game of thrones

It ’s t ime to en­ter t he un­known... Benji Wil­son i s on set for t he sixth sea­son as Game Of Thrones goes be­yond t he words of Ge­orge RR Martin

SFX - - News -

“Be­lieve it or not, we ac­tu­ally love

the char­ac­ters we write about”

The Game Of Thrones throne room, a per­ma­nent set in one of the vast sound­stages at Ti­tanic Stu­dios in Belfast, doesn’t get used that of­ten th­ese days. When you think back over the past few se­ries much of Game Of Thrones has moved away from what used to be GoT Ground Zero. More time has been spent at the Red Keep, in Cas­tle Black, in Meereen, in oc­cu­pied Win­ter­fell or be­yond the Wall it­self.

Still, at heart the throne is what ev­ery­one is fight­ing about and so sit­ting in the real thing, on set, is en­light­en­ing. Like so many of the

Game Of Thrones props and sets it’s a work of art in it­self, a lat­tice­work of resin sword­blades, wo­ven to­gether and then painted to look like bur­nished steel. But the most strik­ing thing about it, when you park your­self for the money shot, is how un­com­fort­able it is. A few of the points of the blades jut out where they shouldn’t. This is de­lib­er­ate. “They de­signed it at the start so that no one sits com­fort­ably,” says Tom Martin, the se­ries’ head of con­struc­tion.

It could be one of the se­ries’ many en­dur­ing slo­gans – no one sits com­fort­ably on the throne. And dis­com­fort is part of the Game Of

Thrones ef­fect too. Last sea­son was the most bru­tal, the most thrilling, the most fe­ro­cious, and at times the most dis­turb­ing yet: the Sons of the Harpy sud­denly en­cir­cling Daen­erys in the Fight­ing Pits, her es­cape by dragon, the al­most un­watch­able rape of Sansa Stark at the hands of the hideous Ram­say Bolton and of course the death of Jon Snow. It’s a se­ries that looks for a re­ac­tion and very of­ten gets it.

“We knew last sea­son was huge and that there’d be very strong emo­tional re­sponses for a num­ber of scenes,” says Bryan Cog­man, writer and su­per­vis­ing pro­ducer. “It wasn’t by de­sign but we were aware when we were mak­ing sea­son five that it was the dark­est sea­son up to that point and that we were re­ally push­ing our char­ac­ters and tak­ing them to ex­treme places and on emo­tional jour­neys. And our ac­tors and crew. So we take it se­ri­ously as we are do­ing it and we knew it would elicit a re­sponse. But I’d rather be work­ing on some­thing that elic­its that re­sponse than some­thing that’s for­got­ten about five min­utes af­ter you watch it.”

Even Cog­man ad­mits that he wasn’t quite ready for the re­sponse to the rape of Sansa, a scene that he wrote and which wasn’t in the orig­i­nal book.

“The hard­est scene I had to write was Sansa’s wed­ding night. Hard for me emo­tion­ally, be­cause, be­lieve it or not, we ac­tu­ally love the char­ac­ters we write about that we spend our en­tire lives with; and it was very hard on the day be­cause I was the pro­ducer on set just get­ting that right, mak­ing sure Sophie felt com­fort­able and ev­ery­one around her was com­fort­able and get­ting the right tone for that. That was cer­tainly the one that made me lose the most sleep.

“But the re­ac­tion? I’m proud of it and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll de­fend that scene un­til the day I die. And her story’s not over. It’s part of a big­ger story.”

ever- ex­pand­ing

Ev­ery­thing on Game Of Thrones just keeps on get­ting big­ger. The view­ing fig­ures beat all pre­vi­ous records in both the UK and Amer­ica last year, and when you visit Game Of Thrones HQ in Belfast the sets are al­ways be­ing en­larged, re­built, re­pur­posed. This year SFX notes that the Red Keep has sprouted a cou­ple of new an­te­rooms; the Twins, the cas­tle in the River­lands that was the scene of the in­fa­mous Red Wed­ding, ap­pears to be back; whereas the top of the Wall, where Tyrion so fa­mously took a leak in se­ries one, has gone for the time be­ing. Just when you thought the big­gest TV show in the fan­tasy world couldn’t get any big­ger, it does.

“It’s like Daen­erys’ dragons,” says pro­ducer

The world of the show as we knew it was ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed in a big way

for all of our char­ac­ters

Olly But­ler as he shows SFX around. “This thing just keeps on grow­ing.”

It’s an apt metaphor, be­cause as Dany’s dragons get big­ger and more pow­er­ful, they are also be­com­ing more un­pre­dictable. The same goes for Game Of Thrones in sea­son six. This is the first year where the se­ries has over­taken Ge­orge RR Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire source nov­els en­tirely. Any­thing could hap­pen and it prob­a­bly will.

“It’s cer­tainly a huge chal­lenge,” says Cog­man, asked about what it was like for the writ­ers to fly solo for the first time. “But ul­ti­mately when the out­line of the sea­son was done, in many ways it was the most sat­is­fied I’d felt be­cause it had been harder to get there.” What to ex­pect then? “We hit the ground run­ning this year,” says Cog­man. “That’s a func­tion of where we are in the story. Most view­ers, if they’re with us at this point, have watched the first five se­ries. Oth­er­wise they’re just go­ing to be ter­ri­bly con­fused. So they’ll ei­ther be con­fused and okay with that or they’ll go back and watch the first five. In ei­ther case it makes sense to just get straight in to it.”

