Game of Thrones is a site for the HBO-series based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
New to the series? Read our spoiler-free review of A Game of Thrones.
Last week, we received the first four episodes of season 3 of Game of Thrones to review, courtesy of HBO. While our individual episode reviews and coverage will be held until the corresponding episodes air, it has become something of a tradition to share our general impressions of those early episodes. We did it for the first season, and we did it for the second season, so it seemed only right to do it again. The process of discussing even vague impressions will probably reveal some semi-spoilers, so reading on isn’t going to be a good idea if you prefer to stay unspoiled!
But lets just give a general summing up first, and get into the nitty gritty after: these four episodes are on the whole quite good; not perfect, but they may well be the strongest first four episodes as a whole for the series to date (certainly, they’re stronger as a unit than last season’s first four, though none of them are as good as “What is Dead May Never Die”). Some of our biggest fears going into this season seem, so far, to be unfounded. But there are some issues, such as the fact that a number of the anticipated new characters are rather underwhelming when they finally hit the screen and that there are one or two (largely invented) storylines that don’t really feel like they’re gelling for us. Still, each subsequent episode goes from strength to strength, each one better than the last. So why do we feel cautiously optimistic? We recall that last season, too, the third and fourth episodes impressed us the most and left us pretty excited about what was to come… and then the cracks started to show and real problems developed that led to some major disappointments. Four episodes in a show like this is not enough to really gauge how the rest of the season will be, especially in terms of how well they’ll translate what’s in the novels to the screen.
Now, on to some more specifics.
Over at our Youtube channel, we’ve been posting various videos since last year—first discussing the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and then, this year, sharing our thoughts on each episode after they aired (plus a bit of A Song of Ice and Fire stuff, as well). Now that season 2 is a wrap, Linda and I have put together a long, two-part video covering each section of the story in rough, geographic area (very rough in some cases), and have discussed what we liked and disliked, what the differences in our reactions were from season to season, or hopes for the next season, and more.
Late last month, I had the privilege of attending the screening for international press of the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones, “The North Remembers”. It was my first ever screening of anything—last season we received DVD screeners nearer to the premiere—and doubltess that added to my excitement when I saw it. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to rewatch this episode and also see the next three episodes on screeners.
I do go into some detail as this review goes on, so if you prefer to be utterly unspoiled, I’d skip it (for you, I’ll just say: the visual and musical scope of the show has expanded to epic levels, as has the story, which is well-acted, but I do have a handful of quibbles and concerns)
Watching the sharply directed, beautifully shot first episode on a big screen, with a professional audio system in the screening room, was quite an experience, I have to say. It’s a show made for the big screen, to paint a lush image on that big canvas and fill your eyes with wonders. If HBO decided to premiere each new episode in cinemas in selected cities, I’m pretty sure they could sell out every single screening. Of course, part of the marketing promotion for the show entails early sneak peeks in theatres, so if you get wind of it taking place in an area where you reside, I really recommend trying to get in to one of those, if you can.
There are a couple of complaints I have seen made on Twitter and on various forums regarding the first episode that, quite frankly, baffle me. This may be something of a minefield considering the topics, but I tried sitting on my hands and it didn’t work.
One of problems readers (and viewers) new to fantasy often bring up is the wealth of strange names, odd places and curious words that don’t always mean what you think they should mean. Of course, with Game of Thrones one could easily look up any of those odd words on the various sites dedicated to the books, but in doing so one would run the risk of being spoiled. In light of this, we’ve put together a mini-lexicon for Game of Thrones-newbies that basically gives short, spoiler-free explanations for some of those words that might give you pause. We’re not covering characters here (see our guide to the Characters for that) but if there’s something else you think we have missed, let us know!
Before we launch into our general impressions of the first six episodes of Game of Thrones, some disclaimers.
First, the episodes are not complete—ADR, color grading, VFX, music, and sometimes even credits are still temporary—though the very first episodes seem much nearer to complete than the final episode.
Secondly, as “superfans”, Linda and I have been in some fashion involved in the fan community, the re-reading, the discussion, the news reporting and article writing, almost every day of our lives for the past twelve years or so—we have been about as immersed in the books as anyone not named George R.R. Martin can get. This gives us a perspective that is certainly very different from that of the new viewer unfamiliar with the books, probably very different from all of the professional critics (who have, none the less, been very positive so far about what they’ve seen), and even rather different from that of many other devoted fans of the novels. It’s very hard to divorce our views from our knowledge of what the story is in the novels, to try and imagine how it plays for those unfamiliar with it, so we’ll not make much effort to do that.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: visually, this is a feast for the eyes. From the stunning main title (bank on an Emmy award nomination next year) to the closing credits, you’re treated to the epic, expansive sweep of Westeros; the tall castles, the knights in armor, the glittering courts, the rugged landscape, its all there. The production has not been afraid to put their own stamp on things—their conception of the Red Keep is a fantastical construction, the Eyrie is even more incredibly sited than what’s described in the books—but there’s definitely a real sense of this place being a world of wondrous vistas.
