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200 Things We Learned From The Game of Thrones Season 5 Commentary, Part Two

Our journey through the DVD commentaries of Game of Thrones season 5 continues.
By  · Published on April 20th, 2016

Welcome to Part 2 of our epic journey through the Blu-ray commentary tracks of Game of Thrones season 5. If you’re just joining us, click the link below and check out part one:

Read Part One

For those who have been waiting on the edge of their own Iron Thrones, part two dives into the six commentary tracks that exist for the final three episodes of the season. This includes three different tracks for episode eight, “Hardhome,” two for episode nine, “The Dance of Dragons,” and one for the season finale, “Mother’s Mercy.” We get commentary from Kit Harington, show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and a very emotional Lena Headey.

We begin far north of The Wall…

Episode 8: “Hardhome”

Commentary One

Commentators: Director Miguel Sapochnik, Stunt Coordinator Rowley Irlam, Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Kristopher Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane)

97. At the opening of the commentary track, Harington introduces himself by saying, “I play Jon Snow in this episode.” To which Kristofer Hivju responds, “Kit, I’m wondering, which part did you play in the last episode?” Harington’s answer, “I played Varys.”

98. Multi-time Thrones director Miguel Sapochnick has not read the books.

99. As Harington points out, Tyrion is the only character to have traveled to all three major lands on the show. The Wall, King’s Landing and Essos.

100. Ian Glen had a scratch on his left eye that had to be fixed digitally in post-production because they couldn’t come up with a reason for Jorah to have such an injury.

101. Explains Sapochnik: “I read up to the end of my episode, then decide that I wasn’t going to spoil 9 and 10.”

102. Hanna Waddingham, who plays the “Shame”-proclaiming Septa Unella, is an accomplished comedian. As Sapochnick explains, “Comedians play the darkest characters.”

103. Sapochnik’s memory was a bit fuzzy, but either Maisie Williams or Lena Headey was being hit with a real object in this episode: “Arya got hit with the real cane, but Cersei got hit by a plastic spoon. It could be the other way. I could be wrong.”

104. The guy who is eating the oysters from Arya is actually eating mushrooms, as the actor was a vegetarian.

105. According to Harington and Hivju, a lot of their time is spent “sitting in mud, playing Risk.”

106. “I’ve never seen a television show that has so many sets,” explains Sapochnick. He tells a story of his first time on set and how he would have been lost had it not been for Production designer Deborah Riley noticing and offering to show him around.

107. The Hardhome battle ended up being much longer than originally scripted. 22 pages turned into a 35-minute action sequence.

108. Maester Aemon’s chamber is also Jon Snow’s office and Sam’s room.

109. According to Sapochnik, everything about Sansa’s season six storyline was “carefully mediated” by Weiss and Benioff.

110. Sapochnik shoots a lot of his scenes with oners, or single shots, that often go unused in the final edits.

111. Kit Harington describes Ramsay Bolton: “We’re sort of the rival bastards. He’s the real bastard, and I’m sort of the…” Sapochnik: “You’re the fake one.” (What does that mean?)

112. “We spent so much time on Hardhome (the battle) that it feels like it was half the season, not one episode,” said Kit Harington, referring to the sequence’s 17-day shoot.

113. During pre-visualization, the pre-vis team spent a lot of time trying to get Kit’s face right. Every other character looked like a stick figure, but Kit was very detailed, according to Sapochnick. Hivju’s character at least had facial hair.

114. During shooting the Jorah conversation with the slaver, it was pouring rain. Sapochnick recalls that he went through three waterproof jackets, all of which soaked-through.

115. “Sam completely sells me out in this scene,” exclaims Harington during Sam’s conversation with Olly. He then goes on to explain how Sam is responsible for everything horrible that’s happened to Jon — he encouraged Olly to get the bow that killed Ygritte, then explains that sometimes you have to make hard decisions.

116. Everyone on the commentary lets out a knowing giggle as Sam says, “Don’t worry, Olly. He always comes back.”

117. The script from Weiss and Benioff said, “Jon Snow on the boat, looking like George Washington crossing the Delaware, only with better hair.” One of the many in-jokes that Weiss and Benioff often leave in their scripts, explains Harington.

118. Kristofer Hivju broke four versions of the Lord of Bones’ staff in filming the scene where he beats him to death.

119. The Hardhome battle was constructed with 50 stunt performers. The worst injury was Andy Pilgrim, who broke his ankle during one of the shots that made it into the final cut. He’s the guy who gets crushed by the falling fence. The same stunt performer is now healed and will be back for season six.

120. One extra, during the conversation inside the Hardhome shed, kept standing up during the moments of argument to yell, “You fucking cunt!” It’s not something you see in the episode, but apparently it was a persistent thing on set.

