Today is the publication day for Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones II the second official companion book, following the hugely successful Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones. Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones II gives fans new ways to enter the world of Westeros and discover more about the beloved (and reviled) characters and the electrifying plotlines. Hundreds of set photos, production and costume designs, storyboards and insider stories reveal how the show’s creators translate George R.R. Martin’s bestselling fantasy series for the screen.
Featuring interviews with key actors and crew members that capture the best scripted and unscripted moments from seasons three and four, this special volume offers behind-the-scenes access to this ground-breaking and hugely successful series.
We are thrilled to be able to share with you an exclusive extract from this very exciting book.
— the wall —
episode 306: “the climb”
Built forty-five hundred years ago, the Wall is one of the most significant structures in Westeros. Standing around seven hundred to eight hundred feet tall and covering more than three hundred miles, the Wall was constructed to defend Westeros against the secret terrors of the North, the White Walkers, now long forgotten and turned into legend. As this happened, the Wall was slowly abandoned and let fall into ruin. Of the original nineteen castles along the Wall, only three are still manned: the Shadow Tower, Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and Castle Black. It remains, however, a daunting obstacle. In Episode 306, Mance and his wildling army travel toward the Wall, and Mance orders a small party to scale the Wall in preparation for his attack. This dramatic scene became one of the largest production challenges of season three.
ALIK SAKHAROV (DIRECTOR): It was very important that there was a sense that it was a continuous forward climb. When I first storyboarded the scene, I had about eighty VFX shots—too many by far. I wanted to see the abyss below and the vast empty sky as they climbed. It became clear quickly that I couldn’t work it that way. Then it became very subjective—it was all about the interactions of the characters. Words aren’t spoken, but you sense the tension. The most important thing for me was that we didn’t pull the actors up the Wall. Instead, they had to climb it. We needed to see the exertion and the effort in order to sell it. The Wall had to have the space to accommodate all four climbers at once, so they were really all climbing together.
TOM MARTIN (CONSTRUCTION MANAGER): In the beginning we did tests on the look—some people thought it should be like a glacier; others wanted compacted snow and ice, as the Wall was supposed to be man-made. Once [production designer] Gemma Jackson agreed on the style, we built a basic timber frame and coated it in scrim and plaster for the foundation and to build up the shape. Then we sprayed on hot wax and handfuls of sea salt to create the look of crystallization. In the stunt tests it quickly became clear this was too thin. The test climbers were sometimes striking through to the timber frame. In the end, we completely changed the process. We did a full polystyrene sculpt with the plaster and wax, and as it was curing, we blew in small amounts of glitter to give it a snowlike shimmer. One of the best things was accidental: the salt crystals absorbed water and formed frozen droplets in the cool temperatures of the vast interior of the Paint Hall in winter, which actually made the surface cool to the touch for the climbers.
During filming, we had a team of four ready to fix any immediate damage between takes, using blowtorches and a compound of wax and SFX powder snow to patch the wall. Overnight, for the whole three-week shoot, we had two teams who would start from the bottom and refinish the entire wall, so that each morning the climbers could start on a new fresh wall set. From start to finish, including all the tests for VFX, SFX, and stunts, the Wall remains one of the longest set builds on the show, taking about twelve weeks to complete.
KIT HARINGTON (JON SNOW): It was a grueling shoot. They left you a little slack in the harness line, just enough so you really had to climb, and if you slipped, you would drop. At one point I was strapped to the Wall from behind and hauling Rose [Leslie, who plays the wildling Ygritte] up while facing forward, and it felt like you could fall all this way while you looked down. It wasn’t eight hundred feet, but it helped you imagine it. Of course, Rose did have to drop when the Wall gave way, and she was amazing. For the bigger stuff, the stunt people came in. What’s amazing is the way they watch your performance and mimic your style, how you move and climb and even how you use your axe. In the end, it was a wonderful dance to work with them.
ROSE LESLIE (YGRITTE): You had to believe it. You wanted to see the strain in the face, the grip of the hand. As an actor, you want that depth in your performance. You could be hanging out in your harness for long periods of time, but just before filming, we turned over, and they would give you just enough slack so that you were on the Wall with your full weight. We had a wind machine from one side, and snow coming in from the other. For the four of us it was very real. You felt you were right on the Wall. Alik would remind us on each take of the threat of making a wrong move and what that could mean.
JOE BAUER (VFX SUPERVISOR): An awful lot of care was given to the real set by the art department. The need to have four people climbing at once really dictated its size. We had two main sequences, one at two hundred feet and one at five hundred feet, which were mainly differentiated by the weather. At the lower altitude, it’s cloudy and the beginnings of a storm are brewing. But we also wanted to create a feeling of “Look how high we are”—as an audience, we have never been so high. By the time they reach the upper sequence, the characters are almost ripped off the Wall by the force of the storm.
VFX extended and expanded the horizons, creating our own Wall of China, essentially. We started by fully scanning the actual set so we had a 3-D computer model to work from and could use that for tracking. The top of the Wall is very different, of course. It’s a tiny set in real life, and the actors had to bunch together. When they get there, it’s the first time we see that kind of view. We used two matte painters to create the view of what they had left behind and used that as a base. Then we used a photograph of a location in Southern Ireland to create the epic vista of the South—what they are moving toward. We lit it in a romantic light, since it’s a significant moment for Jon and Ygritte. It’s the moment they fall in love—we wanted the view to represent the possibilities that holds.