[Note: You can read Part 4 here.]
It was about a 45 minute drive to Magheramorne, with our driver taking us past Carrickfergus Castle. GRRM quite admired it, and said he needed to visit it the next time he was in Northern Ireland. We spoke along the way about the production, how it’s very nearly matching GRRM’s wildest dreams, and the like. He also mentioned to me two particular points where small changes in the production may have some significant consequences in relation to fidelity to the series, but that these were things he was working with the executive producers on so that they wouldn’t be an issue. It was pretty remarkable to hear some of the little details in early books which are seeds for things that even now have not yet come to pass, and that even back when he started the series George had plans for things that wouldn’t come to fruition before the final novels.
On the whole, George and Parris sound quite happy with what they’ve witnessed and their interactions with the production. Stephen Warbeck’s selection as the composer was briefly brought up [note: Ramin Djawadi has since replaced Warbeck], and we had a laugh about Ladyhawke‘s daring (and, in our mutual opinions, ultimately failed) attempt to use typical 80’s synth music in the film. I suppose we’re all glad Toto wasn’t hired to score Game of Thrones. In discussing the need for the show—even one with a cast of about 300—to have to trim characters on occasion, George mentioned how he was sure there’d be complaints about some minor characters (at least, characters minor in A Game of Thrones) missing, and talked about the fans who seemed to love to support obscure characters.
For example, he has had fan mail regarding Lord Tytos Blackwood, a character who barely appears in the novels and is distinguishable just because of his raven-feather cloak and yellow-and-black armor. He wondered at this whole “Boba Fett syndrome”, which he’s spoken of before. Or, he said, take the Red Viper, a character who shows up in a few chapters .... I told him that I could understand his wondering at why Tytos would resonate with anyone in particular, but I did have to tell him that Red Viper fans were entirely his own fault, since he made such a charismastic character; Parris grinned and nodded her head in agreement at that.
Speaking of characters cut, in some cases there are partses which play a big role in later seasons, but who in this first season would have nothing to do but appear and speak a line or two. George said that the solution in some cases would be not unlike the “Ralphie Cifaretto” situation. Cifaretto (played by Joe Pantoliano) was introduced in the 3rd season of The Sopranos but viewers simply had to accept had always been around in the background even if he had never been mentioned before.
One more topic we touched on was the various forums for discussing the series, and particularly how certain characters were discussed. George suspected it quite possible that some of the characters with more vociferous detractors may well find much more support in their televised form; when much of the criticism comes from the way a character presents themselves purely through internal dialog, it may be that the lack of interior dialog on the show will make the character seem rather different. This reminds me of GRRM’s response to those who characterize characters like Catelyn as a “whiner”, where he pointed out that if you were never inside her head, you’d probably see the very strong and stalwart facade she tried to maintain without fully realizing the traumas and tragedies occupying her thoughts because she did her best to keep them to herself. Readers get a privileged position inside the heads of characters, and sometimes this can bias opinion (sometimes in the favor of a character, sometimes against them) which don’t quite fit with an outside view based solely on their actions.
Oh, Parris was greatly taken with Ron Donachie (Rodrik Cassel) as well. We took to talking a bit about George’s past works, and she said she always dreamed that Fevre Dream would be adapted. She then told me that if it were to happen, she really wished Donachie would play the lead role of Abner Marsh. It seems Donachie had read Fevre Dream many years before, and as we know from the past, has been an admirer of GRRM’s work for awhile. While Donachie was modertly uncertain that he could play such a role, Parris reassured him that he had her in his corner if an adaption of George’s Antibellum horror novel ever came about. I’d certainly pay to see it, as it’s a fantastic, gripping vampire story with some truly memorable characters.
We finally got to Magheramorne. We changed cars at the unit base, to something rather more robust, since the road the rest of the way into the quarry was a muddy, potholed, winding thing. George had warned me that layering up was best, because the Magheramorne site could be very windy and cold. It certainly was drizzling, but the weather hadn’t quite gotten cold enough for it to be more than a minor inconvenience (then again, I was used to giving the dog a walk in sub-zero morning temperatures just about then). As we rode along, the great quarry wall came into sight. George took great relish in sharing what he heard from the former quarry master, who now works with the production: from the surface of the lake at the foot of the quarry (this was once the location of the management offices, which are now underwater since the quarry was abandoned as a quarry site) to the top of the Magheramorne wall was a height of 400 feet. George was stunned, and kept looking at it and muttering, “I made the Wall too tall! It’s just too tall!” He later said that he had congratulated himself on not making it 1,000 feet tall, thinking that 700 was a more realistic figure. Quite a lot of chagrin and humor there, and he’d point this detail out to a couple of other people on the set while we were there.