121. Sapochnik pushed for the production to make most of Hardhome a physical set. The original plan was to do a lot digitally, but the end product benefits from the many real buildings. “The only thing we had to imagine was a few more thousand wights coming at us. Everything else was real” explains Harington.

122. “The whole idea behind this sequence is that it’s a horror movie. It’s more about the massacre than a battle scene. We referenced Jaws a lot when planning this scene,” says Sapochnick They intentionally played with sound and used a lot of intimate photography to create POV.

123. There are some beats in which stunt performers really got punched in the face during the most chaotic scenes.

124. The long shot of Jon Snow fighting his way toward the shed — after he looks up at the Night’s King — is one of the most heavily choreographed scenes that Rowley Irlam has experienced on the show.

125. The White Walker’s contact lenses reduce his vision to 20%. He did the fight scene with Jon and the Thenn hardly being able to see.

126. The shot in which Jon is knocked down from the roof of the shed by the White Walker is a real stunt performed by Harington.

127. Another fun Weiss and Benioff script quirk: There was debate as to whether or not Wun Wun should use a giant log or a giant whale bone to fight off the wights. The showrunners wrote “Wun Wun prefers logs” in the script.

Commentary 2

Commentators: VFX Producer Steve Kullback, VFX Supervisor Joe Bauer and Producer Chris Newman.

128, This episode is the first time in which Chris Newman’s name appears in the main title sequence. Interesting considering he’s been with the show since the beginning. On Newman’s contribution, Steve Kullback had this to say: “There’s a real world we live in. And Chris sort of conceived how the real world we live in can become the world we shoot in.”

129. There are 484 visual effects shots in this episode. But not a single one in the scene where Tyrion and Dany meet in the audience chamber.

130. A lot of the VFX work on Thrones, especially with interiors, is extending the physical set upwards so that many of the rooms/halls/septs look much taller.

131. Newman, who also worked on the show Sleepy Hollow, talks about having to shoot a lot of outdoor scenes inside, which presents some unique challenges for VFX.

132. The water that Cersei drinks off the floor was Evian water placed on a plastic tile covered in plastic wrap to ensure that it was safe to drink.

133. For all of the many thousands of faces, we see in the Hall of Faces (not seen in this episode, but later), there are only 12–15 actual faces that were used, including (as we mentioned earlier) David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and some loved ones of the crew.

134. Lena Headey’s face for Cersei’s walk of shame was shot in Los Angeles, then transferred to the body of the body double. The company who did the effect, Lola, is the same company that did skinny Steve Rogers for Captain America and Brad Pitt’s transformation in Benjamin Button.

135. Face replacement has also been used throughout the show for scenes on horseback, including scenes in which Theon (Alfie Allen) was being chased by the Boltons and scenes in which Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Portman). The scene in which Theon is yanked off of a horse was Alfie Allen sitting in a swivel chair in an office in LA, being yanked off the chair by director David Nutter, who had tied his belt around him.

136. According to Joe Bauer, the VFX shot counts for season five were more than double that of season three. Every season brings an almost exponential increase in shots, but no increase in the amount of time the teams have to finish all the work. So they have to add even more “A-list” VFX partners every season. One of the season five partners was Rhythm ’N Hues, the company that famously worked on Life of Pi.

137. Direwolf shots are shot with real wolves but on a sound stage in Calgary. They are added to the scene in post. On set, it’s a stuffed animal, which brings hilarious context to the scene in which Sam and Ghost scare off Gilly’s attackers earlier in the season.The foreground of the Hardhome landscape is all shot on location at Magheramorne Quarry in Northern Ireland. The backgrounds and horizon landscapes are shots and scans from the coast of Iceland.

138. The foreground of the Hardhome landscape is all shot on location at Magheramorne Quarry in Northern Ireland. The backgrounds and horizon landscapes are shots and scans from the coast of Iceland.

139. Ian White, the suit performer who plays Wun Wun, is 7’ 6” tall, about half the size that Wun Wun is depicted in the show.

140. Wun Wun is shot at 30 fps while the actors are shot at 24 fps to make his movement appear larger. He’s also the only character who has visible breath added digitally.

141. The visual look of the clouds coming down on Hardhome — when the tension is building as the Wights approach — is based on the 1950s Ten Commandments film, which did the same thing when the Red Sea is parted.

142. Some of the Wights are full CG. “If you can see through the ribs, there wasn’t anything to shoot [on location] except a performance reference in a green screen suit.”

143. All of the arrows are CG arrows. “We didn’t shoot an arrow for real.”

144. Wun Wun bursting out of the tent is a combination of three shots, shot in three different locations, on three different days, all layered on top of each other to create the moment when he explodes through the roof.The shot of the White Walker walking through the fire was the last VFX shot completed on all of season five.

