Interview Production Season 4

Emmy-Nominated Director Neil Marshall details his work on the Battle of Castle Black

In less than two weeks we’ll find out if Neil Marshall will take home an Emmy for his work on the penultimate episode of Season 4, The Watchers on the Wall.

Marshall once again delivered one of the most action packed and visually stunning episodes of Game of Thrones to date, arguably topping his work on Blackwater. In a bit of a refresher course before the big night, he breaks down the most difficult, exciting, and heartbreaking moments of the Battle at Castle Black in a new interview with Buzzfeed.

Marshall had nine weeks to complete the episode, with 4 weeks dedicated solely to pre-production. Marhsll admits that one of the most difficult elements of the entire episode was simply getting the mammoths right.

“Given that these scenes involved multiple elements — the live-action plates, the giants (real eight-foot tall guys shot against green screen), and the mammoth itself, 100% CGI — making sure when you add these elements together they line up correctly … these were easily the most complex scenes I’ve ever shot.”

The crew used a large green frame moved by four men in green suits during rehearsal to make sure all of the moving parts of the shot were in the right place. They then filmed the exact same action without the mammoth frame, leaving an empty space for the mammoth to be filled in.

Marshall had to leave the rest up to the VFX team, and wasn’t disappointed. “I know that the creators of the show wouldn’t allow anything less than a 100% convincing mammoth. I’m very grateful for having such brilliant VFX supervisors around to make sure it was going to work. And it so did!”

Marshall was equally as excited as most of us viewers when Jon Snow left his post atop the wall and rolled into action.

“It’s felt like Jon’s been a lion kept on a leash for the entire series, and now he finally let off the leash — and mayhem ensues. It feels like a really satisfying moment dramatically. This is Jon not only assuming leadership but leading by example.”

One of the more memorable shots from the episode, and a pure treat to watch, was the 360 degree view of the battle. Marshall explains the purpose of the shot, and the satisfaction everyone involved felt when they nailed it.

“As soon as I saw the set for the first time I knew I wanted to pull off a 360 shot — the set and action were just screaming for it. Having a shot like this that binds all the characters and their actions together really helps the audience understand what’s happening, so they remain involved in the scene. We blocked the shot and rehearsed for about an hour or two, then got it in seven takes.”

“Once we pulled off the 360 shot, the entire crew gave themselves and each other a big round of applause, and it was well deserved. That nobody got hit by the camera, which was sweeping past their heads at incredible speed, was a miracle in itself. But everyone had their timing and moves down to perfection and that’s why it only took seven takes. That was a great moment.”

However, Marshall reveals that the scene he’s proudest of was a much quieter, and still moment – Ygritte’s death. He says he felt a great responsibility to the writers and the fans in handling the death of a character who was loved by many, and explains why he chose to use slo-motion to make the scene more impactful.

“I had to overcome the issue of these two characters having such a painful and intimate scene within the context of a battle. I achieved this by using slo-motion — one of the very few times it’s been used in Game of Thrones — in order to visually and aurally force the battle into the background, leaving them almost trapped in this moment, allowing it to play out in a more poignant manner and pack a more powerful dramatic punch.”

The entire episode was truly a great achievement in the realm of television, and Marshall was very pleased with the outcome.

“I’m very happy with everything I did on this episode. I’d never say 100% happy, but certainly not far off!”

For the full interview, visit Buzzfeed!

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  • The Watchers on the Wall is incredible, and the work undertaken by everyone involved admirable. First class work all around.

  • I think The Watchers on the Wall was EPIC! Kit Harington and all cast was awesome, amazing director, big scenes… GOOSEBUMPS! Congrats!

  • I remember watching that episode from my hotel in Myrtle Beach, having just arrived on vacation. I knew from the intro credits that it had to be an episode completely dedicated to the Wall and the Wildling attack and it did not dissapoint. One thing I noticed after watching the episode for the second time is that the Thenn who Sam kills with an arrow through the face is the Warg Thenn played by Joseph Gatt. Overall very fun episode. On a side note, I have read that Neil Marshall is kinda of a stuck up asshole in real life, but that may not be true at all

  • Jambo,

    I couldn’t agree more. I’d love to see him come back for some battle heavy episodes in the last few seasons. Season 4 is my favorite season, and episode 4.9 is my favorite episode of the series. The people I watched it with were blown away.

  • Loved this episode! My husband has rewatched this episode six times On-Demand– he isn’t a book reader and he says this one is his favorite. I really hope Neil Marshall wins for directing — everyone (cast & crew) deserve recognition for the great work!