In light of Friday’s stunning reveal of exactly what we all suspected (if you don’t want to know what that reveal is, best stop reading), it’s time we talk about what’s happening in Saintfield, Northern Ireland.
But first, a little bit of background for those who might not be quite as obsessive over the show’s filming norms as we are here at WiC. Game of Thrones has a six-month filming schedule, one that takes place in several countries simultaneously, as everyone films different plotlines that will overlap within episodes. Part of the reason the show sticks to the assigning of two side-by-side episodes per director is that this makes it slightly easier to manage. Each director is basically doing a two-hour movie, and the show is just filming five of them at once. Though the production has the biggest budget in television, the production works hard to conserve every penny. That means that filming—especially on-site location filming, which incurs a far higher price tag that in-studio filming does—is done in a brutally efficient manner. As Thrones watchers in Ireland can tell you, those pink signs go up, and then straightaway, they come back down again before you can even blink. For example, this season Winterfell went up, and came back down in the space of two weeks. Sometimes filming on location happens so fast, it’s already over before we even hear about it. Call it the “wham bam thank you ma’am” school of television filming.
There are three notable exceptions to this rule. The first was Season 2’s “Blackwater,” which took four weeks to film, three weeks of which were the battle scenes on the water and on the shore. The second was Season 4’s “The Watchers on the Wall,” which took three (two of which were for the battle sequence.) The last one was last season’s “Hardhome”, which took a whopping five weeks. That last one is also notable, because unlike the other two, where the month or close to a month-long stretch of filming covers the entire episode, “Hardhome’s” five-week shooting schedule was only for the back 20 minutes of the hour.
What does that have to do with Saintfield? Well, we can start with that fact that the production has been parked on that field filming since the middle of August. They’ve been filming a battle since the first week of September. In total, that’s six weeks of filming and counting, half of which has been dedicated to the battle sequence. For comparison, in the time they’ve taken to film just the battle scene, the production has already finished in three of six filming locations in Spain on the docket, and by the end of the week will finish the fourth. Filming in Saintfield continues this week, which now marks four weeks of shooting just this battle scene.
What in heaven’s name are they filming? I have a theory. Let’s play “What do we know?”
- Per the pictures on Friday, Kit Harington will be involved in the battle scene. Welcome back, Jon Snow.
- We know that the director standing there talking to Kit Harington is Miguel Sapochnik.
- We know, according to the lineup, that Sapochnik is doing episodes 9 and 10.
- We know that, despite last season’s outlier pacing with episodes 8 and 9 having a longer back end scene that represented “Ice” and “Fire” respectively and episode 10 as the climactic episode of the season, the production really likes having their climatic battles in episode 9. Moreover, they’ve done a single location battle-centric episode 9 in both even numbered seasons so far. Chances are high we’ll get another one in Season 6.
- Sapochinik did “Hardhome.” He is the only director who is experienced in doing these tough CGI-heavy battles, and it was universally agreed that his direction and conception of how to go about such a fantastical battle sequence was key to pulling it off.
- All spoiler rumors coming out of this site are variations on the same theme. Boltons vs a Northern coalition that includes many of Robb’s former allies (Umbers and Karstarks), plus the wildlings and Jon Snow. So far, we’ve all happily taken that at face value. The North taking down the Boltons. Groovy.
But this is where I want to point out that last year, we were given a level of misdirection when it came to the Hardhome battle. Now, this was partly because the show filmed it at Magheramorne quarry, which (unlike Saintfield) was a lot easier to lock down in terms of secrecy. We had one or two reports from locals about a “new set,” but the pictures weren’t clear about what it was or what is was for. The first real news we got about the coming battle at Hardhome was when the production revealed it in the A Day In The Life special. And even then, all they mentioned was the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings, and we assumed the battle was between those groups. It wasn’t until a certain shot in an Inside GoT video on the subject of stunts that we first got a clue that White Walkers, or the Night’s King, might be involved. With that in mind…
- What if this is a battle that starts out between the Northern Coalition, and finds itself interrupted by the arrival of a Winter storm that brings loads of wights down upon mankind? That’s a huge multi-fronted battle scene. Not only that, but that sort of battle would probably include night fighting, which would explain why reports suggest that the production is shooting both during the day and at night, plus a mention of night shoots at the Emmys.
Another point: one of the complaints we heard going into last season was: when is Winter going to get here already? The show answered with Hardhome.
The next question is: When will the people south of the Wall get a clue already? Clearly it needs to be when some of the Northerners see what’s coming. Not to be racist against those who live north of the Wall (Wallist?), but you know that the chances of powerful lords listening to wildlings about some Night’s King raising the dead will get a laughing “Oh yeah, and my Old Nan also used to tell me stories about The Rat Cook!” Hearing it from Jon Snow might get a frowning listen, but a few whispers of “wildling-lover” would soon have him backburnered. The only way these lords in the Riverlands and further south are going to start taking this seriously is if they hear it from a shell-shocked Karstark, who they know well, have drunk heavily with, and have cheated on their wife in the same brothel as.
But how might the White Walkers come to the fight in the North? Did the Wall fall? Has it been breached? Where are the Night’s Watch? Is it possible that the end of this season begins the time referred to as The Long Night?
- This is an important point. The Night’s Watch are never mentioned in the rumors about this battle. We need to know what happened to them. Are we going to see the end of the Night’s Watch this season?
- Of special note is that the outfit Jon Snow is wearing in the picture from Friday is not a Night’s Watch uniform. Is he is no longer a member of that illustrious body? What happened there?
By the way, can we talk about this outfit for a minute? Because it brings me to my next point.
- Everyone keeps talking about the death of “a Stark we don’t expect.” So far speculation on said Stark has ranged from the littlest most forgotten Stark, Rickon, to Undead Uncle Benjen. But what if the Stark everyone means is Jon? I mean, look at that outfit. Not a speck of black on him. In fact, the cut and color are deliberately recalling outfits we saw Ned Stark wear in Season 1 and Robb sport in Seasons 2 and 3. Now, Stannis is dead, and I assume his offer to make legitimize Jon Snow died with him. But somehow I suspect that when it comes to Season 6, we’ll learn that, Aes Sedai-style, everyone involved in the production was telling the truth—just not the truth you thought you heard. Jon Snow is dead. Jon Stark has risen.
- And if the reports of the “death” are true, does that mean Jon Stark rises regularly, Beric Dondarrion style? Or is this the first time we see that Jon Stark takes a licking and keeps on ticking, so long as Melisandre is nearby? More than a few people are certain that’s her standing under the umbrella in these shots.
Could the big battle this season be Hardhome Part Two? With all the evidence laid out before us like this, it’s very suggestive that it is. One of Game of Thrones‘ biggest issues is that each season they have to top themselves in some manner. And especially in light of the “Game over man, game over!” reaction to the Massacre at Hardhome, it’s hard to imagine that they would dedicate an entire episode to a snow bound battle that didn’t wind up finding itself as a fight between Humanity and the Others.
And to be entirely honest, though I would like to see Jon Snow (Or Jon Stark) be the one to take Ramsay down (and I would also be the first one in line to term it “The Snowbowl”), if Ramsey is taken out by a wight, or a White Walker? That would be just fine too.