Game of Thrones: The Last Watch pulled back the curtain on the making Game of Thrones Season 8. Directed by Jeanie Finlay, the nearly two-hour long documentary, which premiered May 26th on HBO, gave viewers a look into the worlds and work of show producers, directors, production teams and extras, like Andrew McClay (who played a Stark bannerman/soldier). Interwoven among stories about building King’s Landing on the backlot (via Production Designer Deborah Riley), balancing stunt work and playing the Night King (Vladimír Furdík), crafting crypt wights for the first time (Prosthetics Department Co-Head Sarah Gower) and perfecting winter at Winterfell (Head of Snow Del Reid), were some never-before-seen moments with the main cast, including their Season 8 table read.
At the October 2017 event, Finlay and her team captured things like Maisie Williams’s delight, Sophie Turner’s cheers and Rory McCann’s fist pumps when GoT Co-Executive Producer Bryan Cogman reached the moment in reading “The Long Night” where—spoiler alert—Arya Stark kills the Night King. She also captured Kit Harington’s initial reaction to finding out the Jon Snow/Daenerys Targaryen series finale twist.
Finlay recently told NME she had the scripts “before some of the cast had read it,” so Collider asked the director how having them in advance helped her plot out how to shoot it on the day.
“Well, the final episode was saved for the table read, so I’d not read that. So, we were … filming on the [fly] a bit,” Finlay told Collider on Monday. “I filmed the right-hand side of the table, so I was filming Conleth [Hill] and all down that side, and then my director of photography – Mark Bushnell – was filming the other side of the table and we were both operating two cameras each…
“I just wanted to capture everyone’s reactions as much as possible. So when Maisie goes [through] killing the Night King and she does that little hair flip – as I’m filming that I’m just like, ‘Yes, I got [that]! That’s amazing,'” she continued. “But I’d had a heads up that Kit hadn’t read the scripts and that Liam Cunningham had had some difficulties downloading his because it was all electronic scripts. So, you can hear on the clip Liam’s voice reacting in real time. And for a documentary maker you’re always looking to capture the energy in the moment, so we were sort of glued to the action as it was sort of going on. And I knew that Kit’s reactions would be memorable, and I knew that Emilia’s reactions would be memorable. So we knew that we had to gather that, but then also get David Nutter and Miguel Sapochnik, and David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss], and Bernie [Caufield] and Chris [Newman], because everyone there is invested in this. And it’s a really unusual thing where a table read had never been filmed since Season 1 – which I also use in the film – so it just felt like this is really special, you’ve got to do it justice.”
While making The Last Watch, Finlay and her team shot about 950 hours of footage. Although the documentary was always set to focus on the people behind the scenes – the “unsung heroes” – Collider did ask Finlay what footage featuring the cast got left on the cutting room floor that she wished she could have included. There was a longer scene of Kit and Emilia in Iceland, she shared. Another moment happened around the time of “The Last of the Starks.”
“We did cut a really lovely scene of the Home Economist making bread—500 loaves of bread—and then that resulted in the big feast scene, which had all of the cast in. So, I wished we’d been able to put that in. But I was always really mindful with the story – because my film was always going to be about the unsung heroes – that we didn’t overladen it with the cast because that wasn’t the focus of the film.”
Finlay noted that the show’s production was made up of about 2000 people, “so it was really important that we sort of told the whole story,” she said.
“But obviously [the documentary] shows the intimate, amazing access that we had to people like Emilia getting her hair done because that felt like it really demonstrated the relationship between her and Candice [Banks, Hair Supervisor], which is so close. It doesn’t get closer, I don’t think, on set than the person who’s helped you get into your character every single day,” she added.
In The Last Watch‘s march to its own conclusion, the film showed some of Clarke’s last day, including the final time Banks put the Daenerys Targaryen wig on the actress. The documentary also gave viewers a glimpse of Clarke’s last shot, followed by her series wrap, and how Clarke’s GoT end impacted Banks, who talked about the difficulties of saying goodbye.
In one of the most emotional moments of the film, Harington’s series wrap was also shown, intertwined with one of the people featured in the film – McClay.
McClay’s story was a big part of The Last Watch. Viewers were introduced to the actor – a longtime GoT extra – at his first costume fitting for Season 8 and learned his story of going from playing a loyal Stannis Baratheon soldier to a Stark guard. Finlay captured McClay as he shared his passion for being a part of Team Stark with his fellow extras between filming, and his joy after he gave Harington – who played his favorite character on the show – his own extras jacket (which Harington wore on his final day). McClay also ended up being part of the small crew of extras who served as Jon Snow’s honor guard during what ended up being the last scene Harington filmed on the show.
In The Last Watch, viewers got to see Benioff’s speech for Harington, and then cut between shots of Harington sharing his parting words and thanks to the gathered cast and crew, and of McClay as he listened intently. And no matter how many times Finlay and her team watched the footage of that sequence during the edit, it always pulled at their heartstrings.
“As soon as I saw the rushes for Kit and Andrew’s last day, I was in tears, my editor was in tears, the assistant editor was in tears and we didn’t stop crying every single time we edited that scene, which is a sign that it doesn’t lose the power – because you get hardened to stuff. We’re watching things over and over and over again. I cried every single time we saw Andrew McClay,” Finlay said.
Just after Harington’s goodbye speech, as McClay was walking away, the Stark guard actor received a compliment from another extra, who praised him for being a leader to their group.
“It was wonderful,” Finlay said of that emotional interaction, which they captured and shared in the documentary. “And that’s the thing that sets Andrew off as well, because he’s so proud of his work, but he’s also such an unsung hero. He’s not doing it for the acclaim. And then for someone to sort of pat him on the back and go, ‘You were a good guy.’ … And you can hear his voice break in the moment and think, ‘Oh my goodness. Poor Andrew.’ He is really a pure human being. He truly is.”
Another “unsung hero” featured in the film was Leigh McCrum, who helmed the coffee truck, offering items like pear popsicles and her own “wee toastie” creation that turned into a culinary hit. Finlay did get to try the crew favorite – a meat, cheese and onion sandwich – and said it tasted as good as it looked.
“I did. I had a wee tiger [bread] toastie and it’s pretty substantial. It will keep you going for roughly, about two days. In Northern Ireland, they put these tobacco onions on everything. … And I’ve never really seen them before outside of Northern Ireland, and it’s just delicious. It’s probably not the healthiest thing for you, but it’s everything you need and everything you want when you’re doing really long hours on a night shoot,” she said. “And Leigh’s so nice. She’s good craic. It’s like you buy a toastie and you get a great story as well. She’s great to hang out with. I always loved going to see her in the toastie van.”