(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched Sunday’s episode of “Game of Thrones” titled “Battle of the Bastards”)
While there is some division between fans over the episode as a whole, there’s little debate over the quality of the extended, visceral action sequences in Sunday’s “Battle of the Bastards,” the climactic showdown between Ramsay Bolton and Jon Snow.
A highlight of the battle came early on, as Jon stood bewildered while a cavalcade of mounted soldiers battered each other all around him. Jon tried to contribute as best he could in the chaos, knocking a man from his horse and taking out a few others who were unlucky enough to find themselves on foot with him.
A solid 60-second chunk of this bit is presented as what appears to be a single, long take (though it actually isn’t), and it’s a beauty. You can watch it at the top of this post.
TheWrap asked director Miguel Sapochnik to describe what kind of technical wizardry and filmmaking tricks it took to bring the long take together, and he was happy to share.
“We shot multiple takes and chose the right one that had the best combo of performance,” Sapochnik told TheWrap. “There are few digital stitches in there as with most oners nowadays but it wasn’t really about it being a oner as much as it was about feeling like it was continuous, that you never left Jon’s side.
The process of bringing it to life was a lengthy one, he said. “It took a month to work out and a few weeks rehearsing on and off, then two days to shoot,” he explained.
“Once we chose the moment in the battle we wanted to achieve this, then we slowly started to previz it (roughly animate it for blocking purposes) and get that to a place where it felt interesting enough to warrant actually doing it,” he continued. “Then we went through the previz with all the departments and started to break it down and look for what it would take to do it as one continuous shot. The trick was to use as many real horses as was possible but safely, and then use a variety of different techniques to add more people and more horses to the fray.”
Creating this sequence wasn’t just a experimental exercise to see if they could do it, Spochnik said. It was an important part of what they were trying to communicate with the entire battle, from this early clash to when Jon gets trampled and buried under a pile of bodies — whether or not an individual person survives this kind of situation would be pretty arbitrary.
“My original pitch to [showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff] was I wanted to put Jon in the middle of super busy intersection with horses instead of cars,” he said. “I was trying get to the idea that sometimes it’s not being a hero or a great fighter that means you make it through a battle — it’s a miracle or sheer luck.”