After an almost two year wait for new episodes, Game of Thrones viewers were not introduced back into this sprawling world with a sprawling map, but instead a very pointed one. The now iconic opening sequence changed quite a bit for this season, because the show has narrowed its geographical scope. Instead of wandering all over Essos and to a variety of holds without Westeros, there are only 3 (ish) that mattered: The Wall, Winterfell, and King’s Landing. In between the (now destroyed) Wall and Winterfell, though, there is an important location: Last Hearth, the seat of House Umber, where we see a visual representation of the White Walkers moving in and (as we saw in the premiere) leaving a little something behind.
In speaking with Buzzfeed News, Elastic — the production company behind these fantastic titles (as well as for The Crown and True Detective) — explained more about the changes made to the credits and what they mean. First, here are the credits again so you can inspect them if you were too excited that Game of Thrones was back to pay close attention:
One of the main changes in exploring fewer locations on the map (in terms of where they are in relations to one another) is that for the first time we’re able to go inside these locations. In regards to Winterfell, for example, we see the castle’s Great Hall as well as the crypts. Creative director Angus Wall explained, “You can go so much further and deeper with the tool set now than you could back when we did Season 1. The first seven seasons, there’s an impressionistic aspect to the title sequence that I really like in an 8-bit way, in the same way that you would like Minecraft. But the new sequence is rendered with so much more accuracy and fractal detail.”
One of those changes also comes to the astrolabe, which has shown key events from the story’s lore including the Doom of Valyria and the Rise of House Baratheon. Now, the astrolabe shows events like the Red Wedding and the birth of Dany’s dragons, as well as the fall of the Wall. “The idea is we have witnessed history that has become memorialized lore, and we’re probably going to witness more,” Angus Wall said.
A new location on the map in the premiere is one that is also very attached to lore. Kirk Shintani, who led the CG team for the credits for the first seven seasons, and was the art director for the Season 8 credits, explains that: “If you look at the mountain that the Last Hearth is sitting on, it has that spiral shape that you’ve seen the White Walkers lay out bodies in spiral form, and you’ve seen the spiral shape reappear on the murals on the walls in the North.”
Part of the visual upgrades for this season include an actual scale for these the models. As Adam B. Vary of Buzzfeed writes, “The old credits never used a hard-and-fast scale for the model structures, but for Season 8, Elastic used a virtual human as a reference for every single detail within its giant model of Westeros,” with Wall adding: “The wood grain is to scale. The metal is all to scale. Everything is rendered in a way that is much, much more accurate to a specific size. I’m sure that we will have detractors who will prefer the old look. But what we were going for was something that was less impressionistic.”
In the past, Elastic was not always given as much of a complete picture of the season’s story, which led to some map oddities like us seeing Oldtown long after Sam left, or not seeing Casterly Rock or High Garden even when they were major players in the season — things Elastic wasn’t made aware of until they actually saw the episodes. Though Wall says he prefers not to look back, Shintani did say that:
“The places that I would have loved to put in [the credits] over the years are the places that have the most emotional resonance, not necessarily the places we spend the most time,” said Shintani, who cited the Season 6 episode “The Door” — when the Night King attacked the home of the Three-Eyed Raven and we learned the origin of Hodor’s name — as the episode that particularly resonated with him. “We never really established where that was. If I had another shot at it to start over in Season 1, and redo every single season over again, I would try to sneak some of those things in there.”
This time around, the team is being given a clearer picture — not enough to include spoilers (there is concept art without context, basically), but just enough to let them know what’s important in terms of place and location. The interiors of each location are just as important now as the exteriors, and as Shintani notes of the credits in general, “I’ll say that there are differences in every single episode. From episode to episode, pay attention, because there’s lots of hints scattered around.”
Keep watch, viewers — Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO. For more, check out our recent articles:
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