145. The shot of the White Walker walking through the fire was the last VFX shot completed on all of season five.

146. The lead zombie child that kills off Karsi (Birgitte Hjorth Sørensen) is a 23-year old Croation actor who was used in earlier seasons as a stand-in for Peter Dinklage.

147. For the wights going over the cliff, the shot from behind was shot against a green screen with stunt performers falling about 20 feet onto a pad. The VFX team then went through and did “digital handoffs” to the next shot, in which we see them falling from the ground. Which means that you can follow any single falling wight from the top of the cliff to the bottom, and it looks perfectly seamless.

148. The production t-shirt on this episode said “Go Hard or Go Home,” a mantra that came in handy during the rain and wind that pummeled the crew while filming the most chaotic battle scenes.Of the 484 VFX shots in this episode, 477 of them were in the Hardhome sequence.

149. Of the 484 VFX shots in this episode, 477 of them were in the Hardhome sequence.

Commentary Three

Commentary 3: DP Fabian Wagner, Camera Operators Sean Savage, and David Morgan.

150. The scene in which Tyrion meets Dany in her audience chamber is the first time that the crew lit that particular set from the other side. It’s always been shown lit from Dany’s left, but the switch in this scene opens up the room.

151. “The great thing about Game of Thrones is that [as a DP] you don’t have to do anything fancy,” explains Fabian Wagner, referring to the strength of the production design, writing, and performances.

152. The camera operators, who have worked on the show since season one, speak of Maisie Williams as proud uncles might, having watched her grow up on the show. They also praise her technical aptitude and mindfulness of how to work with the camera. As they say, “she’s a natural.”

153. The scene inside the Winterfell main hall, in which Roose is talking to his son and advisors about Stannis, was originally shot as a single take with the crane shot that opens the scene. Eventually, it was cut up, but there is a version somewhere that’s continuous as the crane shot pushes in all the way to Ramsay’s face.

154. The camera operators praise the ARRI Alexa camera, which does extremely well in very low light — including scenes lit by candle light and minimal window light.

155. Three consecutive commentary tracks on this episode, three consecutive times in which everyone on the track giggles knowingly at the “Jon always comes back” line that Sam delivers. Make of that what you will.

156. The Hardhome battle was a 17-day shoot, including the use of 4 cameras shooting at times simultaneously.

157. The first day of shooting the Battle of Hardhome was nearly canceled due to wind and rain.

158. Bezlers – smoke machines designed to fumigate orchards — were used to generate smoke during the moments before the battle begins.

Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”

Commentary One

Commentators: Director David Nutter, Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) and Ian Glen (Jorah Mormont)

159. Explains David Nutter: “After I had directed the Red Wedding, I needed a season off. Then they gave me episodes 509 and 510.”

160. The prop horse carcass that you see as Stannis walking through his burnt camp is one that they got from the Ridley Scott film Exodus: Gods and Kings.

161. For David Nutter, his first and last shots on both of his episode were in the same scene. The shot of Jon looking up at The Wall was his last shot, while the other angle with Ser Alliser Thorne looking down from the top of The Wall, was his first.

162. The 1981 film Reds with Warren Beatty — a favorite of Peter Dinklage and David Nutter — also had scenes shot in the Alcazar Palace in Seville, Spain, which was used by Thrones for Dorne.

163. Pedro Pascal, Indira Varma, and Peter Dinklage play Words with Friends together in real life.

164. “I have never met three of the people in this scene in my life,” says Peter Dinklage, speaking of Nell Tiger Free, Toby Sebastian and Alexander Siddig.

165. In the middle of filming the scene in which Arya is carting around her oysters, the sewage system became stopped up and nearly flooded the set.

166. Peter Dinklage wants fans to rest assured that the story of Thrones will eventually come together: “There’s a plan, people. All these storylines. There is a method to the madness.”

167. “I do not know the answer to that question, but I know that Dan and Dave were in constant communication [with George],” explains Nutter when asked by Ian Glen as to whether or not Shireen burning is something to come in the books.

168. The Meereen stadium sequence includes 600–700 extras, all of whom garnered praise from Dinklage and Glen, who said that they drew great energy from the extras.

169. On the first day of shooting the stadium sequence, a massive green screen blew over, cutting the first day short by half.

170. Ian Glen’s daughter Mary came to set during one of the days in Spain and hung out. One of the things she did was go through make-up like her father, getting a bunch of cuts and scars on her face from the make-up artists.

171. “A line on a script, a month of shooting,” explains Dinklage, referring to the script saying [And the dragon enters].

172. According to Dinklage, “Tyrion is in love” as Dany mounts the dragon and flies away. “He’s always been obsessed with dragons.”

Commentary Two

Commentators: Executive Producer Bernadette Caulfield, Director of Photography Rob McLachlan and Camera Operators Ben Wilson and David Worley

Author’s note: Upon listening to this commentary track, I’ve decided that one of my new life goals is to someday have coffee with EP Bernadette Caulfield. Or tea. Her choice.

