Warning: contains spoilers for Game Of Thrones season 4.
If you’re a busy Game of Thrones fan who can’t find the spare ten hours required to re-watch season four with the accompanying disc commentaries, then we have your back. Gleaned from said audio tracks provided by the cast, crew and creators George R.R. Martin, Dan Weiss and David Benioff, is the below list of nerdy facts and anecdotes about the making of season four.
Granted, skip the commentaries and you won’t experience first-hand Peter Dinklage’s rendition of Let It Go from Frozen, a stream of filthy innuendo from Lena Headey, or the general sense of awe, adoration and good-natured mockery everyone who works on the show has for everyone else (“If only you could act, Peter” Headey ribs Dinklage about his episode ten scene with Shae). Still, sacrifices must be made.
Here goes then, the 67 titbits we learned from listening to the Game Of Thrones season 4 DVD commentaries…
1. The forging scene in Two Swords was inspired by the opening of 1982 film Conan The Barbarian. It was filmed in 700 degree heat in a real working forge in Shane’s Castle, County Antrim. The blacksmith was played by Game Of Thrones weapons master, Tommy Dunne, who has designed every weapon featured on the show since it began.
2. The parents of co-showrunner David Benioff, Stephen and Barbara, play a merchant couple in the episode one scene in which Tyrion and Bronn are waiting for the Martell contingent to arrive at King’s Landing. (We’d have thought a supporting role at the Iron Bank of Braavos would have been more fitting, considering that Benioff’s dad, Stephen Friedland, used to be the chairman of Investment Bankers Goldman Sachs.)
3. Costume designer Michele Clapton took inspiration for Prince Oberyn Martell’s costumes from clothes worn by musician Jimi Hendrix.
4. Look carefully at the washer woman in the background of the scene in which Tyrion and Oberyn walk and talk revenge in Two Swords, and you’ll notice that she never actually touches the clothes with the brush, but hovers 3 inches over them, presumably to save continuity issues with wet patches.
5. Speaking of which, the goat carcass dropped by Dany’s dragon at her feet was made of rubber, and thus bounced when dropped from a height of 15 feet. It took forever to get the blood-soaked corpse to land in exactly the right spot.
6. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Jaime Lannister, wore real brass armour for the first time in season four. His armour in previous seasons had been fake, so this made season four much more uncomfortable to film. Likewise, the armour Jaime gives to Brienne of Tarth in episode one was so heavy that Gwendoline Christie had to take Advil for the pain of wearing it.
7. Nikolaj improvised the comic wave of his new golden hand to Qyburn in episode one.
8. Yuri Kolokolnikov, who plays the fearsome Wildling Styr, Magnar of Thenn, is nicknamed “two metres of beauty” in his home country of Russia. Unlike those of Bran Stark, the shots of Styr ‘warging’ into the mind of a creature are created in CG as the actor is unable to roll back his eyes enough.
9. Despite the script specifying that Jon Snow looked weak and recovering from injury at the start of season four, actor Kit Harington turned up after filming Pompeii with a buff, Charles Atlas-designed body. That’s why you won’t see him with his top off in this season. They couldn’t let the viewers see his incongruously sculpted abs.
10. Since watching South Park’s Game Of Thrones parody episode, David Benioff and DB Weiss have decided not to set so many scenes of people plotting in the gardens of King’s Landing, where Lady Olenna and Margaery Tyrell are in episode one.
11. Benioff and Weiss played a prank on Gwendoline Christie (whose nickname for Nikolai Coster-Waldau, incidentally, is “Princess”) by mocking up a fake New York Times article calling her stuck-up and spoiled when she ‘refused’ to sign an autograph for a fan (something that never really happened).
12. When Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna throws a sub-par necklace made for her granddaughter’s wedding over the cliff and into the sea, someone had to run around to catch it because production didn’t actually own the prop.
13. George R.R. Martin was the reason that Rory McCann got the part of The Hound. Benioff and Weiss had missed his audition tape until GRRM emailed to prompt them to watch it because he liked Rory for the part so much. Maisie Williams, incidentally, was only cast as Arya after they’d looked at over 100 young actresses for the role.
14. In the inn scene of episode one, Rory McCann really swallowed the “ale” (water with food colouring) each time The Hound chugged Polliver’s flagon, which took between 10 – 12 takes. They used the last take, after which McCann ran outside and immediately vomited.
