‘Game of Thrones’ Director: Loot Train Battle Inspired by Atom Bomb, Pompei

'Game of Thrones Director: Loot Train

SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen “Game of Thrones” Season 7, episode 4, titled “The Spoils of War.”

Once or twice a season, “Game of Thrones” delivers an epic battle scene unlike nearly anything previously seen on TV — Blackwater Bay, Hardhome, the Battle of the Bastards. Sunday night’s episode, “The Spoils of War,” presented yet another. The Loot Train Battle kicked off with a horde of Dothraki horsemen charging hastily assembled Lannister lines in a scene at first reminiscent of classic Westerns. But then the stakes changed, as viewers got to see a fully grown dragon flown by Daenerys Targaryen and making a first fiery assault on Westerosi ground troops. The result was, in “Game of Thrones” fashion, carnage.

Matt Shakman, who directed “The Spoils of War,” spoke with Variety about Season 7’s biggest battle thus far.


‘Game of Thrones’ Recap: Daenerys Must Make a Drastic Choice

How long did the Loot Train Battle take to shoot?
The battle, I think, was 18 main-unit days, roughly around five second-unit days, and then several weeks of the effects-unit shooting back in Belfast, which is where we did Daenerys flying on her dragon and shots of flamethrowers and people turning to ash and all that stuff that got added into it.

We’re used to seeing big battle scenes in the show. What did you want to do to distinguish this one?
I started by trying to focus on whose point of view I wanted to prioritize, because there are a lot of points of view in it. You see Tyrion’s point of view, you see Daenerys, you see Jaime, Bronn. And I also decided with Jaime and Bronn to focus on what it was like to be the man on the ground in the middle of a dragon attack. We rooted for Daenerys as she burned slavers in Meereen from the sky. We’ve been with her in sort of heroic moments with the dragons. But we’ve never been in a battle between two people that we love and are rooting for, and I wanted to see what it was like for those men on the ground when war changed forever, when traditional fighting goes out the window because of a giant weapon like napalm or even an atom bomb is suddenly introduced and what that sort of horror is like on the ground.

It seemed like you were looking to play with the way that viewers have perceived the dragons so far, which is essentially that they are just really cool.
Right. The horror on the ground is much larger than it has been, I think – the damage and the destruction from the last time we saw a dragon attack in Season 6. Now Drogon is the size of a 747 and the cone of flame that he sends out is 30-feet wide. So we discussed early on that the center of that flame would be so hot that it would carbonize almost instantly. So we looked a lot at Pompei as reference, which led to the idea of people just turning to ash in an instant. The people on the edge of the fire are cooking in their armor and rushing to the water to try to save themselves. But the people in the middle, their humanity is just gone in an instant.

When Bronn was being chased by the Dothraki, it seemed like you were setting up a potential death scene for him, then subverting that. Was that where you were intending to take the audience with that sequence?
I wanted there to exist the chance for someone to die at any minute. I hoped the people watching it would fear for Jaime, that they would fear for Daenerys when she was on the ground, that they would fear for Drogon, that they would fear for Bronn — and that in this collision of all these people that we love and have been rooting for and have been following, that any one of them could die at any minute. You have Tyrion stuck between the people that he loves, watching Jaime rush to what could be his death, watching Daenerys highly vulnerable down there, pulling that Scorpion bolt from Drogon’s side. I think the goal always was to keep the possibility of death imminent. Also, with Bronn, following him through the horror, he’s really our guide through the worst part of it. He’s running through the most dangerous part of the battlefield, and that’s why I wanted to have a very long, uninterrupted shot of him.

Was this more VFX-intensive than previous battle scenes in the series?
The VFX aspect of it is enormous. Yes, you’re right that in terms of the Battle of the Bastards or even maybe Hardhome to some degree, it’s more person-on-person fighting. So the beginning of this battle in “The Spoils of War” is more similar to the Battle of the Bastards in that you have lines colliding, horses hitting men on the ground. So it’s more traditional warfare. But once Drogon comes into it, it changes completely. The dragon is able to fly to any part of the battlefield. So the rules of the battlefield changed. The geography is constantly shifting. The point of view is constantly shifting.