When we stopped, I could see Castle Black a short walk up towards the face of Magheramorne, but what drew my attention was a dozen or so extras in the Night’s Watch uniforms, lining up at the catering area to get some hot food into them. They looked great, with their costumes looking worn and lived-in. And muddy. Oh, yes, muddy. There’s a lot of mud on site, and in my mind Magheramorne—which has a certain stark, natural beauty—became “that miserable mud-pit”. Greeted by HBO’s representatives, I was introduced to the international reporters (representing media in Canada, France, the United States, the Republic of Ireland, the U.K., and—yes—Sweden. The Swedish reporter and I were particularly introduced to one another, and funnily enough, she turned out to be an absolute fan of the series who had read all the books. She later asked me to take a photo of her with George.)
Let me pause here and say that at this point, I was sort of a hybrid of guest of the producers and media reporter. This means that my reporting on what I saw at Magheramorne has to be a sparse, because the reporters are embargoed until much nearer the air date, and so I’m going to respect that and leave things to them (maybe when the show airs and I see their reports, I can go back and fill in on things they missed). Let me just say that cast members such as Owen Teale (Ser Alliser Thorne), with his insightful interpretation of his character (which I later shared with GRRM, as he was very curious), and James Cosmo (Lord Commander Jeor Mormont), greatly impressed me as men of real craft and talent, and that they took this project on with complete determination to do the material justice. But this is how everyone I met that day and night seemed to be. I was also there for the David Benioff interview, where he said many of the things that were just what I wanted to hear about his approach to adapting this ambitious series.
So, besides these interviews, Bryan Cogman showed us all around to get a look at the set, which I’m told is a composite set, meaning it contains several distinct locations all together, so almost all Castle Black filming can happen right on the site. Everything looked real, even though I know many of these “stone” walls aren’t really any such thing. The reporters (and I) had hoped we could get a ride up in the elevator that’s providing the winch cage up to the Wall, but unfortunately a scene was filming and that simply wasn’t possible. An actor at the Moot later told me that the cage floor was basically a steel grid and you could see straight down as you went up the face of Magheramorne.
I mentioned a scene filming, huh? Happily, I can report on that. In fact, I saw two scenes, both from Episode 7, directed by Daniel Minahan. First, we had several takes of Lord Commander Mormont’s speech to the recruits as they were being passed on to become full members of the Watch. This scene involved most all the principal Night’s Watch actors, both recruits and officers, that have been named. It was a great experience to be there, to watch a scene being acted out that really was almost word-for-word from the novels (I was pretty sure of that when I heard it, and later double-checked it against the text).
The other scene I witnessed was also very close to the text, though a bit more compressed. This featured the incredible Peter Vaughan as Maester Aemon, who provides more detailed assignments and then has to deal with Jon Snow. Despite the rain, the cold, and his age, Mr. Vaughan was fantastic, showing Aemon’s undimmed wit. Harington as Jon Snow is a very intense young actor, and I think will fill the role admirably. It truly was a privilege to watch this being filmed. There’s an additional line here, a funny one, which George wondered aloud if that was his line or if they had added it. He laughed when I told him that it was new, remarking on my memory (well, I have read these books enough times!) David had to leave part way through the takes, and asked if he’d see me the next day at Paint Hall with the reporters. Alas, I was returning home then, but he thanked me for coming and hoped we’d meet again some time. Before he left, he handed me his headset so I could hear the dialog pretty much just as it would be on screen, while we all clustered around the monitors. In the course of this scene, George made a off-hand comment to Bryan Cogman about something he has planned for the series which was ... well. Unexpected. Very unexpected. And almost certainly likely to prove revelatory when it comes to pass.
One other thing we got to do was meet the sword smith involved in making man of the weapons, to discuss a bit about the job of his team. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say, they’ve made a lot of weapons for this production. In the hundreds, in fact. Many are simply cast out of resin, and are carried by extras who’ll never be looked at too closely. others are made of aluminum, for the fight scenes. Finally, a few are “hero” weapons, forged out of real steel. In the case of Valyrian steel blades, like Ice, they’ve created them using pattern-welded steel to get the appropriate rippling effect. The same goes for the infamous dagger… and for Longclaw, which was brought out for the reporters and I to see. I was grinning like a loon, I admit, when I was asked to hold its scabbard while George was holding it for a few photo opportunities.
Besides Longclaw, there was one more weapon, an unusual one because it was made of resin… but it was a “hero” weapon, in its way. It’s amazing what they can do with resin, including having it be entirely translucent, and still able to take a beating… I only wish I could have visited the armory where the weapons were designed, created, and stored; it did not seem to be at Paint Hall, but I may simply have missed it.
And with that, it was time to return to Belfast to get ready for the Moot. But I’ll leave this last set visit report with a remark I had from one of the reporters, later that evening at the Moot. I asked if they had much experience with being on television sets, and she told me they had been on a lot of TV sets before, in fact. I then asked what she thought of what we had seen, in light of thatexperience. Her response was that—bearing in mind they were primarily a television journalist—they had never seen anything so elaborate before, and it led her to suppose that this production was more like a film production than a television drama.
