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‘Game of Thrones’ Sound Mixers Honed ‘Battle of the Bastards’ Episode’s War Cries

Game of Thrones Battle of the
Courtesy of HBO

When creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss predicted that season six of “Game of Thrones” would be “the best one yet,” some wondered if the declaration was a publicity ploy. But 23 Emmy nominations later, it’s clear it wasn’t.

BATTLE PLANS With the fate of Westeros hanging in the balance, viewers gasped as Jon Snow rose from the dead, cried over Hodor’s self-defining dirge, cheered for Arya’s vengeance, and were stunned by the fiery rise of Cersi to the throne.

But it was the “Battle of the Bastards” episode, which featured the climactic clash for Winterfell between an undersized Stark army and Ramsay Bolton’s massive forces, that was most memorable, collecting six nominations by itself, including one for sound mixing.

MONTHLONG SHOOT “ ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was meticulously planned and executed,” says production sound mixer Ronan Hill, who has worked on nearly all of the series’ 60 episodes.

Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the episode took 25 days to record, using hundreds of crew members to film the battlefield sequences at a location outside of Belfast. With each scene mapped out in advance, the sound department was able to prioritize characters’ dialogue to wireless microphones and record action using stereo effects.

FULL GALLOP As the two armies converge, Sapochnik reveals the carnage from Snow’s perspective, slashing through the crashing cavalry, narrowly defying death. To add to the dynamics of the sequence, it was never enough for the sound team to simply record the dialogue in the moment.

“We try to get a real sense of the drama wherever possible,” says Hill. “We even fitted mics to cameras on tracking-crane arms and placed wireless mics on the horses to get clean hoof effects for the charge into battle.”

SUFFOCATINGLY REAL In the scene where Snow is being trampled by his comrades as the Bolton forces surround them, re-recording mixers Onnalee Blank and Mathew Waters were asked to create the sounds of Snow’s struggle under the pile of flesh.

“We spent the most time on that scene. We probably worked for 10 hours just to get his breathing down so you can hear him suffocating,” says Bank.

“We wanted the audience to feel like everything was closing in — a claustrophobic feeling. And then when Snow reaches out of the pile, we hear a full range of [sound], and your ear kind of goes ‘Awww.’ ”