How did you approach the cliffhanger ending with Jaime?
David and Dan [Benioff and Weiss, showrunners], who wrote script, definitely ended it the way you saw it with Jaime sinking into the deep. We shot a lot of underwater stuff, including the final shot of him drifting down which was done outside of water, but was made to look like it was shot in water. What you saw there was very similar to what the guys described in their scripts.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 15

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. jack says:

    It was the best Directed/Edited battle in the series.

  2. OB says:

    An extraordinary episode of television the likes of which I have never seen in the medium. Like the “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome” before it, this series routinely outdoes so much of what we see in the theatrical experience these days in terms of balancing character, story, and utilising CG as a tool for great storytelling and not the focus. As bonkers and incredible as it was to see Drogon annihilate a 30 foot swath of Lannister soldiers, the intensity came from an investment in Jamie, in Bronn, in Dany… and it was all perfect. Well executed. Well acted. All of it. Phenomenal. Kudos to cast and crew.

  3. Trumpelstilzchen says:

    Dear Mr. Shakman,

    thank you for the most epic fight sequence I have ever witnessed across all media. It actually hurt watching beloved characters raining fire down on other beloved characters.

    It’s a show about ice zombies and dragons, and yet, at its heart, its more human and “real” that anything I have ever seen before.

    There’s a reason the whole world is watching.

    This was your first episode. Please be part of the final season. Please continue creating on this level.

  4. Dannydoob666 says:

    This is correct because while watching this episode, I thought immediately ” wow, look at the width of the dragons flame”! It looked biblical in scope and it made me understand how a dragon could be so usual and deadly in a war. I mean, the dragons flame was like an alien ship raining fire onto a large group of people and killing them instantly. I was very impressed with this aspect of it.

    It was unique, just as The Battle of The Bastards showed a pile of bodies build up on the battle field, which had never been seen in a movie or television series. And at the end of the Hardhome episode, we get that long frightened gaze from Jon Snow and utter chilled silence as he floats away from the Night King! No music was needed, no score to enhance the moment, it was perfect!

    And they did something similar at the conclusion of Spoils of War, with Jamie descending to the depths of death, his face slowly being faded to black by the dark, cold water grave he seems to be lowered into by liquid pallbearers! Just silence, and that visual, it was very well done! If he returns in episodes to come, the scene still stands as a perfect ending, rather his “exit stage down” was his exodus from the series or not.

  5. loco73 says:

    I want him, Miguel Sapochnick and Neil Marshall to be brought back to direct episodes in Season 8!!!! Such a good episode. And as always, well calibrated between the epic and the intimate. The battle was spectacular, but what I also loved was Arya’s return to Winterfell, which is simple and understated (and funny…poor Arya people are always trying to keep her out) , but also bittersweet. Good to see the surviving Stark children together again, but also sad seeing them realising how much each one has changed and what they have been through and endured.

  6. Matt has some of the most amazing directing chops I have ever seen. Your attention to detail and the way you focused our attention with visual cues and emotion was incredible. One of the top TV episodes of all time.

  7. Rob says:

    GoT is perfect.

  8. Felix says:

    Greates TV episode of all time.

  9. nathan says:

    I wasn’t thinking Atom Bomb. To me, it invoked the controversy around the 1991 Gulf War “Highway of Death”. I was wondering if that was deliberate, or incidental..

    • gadsdensnake says:

      Interestingly the show aired on the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I too immediately thought of the Highway of Death.

      With the element of surprise gone, basic use of airpower via airborne forward observation and close air support (both provided by the dragons) combined with siege engines can neutralize any ballista position and allow the dragons to basically impose their will upon any battlefield with impunity.

    • MSlose says:

      Drogon’s flight pattern reminded me of an A-10 hovering over the battlefield.

      • gadsdensnake says:

        Well put. Those dragons are essentially like only one medieval army having 3 A-10s at their disposal. The force projection and ability to own the high ground would allow that army to win any battle where the dragons were first protected as I outlined above.

    • seanion says:

      yes good call.. its the only close parallel i’m aware of. the A-bomb really isn’t the same at all

  10. Rene says:

    Thank you I am truly entertained and have hate and love for leave me at a cliffhanger

More TV News from Variety