That’s what I took out of it, too. The time, effort, and passion that has been sunk into this project should leave us all very excited for when April 17, 2011 comes around. Something very sepcial is coming, thanks to HBO, thanks to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, thanks to all the cast and crew… and thanks, most of all, to George R.R. Martin, for creating a world that can be brought to life so vividly.
This attempt at a fairly comprehensive listing of sources for watching Game of Thrones is incomplete. There are, doubtless, many nations we could add to the last section, but we’ve only selected a few that seem notable to us, either because we know of significant fanbases of A Song of Ice and Fire in these places, or for other reasons. Furthermore, in some places there is a certain conjecture being made—for example, the fact that Jamaica and Mexico being part of HBO Latin America means both will have a May air date, even though Jamaica is English-speaking and there’s no great reason why it could not air nearer the U.S. date.
[You can read Part 3 here.]
Now, you’ll have to travel back, back, back… to when I was in the production office the first time. Because there’s something I didn’t really mention: I had a tour of it, too, before we went on into the Paint Hall.
Bryan Cogman conducted me into the art department’s offices, where I saw a gentleman—I’m afraid I did not catch his name—with some absolutely gorgeous maps on his desk that were done in a period sort of style. I know one of them featured the region in which the westerlands and the riverlands border one another, and another was more of a map of the whole realm. Truly beautiful, and I hope HBO considers turning these into posters if maps are within their licenses (as an aside, among the many things I saw on the walls was this fan map by Tear, which it turned out had been something George had sent to the production and which they said had been very useful in understanding where things were). Bryan also introduced me to two young women whom he informed me were responsible for much of the art work for the series. Around them were things like beautiful renderings of the heraldry of most of the Great Houses (it seems the Martells may have to wait for another season or two for us to get a glimpse), and one thing Bryan noted to me was that he pointed to the gorgeous Targaryen dragon and said, yeah, they knew the legs wrong and that they would be correcting that.
For those that don’t know what that means, the Targaryen dragon should—as with actual dragons—have two back legs and then wings, but no additional limbs. A confusion on our part at Westeros.org led our own Targaryen dragon (the very one gracing George’s website) to have small forelimbs .... which George never noticed until I pointed it out to him one day. Oops. Unfortunately, our depiction, and that of Virginia Norey in A Game of Thrones, set the standard for—err—the standard. But now they know it isn’t quite right, and as we’ve seen with the recent t-shirt release, they have corrected it. Yay!
Some other things I saw in this office were sorts of Styrofoam models of certain sets and locations, I suppose as a way to mock-up how something may look. One of them was of that great roof of Vaes Dothrak, under which all the members of every khalasar was said to be able to gather at one time. I can’t wait to see it on screen.
Later, when George and Parris were watching the screener, I had a drink in the kitchen while Bryan returned to his office to deal with some urgent script editing work. I admit, I decided to stare at things awhile longer, getting my fill. It was quite amazing to be able to get such a close look at so much concept art, and to see just how many actors and roles we’re going to be introduced to. Eventually I joined Bryan and the script coordinators in his office, taking a free desk as we waited for George. I got to hear Bryan talking with David and Dan about a small continuity problem that had inadvertently developed from a scene they filmed, and how they quickly resolved it. It really made me realize how much loving attention has gone into trying to get everything right, on what in the end is a huge production that’s employing something like 600 people and there’s a lot of balls to keep in the air (or, as director Daniel Minahan later said in relation to his job, it was like keeping plates spinning).
I had missed seeing it in the armor shop, but at the production office I finally saw a photo of the whole of Loras Tyrell’s tourney armor, and even saw a picture of its source inspiration, which is a fairly famous suit of royal armor (no, not Henry VIII’s). It’s a magnificent example of the armorer’s work, and I can’t wait to see it on screen.
When George and Parris left the screening room, the first thing George said is that he loved the 20 minutes he saw, and wished they had another 20 hours to show him. He and Parris were very enthusiastic. In particular, they cited just how amazing Maisie Williams was as Arya, and later George would enthuse that she was well and truly a proper young actress. Bryan shared an anecdote which Miltos also later shared at the Moot. When Maisie came in to begin her training with fight coordinator Buster Reeves, he set a practice weapon in her right hand ... and she stopped him and noted to him that Arya was left handed and this was very important. Everyone was amazed this young girl would have researched her character well enough to realize this, and to know how important it was to maintain fidelity with Martin’s work.