The end of sea­son five – with Stan­nis Baratheon and Jon Snow dead ( ap­par­ently), Arya blinded at the House of Black and White, Sansa and Theon on the run from Ram­say, and Daen­erys cap­tured by Dothraki – felt like a turn­ing point.

“The world of the show as we knew it was ir­re­vo­ca­bly changed in a big way for all of our char­ac­ters – this is about the se­cond phase of the story. The re­build­ing, the af­ter­math.”

Cog­man won’t go in to any fur­ther de­tail, and with good rea­son: now that the show has gone off book, even fans of the nov­els have no idea what is go­ing to hap­pen. Spoil­ers are be­ing pro­tected even more rig­or­ously – this year’s scripts even had code names for char­ac­ters, and the ac­tors had to sign off just to get pages by hand.

“The rea­son we’re pro­tec­tive,” says Cog­man, “is we’d love the au­di­ence to ex­pe­ri­ence the highs and lows and the thrills with the char­ac­ters as the char­ac­ters are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing

The dan­ger is that when the mag­i­cal el­e­ments be­come big­ger they over­whelm the hu­man el­e­ments

them. We want the au­di­ence to par­tic­i­pate in the story in that way. So the idea of spoil­ing it means some­one might not be able to have that full ex­pe­ri­ence we’d like them to have. That’s not to say if some­body knows ev­ery­thing ahead of time they’re not go­ing to en­joy it in their own way… Look, you know what it is? It’s the feel­ing we got when we first read the books. We didn’t have the Red Wed­ding spoiled for us be­cause only a few peo­ple at that time knew about it. You have that in­cred­i­ble rush of emo­tion. I threw the book across the room. We want that for our au­di­ence.”

keep­ing se­crets

It’s get­ting harder to safe­guard the au­di­ence, though: this is the first year that the show has had pa­parazzi on set, look­ing de­lib­er­ately for spoil­ers.

“It’s frus­trat­ing,” says Cog­man. “I know it all comes from a love of the show and an in­ter­est in the show so it doesn’t anger me. But it’s dis­ap­point­ing if be­cause of that some­one who didn’t want some­thing spoiled is spoiled.”

He’s right, yet the irony is that on set, if you’re a fan, it’s prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble not to find your­self scour­ing for clues. Un­like the Throne Room, the Grand Sept of Baelor set, a 360- de­gree curlicued cathe­dral that is the home of the religious leader the High Spar­row ( Jonathan Pryce), has ob­vi­ously been in heavy use. The Spar­rows and their ex­trem­ist wing, the Faith Mil­i­tant, are not leav­ing King’s Land­ing just yet. And the rows and rows of flayed grey tunics in the cos­tume depart­ment, all art­fully dis­tressed, sug­gest that the un­dead hordes of the White Walk­ers are also set to play a ma­jor role. In the ar­moury, where ev­ery sin­gle weapon is made by hand, SFX thinks we can spot Jon Snow’s sword Long­claw – is this a sign that the for­mer Lord Com­man­der of the Night’s Watch is set for a res­ur­rec­tion?

“We keep all of the sig­na­ture weapons for ex­hi­bi­tions and that sort of thing,” says ar­mourer Stephen Mur­phy, poker- faced. So once again, like Jon Snow, we ap­pear to know noth­ing.

Later, speak­ing to John Bradley and Han­nah Mur­ray, we find out that Sam and Gilly will go to Oldtown, the home of the Citadel, where Sam is to train to be a Maester. On the way they will meet Sam’s fam­ily, the Tarlys, with

Down­ton Abbey’s James Faulkner play­ing his father, the man who sent him away to the Night’s Watch in the first place.

“Sam’s been told by his father that fight­ing, mar­tial val­our, is the only way to be. That learn­ing and magic will never help any­body. But of course the mo­ment that he kills the White Walker with the drag­on­glass blade is some­thing be­cause it was Sam’s first or maybe se­cond en­counter with the su­per­nat­u­ral; when he re­alised that there are big­ger threats than threats you can just chop in half with a sword.”

This is the bal­ance that Game Of Thrones tries to strike. It weaves in magic and fan­tasy to a his­tor­i­cal frame­work, but not to the ex­tent where it might scare away a non SF fan.

“What al­ways at­tracted all of us to the story,” says Bryan Cog­man, “was that the magic was on the pe­riph­ery, at least at the be­gin­ning – and it’s slowly creep­ing back in. The dan­ger is that when the mag­i­cal el­e­ments be­come big­ger they over­whelm the hu­man el­e­ments. We never want to lose sight of that – as fun as it is to now have all th­ese re­sources where you can do all th­ese amaz­ing spe­cial ef­fects you never want that to be the thing you’re build­ing a story around. The hu­man el­e­ments are what bring peo­ple to the show.”

In other words it’s a fine bal­ance. You don’t want to let any­one get too com­fort­able on the throne.

Game Of Thrones is on Sky At­lantic in the UK from 25 April.

Can the Three- Eyed Raven make Bran Stark’s dreams come true?

Arya Stark has paid for vi­o­lat­ing the as­sas­sins’ code with her sight.

Per­haps Ram­say Bolton should change his name back to Ram­say Snow.

Tyrion Lan­nis­ter con­tin­ues to try and main­tain con­trol over Meereen.

Jaime and Cer­sei have a lot to dis­cuss…

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