173. Ian White, the man who plays the giant Wun Wun, has played various tall characters since season one, including White Walkers.

174. The snow at Castle Black is biodegradable paper. It got everywhere to the point where one of the hotels began vacuuming members of the crew as they came back from shooting, so they didn’t have little bits of paper in the rooms.

175. When he showed up for shooting on one of the days in the Alcazar in Spain, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau forgot his pass. Instead of making a fuss about it, he waited in line with a bunch of tourists and paid to get in.

176. According to Caulfield, the mayor of Seville praised the professionalism of the production, but was disappointed that they weren’t going back for season six.

177. The set in Osuna — Daznak’s Pit — was dressed such that they could move things around like a clock to adjust for the sun as the day went along. This allowed the production to let the natural light do all the work. There are still little inconsistencies in the shadows on the ground, but it’s so minute that almost no one would notice.

178. The Daznak playbook — a production guide drawn up by the Assistant Director, DP, etc. — was described as a small phonebook.

179. There were crew t-shirts in Osuna that said “Water is Coming,” as they were operating in 100-degree heat and having to toss water bottles to the hundreds of extras.It is claimed that the Osuna shoot set the European record for lighting people on fire in one day. They scorched 15 stunt people.

180. It is claimed that the Osuna shoot set the European record for lighting people on fire in one day. They scorched 15 stunt people.

181. Some of the shots of Daenerys climbing onto the dragon were shot in a parking lot in Los Angeles in January, mere months before the season debuted.

Episode 10: “Mother’s Mercy”

Commentators: Director David Nutter, Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister)

Author’s note: We give D&D a hard time about everything. Which is fine, because the buck stops with them on this show. But they are incredibly charming, which is on full display in their commentary tracks.

182. Over the two commentaries, it is said that David Nutter is the most efficient director on Thrones. “He’s the only one who can shoot 3–4 scenes in one day,” explains Weiss.

183. When they were casting Samwell Tarly, they already had someone pretty locked in for the part. John Bradley’s audition had already been scheduled, so they did it as a courtesy. He went in and stole the part.

184. “I am hormonal, but it’s making me cry,” says Headey, literally crying during the Jon Snow/Sam Tarly scene. “These moments of humanity are so joyous to watch.” Lena Headey was nine months pregnant while recording this commentary.

185. The line in the script, right before Stannis draws his sword, is that this is “Stannis’ Fuck the World moment.”

186. “A lot of people questioned whether or not she [Brienne] killed him [Stannis] or not. My thought is that [showing] anything other than what we got would be gratuitous,” says Nutter. “Yes, she did kill him. 100%,” confirms Benioff.

187. Charlotte Hope (who plays Ramsay’s girlfriend Myranda) was originally hired as a day player, but she was so good that they wrote a larger part for her.

188. During casting, Alfie Allen originally came in to read for Jon Snow.

189. “Another character we didn’t expect to go on beyond S4,” says Benioff of Indira Varma as Elaria Sand.When Elaria throws her handkerchief, it flying away had to be added digitally. The original handkerchief on set just plopped into the water.

190. When Elaria throws her handkerchief, it flying away had to be added digitally. The original handkerchief on set just plopped into the water.

191. Conleth Hill (Varys) originally read for the part of King Robert.Dan Weiss describes the green head that is used on-set for Emilia Clarke to interact with for Drogon as a “giant stuffed pickle.”

192. Dan Weiss describes the green head that is used on-set for Emilia Clarke to interact with for Drogon as a “giant stuffed pickle.”

193. “I still remember the day we found out that Jonathan Pryce was going to be on our show,” explains Weiss in a giddy fashion. “The fact that he’s on Game of Thrones is still surreal to me.”

194. Lena Headey says that not having to be naked — using the body double — allowed her to be focused on the performance. It might have been vastly different had she been in such a vulnerable position.

195. Not all of it was a body double, though. There are parts of the walk that were Headey’s body.

196. There are no effects to how big Thor Bjornsson is in the scene where Cersei meets her new bodyguard. He’s just that big.

197. The scrolls that Jon Snow is reading in his office — all of which were written out by the props department — were meant to be letters from Northern houses saying they can’t send troops to help secure The Wall.On the set, David Nutter did the Night’s Watch creed with the men in the traitor party before shooting the stabbing of Jon Snow.

198. On the set, David Nutter did the Night’s Watch creed with the men in the traitor party before shooting the stabbing of Jon Snow.

199. The blood spreading out underneath Jon Snow’s body was all done in one take. It’s all a practical effect.

200. Hattie Gotobed is the name of the actress who plays the girl whose face Arya uses when she murders Meryn Trant. This is a point of fascination for the producers during the final credits, as it’s a fantastic name.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)