After some more discussion in Bryan’s office—where I noticed a script on his desk labelled EPISODE X and with a phrase in big type (I’m paraphrasing, as I don’t recall the exact words), “Do Not Discuss This Script With Anyone Not Employed by Fire and Ice Productions”—it was time for us to head out. While we waited for our ride to Magheramorne, we had a chance to discuss a few more things. Bryan was regaling George with the fact that Harry Lloyd (Prince Visyers) had become a big fan of the novels, and was _really_ into the mythos of the setting, which was wonderful to hear. Bryan mentioned some of the little things he had written for the show, including pages for Grand Maester Malleon’s The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms, With Descriptions of Many High Lords and Noble Ladies and Their Children, which were about as dry as you’d expect after that ponderous title. Do these things have a name, I wonder? Set dressing? Fan service?
Bryan chuckled about that and mentioned that Sean Bean did not have to do much acting to get across Ned Stark’s boredom when flipping through it.
We also discussed the scroll photo that appeared on the Making Of site, where fans had been able to decipher some of the text. Bryan said that the artist behind it had probably written the text according to his own research, so the bit about Aegon IV and Sunspear was meaningless as far as content goes. I did note, however, that there’s a good reason Aegon IV may have had dealings with Dorne, and George seemed to agree.
Then our ride arrived, and off we went to Magheramorne, the primary set for filming at Castle Black.
[You can read Part 2 here.]
Again we were going to head back to the sets… and again we were distracted. I did learn some very interesting things from Bryan as we walked along, and he was in fact incredibly forthcoming. Perhaps once the series airs I can discuss some of the things after they’ve played out on screen. Suffice it to say, it was very interesting discussing the nuts-and-bolts of adapting the text to the screen ... and one thing in particular he said about their plans left me quite excited.
The distraction this time? Well, I had asked if I could also see the costumes and armor, and Bryan again was pleased to take us over there to look around. He noted that he himself rarely got to visit these areas, most often being directly on set or in his office (which he shared with the script coordinators). If I recall correctly, the very first thing I saw was this marvelous watercolor out of King René‘s Tournament Book. It’s an image I’m very familiar with, and I loved the fact that it was there serving as a visual inspiration for the sumptuousness of garments and the levels of pageantry in the setting.
The next thing that leaped out was a beautiful gown, the provenance of which I’m uncertain. I suspect it may be one of Cersei’s. Looking around further, there were any number of garments, including two racks with “hero” costumes with labels such as Ned Stark, Catelyn Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Viserys Targaryen, and more. Tyrion’s red jerkin that we’ve seen previously was among them. A number of people were quietly working away with some of the magnificent textiles the production had gotten a hold of. In fact, one of the pieces I was most impressed by was a very subtly patterned, green-on-green jerkin that I spotted in one corner. Something for Lord Renly, perhaps? Hard to say.
They shared space with some of the Armor department, so the next thing to grab my attention was, well, armor. A lot of it. Kingsguard armor, Lannister guard armor, gold cloak armor, unique pieces for “hero” characters, and more. The craftsmanship is beyond belief. The first piece of armor we looked at and admired was the Kingsguard armor, of which there were several examples (including a suit of it under the Jaime Lannister label on the “hero” rack). We briefly discussed the changes (the fact that the white has been reduced to ornamentation) and some of the similarities (the use of scale, which is what’s actually described). I did see one of the white cloaks they wear, however, and later saw a photo of an actor wearing said cloak while on horseback, and it looked fabulous. Under the Robert Baratheon label, we saw another piece of armor I had not expected: his breastplate from the tourney. It’s a beautiful piece of armor, and you won’t mistake the man who would be (trying to) get it on for anything other than a Baratheon.
After that, another piece of controversial armor: the Lannister guard armor. Right off the bat, yes, Bryan admitted there was a little bit of an Asian influence. But I can tell you, I looked at this armor very closely, and all the pieces of it (save the helmet) are absolutely, 100% European in construction. They are not samurai armor. The Asian influence is not in the construction of the armor, but in its ornamentation, namely the lacquer-like hues of color and that horizontal banding on the breastplate. Now, that banding is purely decorative—it is a solid breastplate, not segmented, not lamellar, and so on. The colors which we’ve seen appear to me to be due to a dyed leather or perhaps a sort of tough enamelling, but then, this is armor from a setting where colored steel, painted steel, enameled steel, etc. is de rigeur for wealthy knights and lords. The specific conception behind this armor is two-fold. First, as we’ve seen from the Michelle Clapton video, yes, the Westerlands mixes a bit of Asian aesthetics with medieval aesthetics (in fact, there’s a piece of armor we’ve seen that also has this Asian influence, but no one’s noticed—I only realized thanks to seeing a picture of the source inspiration next to the concept design). But secondly, they also wanted to show the vast wealth of the Lannisters by giving their guardsmen an extraordinary set of armor that set them apart from other guardsmen. I think they succeeded on this score.
