‘Game of Thrones’ Director on the Battle of Winterfell: “This Is Survival Horror”

     April 26, 2019


If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones then not only will you already be hyped for the fabled Battle of Winterfell episode, but you’ll know what the name of the director, Miguel Sapochnik means. The Emmy-winner has helmed seminal action-oriented episodes like “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter.” So when it comes to the epic battle against the Army of the Dead, it’s clearly in the right hands.

We also know that this one episode took 11 weeks to film in mostly night shoots, and is said to rival the biggest battle sequences ever put to film. But Sapochnik revealed to EW that while he wasn’t necessarily ready to take on another massive episode right after “Battle of Bastards,” in the time between that and Season 8 filming, he was revived in his desire to dive back in and direct Episodes 3 and 5. “What I really like about 3, 4, and 5 is they’re a complete piece with a beginning middle and end,” he said. “I try to approach all these [episodes] like they’re one. Like in Season 6, [Episodes 9 and 10, “The Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter”], were to me one thing.”


Image via HBO

The scope is also massive: “I’ve been working on it since June of 2017. I’m shooting for seven and a half months, which is like 130 days, which is longer than most of the big movies that get made. So in terms of the amount of work, it’s been six- and seven-day weeks, 16-to-18 hour days and, yeah, it’s a lot.” He also revealed that he used Lord of the Rings as a reference in how to make sure audiences weren’t exhausted by the action. In the Helms Deep sequence, “it’s actually three different battles in three different places intercut […] One thing I found is the less action — the less fighting — you can have in a sequence, the better. We also switch genres. There’s suspense and horror and action and drama and we’re not stuck in killing upon killing because then everybody gets desensitized and it doesn’t mean anything.” As for those different genres:

This is survival horror. That’s the whole episode for me. What we realized is you look at like Assault on Precinct 13 — movies where a group is under siege — usually there’s an ensemble cast and a central theme in there. So I’ve been trying to work out whose story this is. That’s different than the stuff I’ve done previously which was generally from Jon’s perspective. Here I’ve got 20-some cast members and everyone would like it to be their scene. That’s complicated because I find the best battle sequences are when you have a strong point of view, and here the point of view is objective even when you go from one person’s story to another. Because when you’re cutting back and forth, [the perspective] becomes objective whether you want it to or not. I keep thinking, “Whose story am I telling right now? And what restrictions does that place on me that become a good thing?”

Sapochnik also spoke about the challenges of reining in the dragons and the CG so that it all feels more grounded. Given all of the challenges of having an actor on a motorized mound with fans and greenscreens, “my focus this year is: How can we get a performance from the actor so their story continues even though they’re on a dragon?” Part of that is the expanded Winterfell set. As he notes:


Image via HBO

“I was walking around [the Winterfell set] thinking, “This is a really cool set. I can find angles I would never have found beforehand.” [And] I turned to producers and said, “I know it’s 11 weeks of night shoots, I know it’s s—ty and going to be cold. I don’t want to do 11 weeks of night shoots and no one else does. But if we don’t we’re going we’re going to lose what makes Game of Thrones cool and that is it feels real — even though it’s supernatural and we have dragons.”

We’ll know how it all turns out Sunday night, but in the meantime, for more Game of Thrones you can check out these recent articles: