Game of Thrones’ final season is fast approaching, and everything about the show has been blown out to unprecedented proportions.
With everything about the show expanding, it should come as no surprise that the battles have as well. The ultimate conflict between the living and the dead looks like it will be the entire focus of one of the season’s six episodes, according to director Miguel Sapochnik in a recent interview.
Entertainment Weekly visited the Game of Thrones set for a cover story to talk to the cast about the season’s exhaustive filming process, including talking to Sapochnik about how he wanted to make the major episode — and what he wanted to avoid.
“One thing I found is the less action — the less fighting — you can have in a scene, the better,” Sapochnik said. “I find the best battle sequences are when you have a strong point of view. I keep thinking: ‘Whose story am I telling right now?’”
Sapochnik has been a go-to director for Game of Thrones showrunners David Benniof and D.B. Weiss for certain episodes that feature major fights. Episodes like “Hardholme,” which feature some of the series’ most iconic battles, had him at the helm. Two years ago, for the penultimate episode of season 6, Sapochnik directed the show’s biggest and most grueling battle yet in the episode “Battle of the Bastards,” in-which the titular combat lasted nearly 40 minutes.
On-set, Sansa Stark actress Sophie Turner jokingly told Sapochnik she heard the battle episode in season 8 would end up running 90 minutes. Sapochnik only grinned and walked away. According to Entertainment Weekly, this episode is expected to feature the longest continuous battle ever filmed.
While “Battle of the Bastards” took 25 days of shooting, this final season episode took 11 weeks, with most of the shoot happening at night.
Sapochnik said the crew “basically broke it down into so many pieces, it would be shot like a Marvel movie, with never any flow or improvisation.” He continued, “But I turned to the producers and said, ‘I don’t want to do 11 weeks of night shoots and no one else does. But if we don’t, we’re going to lose what makes Game of Thrones cool, and that is that it feels real.”
While the schedule has been grueling for everyone on the cast and crew, it may have been toughest for actress Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark. While her character may have spent the better part of the last seven seasons learning to be an assassin, this is the first actual battle she’ll take part in.
Sapochnik first warned Williams before shooting to “start training now, because this is going to be really hard,” Williams said. And she quickly found out he wasn’t lying. “Nothing can prepare you for how physically draining it is. It’s night after night, and again and again, and it just doesn’t stop.”
But, she continued, “the hard work pays off on this show. After one of those really tough days, you know it’s going to be part of something so iconic, and it will look amazing.”
Game of Thrones season 8 will begin on April 14, with the final episode airing on HBO on May 19.