Now, I didn’t discuss the helmet, not because it’s Asian, but because it’s not really European. The partial glimpse we see led many to believe it was a kabuto-inspired piece. I am happy to say it’s nothing at all like the helmet of the samurai. Like the Kingsguard helmet, it is more specifically an example of a fantasy helmet shape that I don’t think has much precedent in real life. The closest I might compare it to is the Italian barbute, if the sides were flared outwards. The reports that there’s a split, hinged visor that locks across the face is absolutely true. I didn’t get to see the helmet on anyone, but I can just imagine that the guardsmen will look forbidding and vaguely leonine once the visor is in place. Speaking of leonine, the elbows of the Lannister armor are utterly fabulous, and they drew George and I like magpies as we admired them. Shiny!
I briefly spoke with one of the armorers at this point, as he was fabricating a mass of helmets. We chatted about how long it took, and I shared my thanks and praise for the degree of effort I was seeing, which he seemed to appreciate. Apparently, these helmets were meant for wildlings
After that, George, Parris, and I gave our attention to the armor of the City Watch of King’s Landing. It’s gorgeous work! We’ve caught glimpses of it, but they don’t do it justice. I had thought that all the maille we would see would use the Lord of the Rings plastic tubing rings, which looks good on camera but is much cheaper and much, much lighter . . . but, no, this stuff is real metal! There was a woman in the workshop who was actually fitting these rings together by hand, which was mind-boggling. It makes for a very fine mesh. Add the ornate burgonet-like helmet and the bits of scale on the chest, and all in all I’m reminded of certain Turkish or Persian armor ensembles I’ve seen before. It has obvious connections to medieval/Renaissance European armor, but there’s something just a bit foreign to it that reminds us this is a fantasy. It’s actually better looking than what GRRM described for the gold cloaks, if I may say so, and I think it’s a terrific interpretation which highlights King’s Landing as the royal seat.
I noticed as I admired this armor that there was another gentleman quietly working away. I couldn’t help but note that he was working on a gauntlet of what George might describe as “lobstered steel”, and I asked him who it was for. He indicated the character, one near and dear to the hearts of many fans, and then asked if I wanted to see some of the concepts for armor he had pinned up in his office.
He didn’t need to ask twice.
I went in and was floored with all the pictures, both of designs, prototypes, completed pieces, actors in the armor (including a great shot of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the Kingsguard armor but without a helmet), and inspirations. Yes, just as with the costuming, the armorers are looking beyond Western Europe in the Middle Ages, but I have to say some of the inspirations were especially apt (the Northmen are going to look terrific, if the inspiration pictures I saw are any evidence). I also saw one helmet, one straight from the books, which was very distinctive. I loved the design of it, and was very pleased to see it was surviving the interpretation from book to screen.
I asked this person—who I was starting to guess was a supervisor for the department—about the change to the Kingsguard armor, from the all-white appearance described in the novels. When I wondered if it was because it didn’t come off well on camera, he actually nodded his head and said that he thought the gleam of all-white armor wouldn’t really work in relation to everything else on screen, and therefore they went in this direction with a more bronze/gold look to the armor with the white as a decorative accent. George and I rather liked the detail of the scroll-work crown on the Kingsguard breastplate, and I said I was quite happy with the result of much of the armor myself (though I didn’t really discuss the helmet, which I have to admit I am less taken with; I understand it, the workmanship is impeccable, but it doesn’t push my buttons).
I took my leave of him, and asked his name. Turned it was none other than Simon Brindle, who really is in charge of the costume armor department, with a good deal of credits in films such as Alexander. He was very kind to give some of his time to showing us what his workshop was turning out.
Now we were set to look at the final set: the throne room of the Red Keep. It was the only Red Keep area we’d be seeing, as the other cell with the bulk of the Red Keep sets was closed due to the filming of a new scene ... one which, at the Moot, was revealed to feature Lord Renly (Gethin Anthony) and Ser Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) in what was described to us as a fairly intense scene for the actors to perform.
Exiting the armor room, we took a path towards the Paint Hall which passed a number of totem-like structures. Parris and I pondered them and then decided they must be something for the Dothraki, given that in one case there were horse heads carved on these primitive, wood-looking objects. We went on from there into the gloom of the Paint Hall, which George noted was always just a bit colder than the surrounding area. A klaxon went off at one point as Bryan let us into the throne room area, and we had to be very, very quiet—I gather the cameras were rolling in the cell immediately adjacent.
We got into the throne room and ... well, wow. It’s a massive space, with tall columns, stained glass windows featuring the seven-pointed star of the Faith, a relief depicting a hunting scene (just the sort of thing King Robert loves best), and more. And, yes, on a raised dais, beneath a stained glass window set high above it, there was one more thing: the Iron Throne. We made a beeline to it, I admit, and yes, I had a chance to sit in it. It’s not absolutely massive as some of the more baroque depictions from artists, but it’s still rather large, and yes, they’ve worked swords through the whole thing in a fascinating way. It looks a bit uncomfortable to sit on, to be honest ... and that’s just the way Aegon the Conqueror wanted it, so I’d have to say it’s a success.
