Probably the most iconic moment from the final season of Game of Thrones comes about halfway through, when Arya Stark leaps out of the darkness of the godswood intent on stabbing the Night King and ending his reign of terror before it can begin. He catches her by the throat, and the world holds its breath…but then she drops her knife into her other hand, stabs him in the stomach, and he and his followers shatter into piles of ice cubes.
I know this stirred up some controversy online, but one of my favorite things about this scene was the way Arya effectively came out of nowhere, using her Faceless Man skills to slip by the Night King’s lieutenants to make a run at the man himself — there’s a great shot where one of the White Walkers notices an errant wind blowing a strand of his hair, and the next thing we know: bam! Arya Stark, world savior.
But it wasn’t always this way. At one point, the Game of Thrones team had a plan to show what happened to Arya after Melisandre pointed her in the Night King’s direction but before she landed the killing blow. As you can see in this art from Game of Thrones concept artist Kieran Belshaw, it would have involved Arya leaping over rooftops on her way to the godswood:
But in the end, those interstitial bits were dropped. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, director Miguel Sapochnik explains the thinking behind that:
I questioned everything and we worked long and hard to find the right balance of credibility versus wish fulfillment. Then we shot it and reshot it and found that what was really important was rhythm. At one point there was an elaborate plan to have her fight her way into the Weirwood forest, but as we progressed we realized she’d already done that earlier in the episode, so it felt like a repeat. In the end we felt it didn’t matter how she got there — what mattered was setting up that moment when the Night King catches her mid-leap and we think she’s done for, then she pulls her knife switch and takes him out. I loved Maisie’s performance post the takedown as well, sharing a moment with her brother, Bran. That weary smile. “Not today.”
I’m pretty much in agreement, for the record; it never occurred to me to wonder how exactly Arya had gotten from Point A to Point B — we know she can move well. Some things call out for explanations but I don’t think that’s one of them. Plus, as Sapochnik said, we’d already seen her do a lot of fighting that episode, and tracing her journey would have taken away from the surprise factor.
Also, I like thinking that Jon screaming at Viserion may have distracted the undead dragon long enough for Arya to slip into the godswood and save the world. Someone’s gotta scream at the dragons, right?
Sapochnik also talked a bit about his shooting schedule on The Long Night, which was legendarily arduous:
We started shooting in January in Northern Ireland in a place called Toome that is known as one of the coldest places in that region. We finished shooting in mid-April. Monday to Friday I would usually work nights from 5 p.m to 5 a.m., depending on what time it got dark. Then Saturday midday I’d go to the edit room and review what we’d done, cut some scenes and discuss the next week’s work. Sunday I’d scout or rehearse on location in the daytime, then try to stay up as long as possible, shot-listing in preparation for going back to nights on Monday.
Sapochnik is one of three directors on season 8 nominated for an Emmy this year. September 22 is gonna be interesting. Of the three Thrones directors nominated, I’d prefer that he take it, both because filming “The Long Night” sounds like absolute hell and in honor of his contributions to the show over the years — he’s also the guy who directed “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.”