Game of Thrones director talks about the challenges faced during the filming of Battle of the Bastards
‘Battle of the Bastards’, which is the 9th episode of season 6 of Game of Thrones is all we’ve been able to talk about before it even aired, and now the discussions just can’t seem to stop. The show has set itself a class apart after this episode was aired, and it lived up to all the hype that was created around it. Those who have seen the episode will certainly agree that the battle was absolutely splendid and we all teared up when the Stark banner slid down the walls of Winterfell. The episode was particularly challenging to film, as we’ve discussed in a previous article, and the director had to put in a lot of effort to make it this perfect.
Miguel Sapochnik, who directed the episode, spoke about it to EW, saying, “The most logistically complicated thing I’ve ever been involved in.”
In this interview he discusses the details of Battle of the Bastards, and he explains how the whole thing went down right from the number of extras to Jon Snow’s epic fight sequences. When asked about any particular elements that he’d included in the battle, he said, “I watched every pitch field battle I could find (footage of real ones too), looking for patterns — for what works, what doesn’t, what takes you out of the moment, what keeps you locked in. The big reference was Akira Kurosawa’s RAN. Interestingly one of the things I noticed is that staging of these battles through the years has changed dramatically. Back in the day you’d see these huge aerial shots of horse charges and there were two big differences. First, it was all real — no CGI or digital replication. And second, often when the horses would go down, you can kind of tell they got really hurt. Nowadays you’d never get away with that, and nor would you want to.”
He then spoke about how the showrunners Benioff and Weiss watched real-life battle scenes to make the episode seem more realistic.
“Very much so. Initially we based BOB on the battle of Agincourt which took place between the French and English in 1415. But as needs changed, as did budgets, it became more like the battle of Cannae between the Romans and Hannibal in 216 BC. The strategy and tactical aspect was a key thing for David and Dan. They wanted to specifically focus on that so that we could really see the way Ramsay ensnares and outguns Jon in the almost exactly the way the same way Davos had planned to defeat the Bolton army. I also did a bunch of research into Alexander the Great who was legendary in his strategic battle prowess. The Bolton Shield wall, for example, was a production-friendly way to emulate a “double envelopment pincer move” [without] using horses as originally scripted, and also as a way to avoid seeing horizons on the field and therefore having to dress fewer dead bodies or stage background fights so deep because we didn’t have the money.“
Later, he talked about the major challenges they faced while filming. “The sheer logistics of staging a battle scene this size was like a battle in and of itself, minus the life/death thing. For example: The number of days to shoot it, where we shoot it. What happens if it rains? How do you feed 600 people every day? Don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t have to decide that stuff. But the creative decisions I make are heavily influenced by simple practical concerns. Like every time we charge the horses it takes 25 minutes to reset all the fake snow on the field and rub out the horseshoe prints. So how many times can we afford to charge the horses each day knowing we need to give time for a reset that’s 10 times longer than the actual shot? Another thing was how to make 500 extras look like 8,000 when you are shooting in a field where there’s just nowhere to hide your shortfall. It becomes a bit like a bonkers math equation. And finally: How do you get these guys riled up enough to run at each other and get covered in mud and stand in the rain and then run at each other again and again for 25 days, 10 hours a day, without them just telling you to piss off? “
He also spoke about how there was less use of CGI and more use of the physical stuff to make it look as realistic as possible, and then went on to reveal that when Ramsay Bolton played the hunting game with Rickon, his true target was Jon Snow.
“Absolutely. In the scenes leading up to the battle Sansa warns Jon not to fall for Ramsay’s tricks, which is exactly what he does. Rickon’s death is all just a ploy to bait Jon, and it’s incredibly successful,” he said.