We wondered in passing about the dragon skulls that the Targaryens once lined the walls with, nineteen in number according to the text, and glimpsed at one point in the novels. Bryan revealed that they certainly had built one, large-scale skull. He would have loved to show it to us, but it happened to be in Malta at the moment… And with that, our visit to the Paint Hall was done. Next stop, the production office again. First, I have to make a correction: I realized after my last post that I sort of conflated my first production office visit as being part of my second. So in fact, some of the details below are things I saw in my first visit (where I met Bryan and where he gave me a tour of the offices).
When we arrived at the production office the second time, I was aware that there were some plans afoot. They became clear when we paused in front of an office with a TV and DVD player inside. Awaiting within was 20 minute long DVD, a crew screener of a number of completed scenes put together for one G. Martin. Bryan was apologetic about the fact that I wasn’t permitted to watch it—he would have loved for me to see it—but it was for George and Parris alone. As I left the room and Bryan closed the door, I heard the famous HBO opening (you know the one, the click of a screen going on and a moment of static). So close, and yet so far!
As a consolation, however, Bryan gave me a chance to get another look at the production offices—wait, another look? Yeah, about that…
When I first arrived there, Bryan showed me around the various offices, including the art department and the offices of the executive producers, David Benioff and Dan Weiss. One of the first things I noticed was that several of the offices had walls covered in faces, photos of every actor cast with their names and the role they’re playing. In part I suspect it’s there to help the crew put names to faces, especially when the total cast is now approaching 300 actors. I gather it means actors who have speaking lines, and so not all extras are included. I am put in mind that a recent report stating Boardwalk Empire had 200 roles with speaking lines, which was presented as a very large cast indeed.
Besides all these photos of actors, the other thing to notice was an astonishing amount of artwork, concept designs from various stages of the production, a storyboard or two, architectural plans, and more. I have seen the great roof of Vaes Dothrak, the Red Keep on Aegon’s High Hill, the Eyrie upon the Giant’s Lance, the ancient walls of Winterfell, the Wall with Castle Black nestled on its base (BTW, no, Castle Black is not surrounded by a wall in these concepts!) Also many, many concepts for costumes for various regions. There was one terrific room which had a particular collection of designs: dozens of heraldic shields and banners, and every single one of them drawn straight from the books. Including the Royce of Runestone design Bryan loved, I noticed Lefford (yep, that blue and yellow banner in the Gemma Jackson video is House Lefford, although they’ve flipped the pile over for reasons I do not know), House Crakehall, House Blackwood, House Hornwood, and ... well, a couple of houses folks have speculated on in regards to whether they’re playing a role or not in the series, and we’ll just have to wait for the show to air.
Next part tomorrow, featuring some more tidbits from the art department and production offices, a boring book Sean Bean had to read, and preparing to take the black…
[You can read the first part of the set visit report here.]
To get to the next set required a journey outside ... and that ended up leading to a detour to the props department. I had noticed a giant, wooden stag’s head outside and wondered if it was a part of the tourney set, and Bryan confirmed. With Parris’s encouragement, we we went into the prop room. A true treasure trove! A very special saddle for one of the actors, various household ornaments, a cute child’s drawing (which I suspect came from the hand of Arya, given the subject matter of a warrior woman on horseback slashing at soldiers), banners galore, a certain (dead) direwolf which has been reported on before, a prototype for the Iron Throne, and much more.
The direwolf was especially massive, very much the size of a pony. I asked Bryan about this, saying that of course right now the direwolf pups need not be much bigger than dogs ... but what happens later on (if there is a later on, *knock on wood*)? Would the production use digital compositing or forced perspective… ? That was one of the things he said they would have to deal with when it came to it. I had the sense that they were very hopeful of having such a problem to deal with, giving that that would mean additional seasons in which to tell the story.
Now, as you know, the heraldry of the setting is near and dear to my heart, and I only wish those banners hadn’t been wrapped up so I could look at them. However, I did notice that they all had labels indicating who they belonged to. They comprised many names straight out of the novels: Karstark, Umber, Hornwood, Cerwyn, Glover ... and Bolton, I couldn’t help but notice. The sheer number of northern houses represented put me in mind of the fact that at the pilot shoot in Doune Castle, it was stated that the feasting hall was hung with many banners. But they weren’t all northern. There were two different Lannister banners, including one very fancy one, and I also noticed a more obscure house of the westerlands, House Swyft, represented, which pleased me to no end. Little did I know I’d get an eyeful of heraldry soon enough…
Shelves were lined with objects, and had tags indicating where they belonged. There was this terrific wheeled horse ornament which apparently belonged in Ned Stark’s chamber at the Red Keep, which I believe is a memento he carried with him from King’s Landing with him to remember Bran by, some textiles and things that belonged to Cersei, even a long row of objects that were part of the Dothraki setting.
