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Interview with Tommy Dunne

Tommy Dunne is the weapon master for Game of Thrones, meaning that he’s overseen the conception, design, and production of the many, many weapons used in the production. The total number of weapons has gone into the hundreds, we’ve been told, and all that thanks to Mr. Dunne and his team.

His career in television and film production was not something he really planned for, but began (tellingly enough) with a little film named Braveheart. From there, Dunne has gone on to work in some pretty remarkable productions. Just a short list: Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, V for Vendetta, and both Band of Brothers and The Pacific. He’s certainly no stranger to high-end productions, nor is he a stranger to working HBO. Read below to discover how he got his start, the influences behind some of the weapon designs, and the surprise he got when it came to creating the swords of the white walkers.

How’d you get into this line of work, first off, as a weapon master?

Well that was one of those “right place at the right time” things. My background is Mechanical Engineering ( Fitting / Turning / Toolmaking / Welding ) so i was very late to start this game at 28 years old. The industry I was working in was downsizing at the time, so I jumped before I was pushed and took a welding job on a 6 month rolling contract. But as that first block ended. a friend in an SFX department rang to see if I would work with them laying gas pipes for a gilm called Braveheart (which meant nothing to me at the time). So I did that, and then by sheer luck I got into the Armoury department making weapons and never looked back.

From that point I was self-taught with weapons (although I did have 5 years in the Army Reserves in Ireland with extensiave weapons training). With my background, it wasn’t hard to work my way up.

One thing I saw when I was at Magheramorne was that someone brought out one of the swords of the white walkers. Quite amazing! Fans have now just gotten a tiny glimpse of this weapon. How was that conceived and created?

This was a fun one as it was originally going to be done with visual effects. But during a meeting (one of many), Mr. [Mark] Huffam [producer] informed me that I was making this one practically. That was a shock as there was not much time to design, prototype, get the blessing from all the powers, and have them ready to shoot on set. But with a lot of long days we concieved what was wanted. The idea came from a crystalized rock that I had, which inspired me to create tranlucent, sword of ice (using acrylic resin) in such a way that it looked like layers of crystals overlapping, like scales on snake.

I’ve heard it said that the process of weapon design changed somewhat between the pilot and the final series, in terms of how much input the armory had in the designs. Is that accurate, and if so, can you describe some of the differences in the process?

Good Question. The answer is both yes and no. The pilot was very much in my control with the concepts. The difference between the pilot and the first series was the timeframe. Because everybody was excited about this project and many had ideas of what they wanted (you speak to 5 people and they will have 5 different ideas),  on the pilot we decided to get in a concept artist, Mr. Will Simpson, to dissect these ideas and put them on paper so that people could come together in ideas, then I would steer them right. But there was no way I could wait for every new weapon to be done this way, so I asked for freedom in designing what had to come up, and would consult with hero designs only.

One of the more unique weapons described in the novels is the arakh, called “half scythe, half sword” by the Dothraki. This led a lot of speculation among fans about what it could look like. How’d you hit upon your specific designs, and were there any real-world influences? I’ve heard that an Indian weapon called the vechevoral somehow influenced it.

This weapon was enjoyable to reserch and make. You are right, the vechevoral did influence the blade (but only the blade) of the small arakh, The large arakh was a different matter. I liked the look of a Bronze Age sword from ancient Babylon, although again this was for the balde only and I enhanced the curvature more.  So, these were a mix old and new.

One of the other things we’ve noticed is that the bows glimpsed on the show all seem to be recurved weapons. In the novels, that’s mostly limited to the Dothraki, with the Seven Kingdoms tending to long bows. Was that just for visual reasons?

This was again something that I had to ponder over, as I have to make them practical in terms of usage. So, my thought was that highborn could have the luxury of recurve (e.g. Bran, Theon), but you will see most, if not all, troops will have longbows, flatbows, or crossbows which is true to form [to the novels]. Any time a bow is used on horseback, it’ll be a smaller bow for practical reasons.

Can you take us a bit through the process of creating one of the hero weapons, such as Ice, from concept to completion?

Ice was the main weapon to get right, as it had a lot of history to it. From the concept to the construction, it was about three weeks to make, as the blade was hand-forged by pattern-welding, and the blade was drawn using machine hammers. But as with any good weapons, there’s some other secrets [to making it] that will remain secret!

Now, Gregor’s sword caught my eye because of the pommel, which some research suggests is something common to Irish swords of a certain era.  To what degree are these details coming from you and the armory team, versus a concept artist?

This sword is a concept that again originated with the Armoury department. It’s a look depicting a “Celtic Irish Ring Sword.” Can’t shoot a movie in Belfast, Northern Ireland and not sell it in some way. Being Irish myself, its part of our historical look.

Longclaw hasn’t been seen by most fans of yet—I was lucky to be able to see it and handle it a little bit at Magheramorne, so I rather geeked out—but that one was an exceptional weapon… both in the books, and on the set. How is Valyrian steel represented on the show?

Yes, this is a nice sword. The wolf is hand-carved, and Valyrian steel is represented by pattern welding (or Damascus as it’s popularly known). That are so many patterns available with pattern-welding that we try to keep it varied.

Finally, one weapon we haven’t really heard anything about is somewhat iconic in the books, King Robert’s warhammer. It doesn’t seem to be shown anywhere on the series, however. Did you make the weapon, and do you know if it’s being used?

Robert’s Warhammer was in fact made. It was dressed into his bedchamber [for a scene late in the series], but I’m not sure it’s actually shown. But I will have it in Series 2, possibly with Joffrey, or I might Have it with Renly… We will see. I will give the writers the choice, but it is there and looking good if they want to use it.

Thank you, Tommy. Any last thoughts you’d like to share?

I’d like to praise my team of hard workers in the Armoury Department—Mr. Boyd Rankin, Mr. Fergus McNulty, and Ms. Natalia Lee—for their hard work. Also, a big thanks to HBO, George, the producers, and everyone else in creating a sense of family among the crew.

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