Director Matt Shakman Talks GAME OF THRONES’ Loot Train Attack Scene

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First time GAME OF THRONES director Matt Shakman talks about the excitement of directing the Loot Train Attack scene.

Matt Shakman has never directed a Game of Thrones episode. As a matter of fact, his experience has been more on dramatic dialogue, which there’s plenty of in Game of Thrones, but you’d think he’d done plenty of battle scenes prior to “The Spoils of War.” He hadn’t.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Fargo director talks about what it was like directing the epic episode and that eye-popping, jaw-dropping scene.

What was your initial reaction when you learned the scope of your first episode this season?

I was reading the script and this battle began and I kept turning pages and the battle kept going on page after page after page! The excitement, the stress and the fear all built at the same time, mirroring probably what was happening onscreen. It was a huge opportunity and a challenge. I spent the better part of six months working on that one sequence, which I started prepping at the beginning and shot it at the end of my shoot. It got the most attention of everything. But it was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, and certainly one of the most rewarding.

This is your first time stepping into the director’s seat for Game of Thrones, and you were tasked with bringing one of the most anticipated battle scenes to life. Was it a daunting prospect at all? Pure excitement?

It was definitely daunting but also exciting. The first thing I did was to try to navigate these multiple points of view and figure out who I wanted to base the battle around. I ultimately decided around Jaime being the centerpiece of the battle and thematically what story I wanted to tell. And that story was what it was like to be on the ground when war changes forever. To see it from a traditional fighter like Jaime, to see what happens when you introduce something like napalm or the atom bomb into battle and all the sudden traditional fighting goes out the window. Once I figured out what that story was, I was able to build it from there. But looking at all the action beats was intimidating until I figured out what the story of it was.

Photo: © Gocha M. (twitter/batumeli)

This is the first time the Dothraki have fought in Westeros. Before we see them, we hear their war cries. This is an epic and long-awaited moment for fans of the series. What were your goals and visions about how best to realize the Dothraki ravaging the Seven Kingdoms for the first time?

I wanted to play with sound and silence. We sensed them coming before we really hear them coming. Then they’re there from a distance, and we smash into the chaos of them as they approach. I wanted that feeling of a Western — this savage attack coming at this more formalized line of men, that tension of circling the wagons and trying to protect them from the chaos and the onslaught. Working with our horse wrangler, we came up with some of the specific things that they can do: We wanted to show their horse mastery and why they were so formidable in battle. Those were some of my favorite images: When they rise up to shoot arrows, they’re literally standing on their saddles, defying gravity. I worked on a Western once before and did some research on Comanche war tactics and we tried to steal some of those as well. When one of the Dothraki leans completely over to cut off Bronn’s horse’s leg, he leans completely out of his saddle to the side. That’s something I read that the Comanche did to avoid attack, arrows and gunshots. It was fun to create the language for how they would be.

What was involved in filming Coster-Waldau’s scene at the end of the episode, with his character Jaime Lannister drowning in the river?

We shot some stuff underwater in a pool in Belfast, which is always a challenge — it’s very difficult to shoot in water. The final image of the episode in what we call “dry for wet.” He was dropped on a wire rig in a space that was completely black and we added some smoke and shot it in very high speeds of slow motion and then added stuff to make it feel like water. That’s a trick used in The Lord of the Rings and a lot of other movies and gives you more control than actually shooting in water. It was definitely a challenge, but Nikolaj and Jerome were amazing during the shooting of this battle and were willing to do anything and did some pretty amazing stunt work themselves.

Watch the Anatomy of a Scene featurette of the Loot Train Attack below.

Another thing to note about “The Spoils of War” is that, according to Deadline, despite the episode being leaked 2 days ahead of it’s airing on HBO, the episode garnered the highest number of viewers ever at 10.2 million, with the season’s premiere, “Dragonstone,” having slightly less fewer viewers at 10.1 million. What’s interesting is that the leak just might have helped the network and show gain those viewers by early “word-of-mouth” raves and reviews.

There are three more episodes to go this season, including Sunday’s episode 65, “Eastwatch,” also directed by Matt Shakman.

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