We then went on to another exterior set, this one representing one of the sky cells beneath the Eyrie. I was amazed at just how heavy the wooden door was, just as it would be. I had to really push to get it open. When we were inside, they mentioned that they had already filmed scenes with Mord, played by Ciaran Bermingham. Everyone had thought he was a terrific actor and person, and really enjoyed his portrayal of the character (later, George mused that Bermingham would have been a fine choice for a character from the second novel, Biter, as well). The sky cell itself… the first thing I noted was that it didn’t seem to be subtly tilted, as in the books, but when I was actually standing on it I have to say it did feel like it was just the tiniest bit angled. The idea, of course, being that it would keep prisoners terrified to sleep on the floor for fear that its incline would lead them to roll out into the open sky and the long, long fall below.
There were all sorts of little details in the cell that added to the sense that this was a place where many people had suffered over the centuries. George discussed some of the details of his own description of the cells, such as the fact that they’re sort of honeycombed beneath the Eyrie. He also pointed out one change that he seemed to approve of, a measure to make sure no one could climb out. There’s a few pictures (thanks, Parris!) of myself, George, and Bryan Cogman in the cell. I couldn’t resist flapping my arms for one of them as I stood at the cell’s edge.
We were about to head on to the Paint Hall when a noise distracted us. Barking, specifically. Yep, a bunch of the dogs playing the direwolves were present. Bryan took us to meet them. I couldn’t say the exact number of them, but I know for sure there were at least two dogs for Ghost, and in total I’m certain there were at least eight dogs. They’re all quite beautiful animals, and a few seemed quite curious at the attention. George and Parris seemed quite familiar with them, as well, knowing them by name.
After that, someone said we should visit the ravens, in a tent-like structure next to where the dogs were. One of the animal handlers, named Esther, personally showed us around. Not only does it have a couple of rooms for the production’s two ravens (who have to be kept separate or they would fight), but it also had large, separate kennels for each of the dogs, plus a couple of dog runs. She went to take out the ravens, and discussed their training, issues with getting them to carry messages (it took a lot of time and effort to figure out how to do it; at one point they thought of just having them carry them in their beaks, but I gather they took to eating them), and so on. I hadn’t realized just how BIG ravens are. The bigger of the two, Ronnie, was also very greedy and kept leaping for Esther’s hand which was holding the food, rather than hopping onto her left arm to await being fed as he was trained.
One detail Esther noted? She had a bruised rib . . . because she had been practicing the Grey Wind “hits” on a certain “great” character, and she had been bowled over. Despite this injury, she seemed to really love her work. This was the general sense of the whole thing: all the crew I met seemed genuinely excited to be involved in a production like this.
Tomorrow, part 3, with a lengthy look at the armor department, and a visit to the throne room…
A funny thing happened in October…
But if you want to hear the whole tale of how I had a chance to visit the sets in Belfast in late October, and my breakfast with George and Parris where I met Isaac Hempstead-Wright, or my first meeting with script editor and writer Bryan Cogman and what it was like to stand atop the Wall, or even a report of the Belfast Moot where many of the actors and crew hung out with fans… well, you can read those from my earlier postings. But if what you really want to read was what it was like to actually be inside the Paint Hall sets, or visiting the various production departments, read on!
When HBO announced that it was ordering a season of George R.R. Martin‘s Game of Thrones on March 2nd, the news was greeted with jubilation across fandom, on the internet and off. But the green light provided a host of new questions, such as when new cast members would be announced, when new production stills might be seen, and the like. And among them, a fairly significant question: what would the budget be?
We received answers pretty quickly. Nelson McCausland, a government minister, shared that the per-season budget was expected to be circa £30 million, equivalent to $45 million U.S. With a ten episode order, this would average at $4.5m an episode, a significant amount of money by most standards in the industry. On top of this, we had additional reports that the production was estimated to inject as much as £20m ($30m) into the economy, an interesting figure that has provided one of our own estimates regarding just what this budget means.
The thing that has to be realized when trying to decide what the budget means in terms of the production is that a host of factors make this production different than other, comaparably-budgetted HBO productions such as Carnivàle and Deadwood. Chief among them? A foreign location, Northern Ireland, which has only recently pushed to become a major location for international film production. With this fledgling industry comes a great deal of opportunity as far as production costs go. The Northern Ireland government has made many efforts entice productions through generous tax breaks, cash incentives, and other support.
So, what’s the purchasing power of a $45 million production in Northern Ireland, compared to a show in the United States? Good question, and one we’re going to try our best to answer. We welcome comments, additional analysis, and any relevant facts and figures that can help develop our first try further.
While all our present information from George R.R. Martin indicates that HBO is expected to give a decision somewhere around March on whether they will order a season of Game of Thrones (US, UK), the finishing of filming on November 19th has led to an understandable question: what next? We’ll try to answer, and speculate on, two of the primary tasks before the production now that principal shooting is done: visual effects and post-production. We are by no means experts on these (or, indeed, any) facets of film production, but we’ve collected information from across the internet that will allow the experts to speak for themselves.
The Westeros network consists of several different sites, including a forum and a wiki, for all your A Song of Ice and Fire needs.