Jon Snow facing the incoming cavalry. Photo courtesy HBO
As soon as we wrote Episode 9, we knew that it would have to operate on a scale that wed never operated before said Executive Producer and Writer, D.B. Weiss, of the exceptionally popular penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season Six, Battle of the Bastards. All of it is action with almost no dialogue and lots of horses and many extras and the giants he elaborated of the challenge before them.
This episode broke records as soon as it aired, setting the record for an all-time high of 8.89 million live viewers, proving to be the most watched show in HBO history. Later when award season rolled around, out of the twelve Emmys awarded to Game of Thrones as a whole, seven were awarded to this particular episode alone setting another record. While realistic scriptwriting, believable acting, intricate production and design are all part and parcel of a successful work of art such as this, it also relies heavily upon special effects, computer generated images(CGI) and graphics rendered to near-perfect realism.
However, it is important to note that some crucial footage was organic and not computer-based, like that beautifully composed scene of that cavalry of horses charging at a solitary Jon Snow was actual footage and not rendered digitally. Realism that is the cornerstone of the excellence of this series is deeply set in a perfect balance of reliance on CGI effects and actual raw footage, stitching them together seamlessly is what lends it its charm.
Ian Whyte as Wun Wun
“The large size of the armies on both sides also required a lot of crowd replication We’ve got two giant armies that are opposing one another. You know you’re not going to have more than a few hundred extras on one side or the other so you’ve got a lot of crowd replication,” said Steve Kullback, VFX producer, of the generation of armies and creating the large numbers. He continued, “You’ve got things happening that you can’t shoot in any real way. You’ve got a giant punching out a horse, we shoot horses falling and charging towards one another that we can use as elements but we start getting into complex areas that we haven’t really broken ground with on the series before, its fun and exciting but also very challenging.”
Another challenge that was particular to this episode was the amount of care and control that went into ensuring the horses on set were not actually harmed and to engineer the scenes and perspectives such that the collisions between the horses seemed realistic but actually weren’t putting anyone in harm’s way. We had a lot of cavalry, a lot of infantry, Wun Wun the Giant would be involved. Most of it would be photographed but it would also need a lot of digital enhancement The VFX Supervisor Joe Bauer said of the battle scene.
Tormund Giantsbane portrayed by Kristofer Hivju
Even if we consider other elements of this monumental episode, Daenaerys’ annihilation of the armada of the rebelling slave masters as she rode Drogon and her other two dragons followed suit is also a lot of powerful imagery, this time slightly more heavily reliant on digital rendering. After all, there is no city of Meereen that she flies over. Those aerial shots are beautifully made, she and her dragons fly over the city as it is being attacked with large fireballs launched from the slave ships and then the dragons unleash their wrath. The majority components of this scene were constructed digitally. We were able to shoot her on-stage but the buck that she sits on (as she is riding the dragon) which duplicates part of Drogons back, it had hydraulics, the largest mush-control camera crane in the world on stage because the moves that we needed to do were so big, Bauer said of the scene. To emulate the dragons breathing fire they would mount a flamethrower and record on a robotically controlled camera and paid attention to capturing how the air and smoke around the fire would behave to be able to carefully construct the scene of destruction
Drogon and the Dragon Queen
The viral success of the series is attributed to its perfect marriage of realism and surrealism. The series, characters and plots are believable and relatable but the surreal fantasy elements are so well-integrated that their existence is not difficult to believe.
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