Catherine Goldschmidt served as a cinematographer on the first season of House of the Dragon and will return for the second. She even earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Episode 8, “The Lord of the Tides,” aka the one where King Viserys I Targaryen hobbles his way to the Iron Throne so he can help his daughter.
That sequence is pretty much always the one people cite when asked about their favorite scenes, and Goldschmidt is no different. “My favorite sequence to film I think has to be our throne room scene where Viserys sits the Iron Throne again and Vaemond is beheaded,” she told Awards Radar. “It was such a long, complicated scene to film, with all the major characters coming together again. The shifting power dynamics were such a treat to photograph, but my favorite part of the scene has to be Viserys’ entrance. We filmed his entrance primarily from his POV, and coupled with Paddy Considine’s incredible performance – it still gives me chills when I watch it.”
Everybody came together on that episode to make sure that Viserys looked as frail and feeble as possible, while we cried our eyes out in front of our TVs. “For example, the Art Dept cut a hole in his bed so he could sink into it more, appearing smaller,” Goldschmidt remembered. “Hair and Make-up, including SFX Prosthetics, did an incredible job of aging Paddy, and we shot some tests to make sure the prosthetics worked with the lighting.”
The way the audience is introduced to Viserys for the first time in our episode is through Rhaenyra’s PoV. She hasn’t seen her father in 6 years, and doesn’t know how frail he’s become. I loved shooting this scene because again, we got to build some mystery and suspense with Viserys’ slow reveal. What’s important about showing his vulnerability in this scene is that Rhaenyra has come back to the Red Keep to defend her son’s claim to the Driftmark throne and by extension her claim to the Iron Throne, and she needs her father’s help to do this. When she sees how weak and frail he’s become in her absence, she understands how precarious her position now is. Once the audience sees Viserys through Rhaenyra’s eyes as a bedridden invalid who is barely conscious, then it is even more of a shock when we reveal his arrival later in the throne room. In shooting his arrival primarily from his perspective, we show how difficult it is for him to cross that gigantic room in his current pained state, and therefore how important it must be to him to defend his daughter’s claim.
There is just no forgetting that walk. Another round of applause for everyone involved in this scene:
How is shooting House of the Dragon different from shooting Game of Thrones?
As a prequel to Game of Thrones, obviously House of the Dragon shares a lot of visual similarities with its progenitor show. But Goldschmidt also shared how the new series looks different. “I loved how Game of Thrones was shot, and we referenced it a lot while shooting House of the Dragon, but that said we were definitely trying to do our own thing,” she said. “The cameras and lensing we used were totally different to GoT– we shot large format on the Alexa 65 and the Alexa Mini LF. Color was used deliberately on GoT to delineate between the worlds and the families, but on HotD, we’re in King’s Landing most of the time, focusing solely on the Targaryens. This freed us up to connect color more subtly to character and emotion, which in Episode 108 for us meant a colder, darker look with more contrast. Like GoT, we move the camera mostly on dollies and cranes with almost no handheld, but unlike GoT, we used a lot of Steadicam as well. For me, Steadicam is a tool that lets us really stay close to a character and experience the world through their eyes.
The visual challenge of HotD, at least as I saw it in my approach on Episode 108, was really to show the emotional story of all the characters. Every choice I made related to camera and lighting was not only grounded in reality in terms of the historical time period, but also in terms of being connected directly to the characters’ emotional arcs.
And of course, there are a lot more dragons on House of the Dragon; it’s right there in the title. But accounting for them isn’t as tricky as you might think. “I have to say that everything on House of the Dragon is larger than you might expect, not just the dragons!” Goldschmidt said. “The scale of the sets was larger than anything I’d lit before. The size of the crew was bigger than any I’d led before. But the thing about size, just to state the obvious, is that it is scalable. In other words, you just multiply what you’d normally do by 2 or 3 or 4, and then it’s all the same. For example, if I was used to shooting a dinner table scene with say 6 major characters and 2 cameras, on HotD, our dinner table scene had 12 major characters and I shot it with 4 cameras. So, it becomes a math problem. And the way the dragons are approached on the show is exactly the same. We know the size of every dragon and how it fits in the spaces and the sets. We ground all of our creative decisions very much in reality so that the tone of the show is more historical epic than it is fantasy.”
House of the Dragon season 2
Obviously, Goldschmidt couldn’t give away anything about the upcoming second season of the show, but did say that she and “The Lord of the Tides” director Geeta Patel have more to do this time around, which can only be a good thing.
“I learned many things last season, but chief among them is how to stay true to the tone of the show and still put my personal, creative stamp on my work,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s a very delicate balance, but I think because everyone liked what Geeta and I did with our episode last season, it meant that this season, we are being trusted with even more responsibility. It’s a wonderful thing to have your hard work rewarded, and I know Geeta and I are both very grateful to the showrunners Ryan Condal and Miguel Sapotchnik for the creative freedom they gave us last season.”
Indeed, where Patel only directed one episode in season 1, she’s directing two in season 2. I look forward to seeing what she and Goldschmidt bring to the table when the new episodes premiere on HBO and Max sometime next year.
As for the Emmys, they’ve been delayed on account of the ongoing actors and writers strikes in Hollywood. Whenever they happy, best of luck to Goldschmidt!