkins at a restaurant on my third day on the job, because we had to get going on it. To tell you the truth, we started working on it last May, and they finished it about two weeks ago. So it was a combination of, we’ve got to shoot at night; we have to create a gigantic set of ice plain in a rock quarry in Northern Ireland; we’re going to have stuntmen who are almost anorexic, wearing skeletal costumes over green leotards; choreograph the shots — we actually pre-shot it on my little camera and cut it together. That was when we started to get excited and when we started to go, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’ It was very complicated.”
Graves spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about creating the final scene, and the major turning points that were laid out in the episode. He also reveals that Sansa’s transformation scene was originally slated to be in the finale.
That last shot was gorgeous. Where did you shoot the final scene?
There is a ship they use for a lot of the ships. We shot it in a parking lot in Ireland where they have the ship. It was at a point in the season where there is no money left. But I thought “The hell with it. I’m going to draw it the way I think it should go,” and I drew that huge shot. I went in the next day and I got looks like, “Why are you doing this to us? We hate you.” Then as is always the case with the producers on the show, they turned around and said, “This is the final moment. We think it’s great and we have to do it.” They figured out a way to move the money around and make it happen, and I’m very grateful for that.
This episode had big turning points for most of the characters.
Don’t forget the dual meaning of the title. Is the title about the children of the forest, or is the title about the Stark children? You’re watching the Starks have major turns in the story, including Sansa [Sophie Turner] in episode eight where she is becoming the Lady of the Eyrie. That scene was originally in the finale. Last season ended with the Starks being wiped out. This season is ending with the Lannister family being wiped out.
You’ll be taking time off from Game of Thrones next year. You’ve set up so many great storylines for season five — is there one in particular you are looking forward to seeing or wish you’d be able to direct?
Besides all of them, I will say Cersei. Lena is such a brilliant actor that I’m really into seeing what she’s going to do next. But also, you saw the finale last night. What do you think is going to happen when Cersei wakes up? Jaime set Tyrion free and he killed her father on the way out. She is going to be really pissed off. I don’t think I’m giving up anything if you think about what Cersei wakes up to in the morning.
Be sure to click through to all of the interviews to read all that Graves had to say about the finale episode. His talent and dedication to the story will certainly be missed in Season 5.
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