The biggest director to come out of Game of Thrones is probably Miguel Sapochnik. He directed some of the show’s most iconic moments, including the Massacre at Hardhome, the Battle of the Bastards, and the destruction of the Sept of Baelor. (And now he’s a co-showrunner on the prequel series House of the Dragon, so expect more from this guy.)
But any show as complicated as Game of Thrones is going to have a raft of great directing talent, and early on the brightest star in the lineup was Alan Taylor, who directed the final two episodes of the first season. That means he directed the death of Ned Stark in “Baelor,” which George R.R. Martin himself said, “could not have been done better.”
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about the director, Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss called his style “cinematic and precise.” Knowing his work on shows like The Sopranos, Rome, Lost, Six Feet Under and Deadwood, the pair were eager to hire him. “If you’ve been watching television this century and you’ve been paying attention to the credits, how could you not be a fan?” they said. “He directed some of our favorite episodes of some of the best series ever made.”
And Taylor pulled his weight. In addition to expertly directing the death of Ned Stark, he also pulled off the birth of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons in the season 1 finale, “Fire and Blood.” In the behind-the-scenes book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, Emilia Clarke recalled how Taylor helped draw out her personal feelings of apprehension and uncertainty, which made the scene more textured. And it was Taylor who suggested that the scene be set at dawn rather than in the night, as it is in Martin’s books. That way he could dramatically reveal the vast landscape as the baby dragons cried out. “The sequence and timing of those shots was in his head from the beginning,” Benioff and Weiss said. “The scene is pretty much exactly the one he described to us from before we shot a frame.”
When Alan Taylor lost his way with Marvel
Taylor returned to Game of Thrones in season 2 to direct four episodes, including the premiere and the finale. And he would have stayed longer, but it was around then that he got an offer to direct Thor: The Dark World for Marvel. “It seemed like this was the next big step,” Taylor said. “It felt necessary and ‘onward and upward.’“
Taylor says he was brought onto the movie to “bring some Game of Thrones to it,” but by that point the movie was already in some trouble; original director Patty Jenkins (wisely) left after deciding she couldn’t make a good movie with the script they had. And indeed, to this day The Dark World is considered one of the lesser Marvel movies, even though it was successful financially.
From there Taylor took another high-profile job directing Terminator Genisys, on which he re-teamed with Emilia Clarke. Once again, there were warning signs, but once again, the prospect of working on something so big was alluring. “All the voices in my head, and all the ones around me, were saying I should do it because who didn’t love the first two films?” Taylor said. “I thought we would go in and fix the script and everything could be great.”
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out either, and Genisys landed with a thud. “I had lost the will to make movies,” Taylor said. “I lost the will to live as a director. I’m not blaming any person for that. The process was not good for me. So I came out of it having to rediscover the joy of filmmaking.”
Taylor eventually returned to Game of Thrones to direct the season 7 episode “Beyond the Wall,” which has a bad reputation among fans but which Taylor found refreshing. “That was a healing process, too,” he said.
These days Taylor is back on TV; he’s directing the pilot for AMC’s Interview with the Vampire show as well as working on Netflix’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. And who knows? Maybe he’ll return to Westeros when Game of Thrones spinoff House of the Dragon premieres on HBO later this year.