15. The cut from Alfie Allen’s castrated Theon/Reek straight to the sausage Tyrion is eating in episode one is a deliberate joke.
16. GRRM originally attempted to convince Benioff and Weiss to set episode two, The Lion And The Rose, entirely at the Purple Wedding (a term that’s, incidentally, never used in the books), just as episode 2.9 was set entirely at The Battle of Blackwater and episode 4.9 was set entirely at the Battle for Castle Black. They couldn’t do it because of the number of other characters that needed to move on. In the end, Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding scene came in at a whopping 32 pages.
17. One for book readers: originally GRRM’s publisher suggested he end book three, A Storm Of Swords, immediately after the Red Wedding, but he refused, arguing that readers needed to see some victory or punishment following the shocking Stark deaths.
18. When Joffrey uses “Widow’s Wail” to slice up the book Tyrion has given him as a wedding present, an air cannon inside the book was set off to blow the pages up into the air.
19. A member of Icelandic band Sigur Ros (who cameoed as Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding band in episode two) was hurt quite badly when a rubber coin from the handful Jack Gleeson threw at them in one scene struck his forehead. The coins had Joffrey’s profile printed on them and Gleeson duly stole one as a souvenir of his last episode on Thrones.
20. After Lady Olenna has fiddled with Sansa’s necklace from Ser Dontos (the one containing the poison used to kill Joffrey in episode two), the crew forgot to remove one of the stones so it had to be digitally painted out by the VFX team.
21. Despite looking for one, Benioff and Weiss couldn’t find a pig large enough to be ridden by a little person for any length of time for Joffrey’s cruel pageant, as described in the books, hence the fake horses used in the TV version of the wedding.
22. If you want to make Peter Dinklage laugh, say the words “This pie is dry” to him. At the end of a long day, he and Lena Headey corpsed numerous times when Jack Gleeson had to say the line, causing delays to production.
23. Inside the enormous wedding pie was a contraption rigged to encourage the live doves to fly up into the air when it was opened. In early tests for it, the air cannon used too much air and blasted the birds out in a pie-shaped clump rather than naturally. A different set of (entirely unharmed, we’re assured) birds had to be used for each of the four takes because as soon as they were released, the doves would immediately start flying home to Zagreb.
24. A great deal of Game Of Thrones is shot in parking lots. Californian parking lots. Northern Irish parking lots. Pick-up shots of Joffrey choking to death were filmed in a Valencia, CA parking lot. The Wight that collects the baby offering from Craster’s Keep was filmed in a parking lot. Most scenes set on ships are filmed in lots as well.
25. The montage of future and past visions that happens when Bran touches the Weirwood tree was directly inspired by the Devil’s Tower visions in Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.
26. Sean Bean cameoed in season four, if only for a millisecond. It’s his eye seen in extreme close-up in Bran’s vision at the Weirwood tree.
27. When Greyworm and pals wade through the water to infiltrate Meereen through the sewage tunnel in episode four, they’re wearing wetsuit trousers underneath their baggy robes.
28. On the day that Michelle Maclaren directed the episode four scene in which Daenerys addresses the captured Meereenese slave masters, her pedometer recorded that she’d walked 9.2 miles just going back and forth to get the shots.
29. Animals are notoriously badly behaved on set. The cat that plays Ser Pounce refused to stay on the bed in episode four, Oathkeeper, when Margaery visits Tommen’s bedroom at night. In fact, if you watch the scene closely, you’ll see the cat run out of Natalie Dormer’s hands and jump off the bed twice. According to director Michelle Maclaren, there are moments when Dormer is petting the cat in that scene where it’s nowhere near her or Tommen.
30. Likewise, the owl that Styr, Magnar of Thenn sees through the eyes of refused to land on its mark in The Watchers On The Wall. It took two hours of attempts with the owl, and as director Neil Marshall tells it, they were just about ready to give up and use a CG bird when it finally did as it was told.
31. The platform on which Jaime and Bronn spar with one another is actually a modern concrete patio belonging to a Croatian big-shot, on which the art department had to individually paint tiny stone tiles and dress with fake coastal rocks.
32. Daniel Portman, who plays Podrick the page, had to do a bit of old-fashioned Hollywood trickery in episode four. In the scene when Pod and Brienne leave King’s Landing in search of Sansa Stark, he is holding a very real axe (the one he used to save Tyrion’s life) but watch as he ducks down to pick up a rucksack and swaps the real axe for a rubber replacement to use when mounting Pod’s horse. (All of the weapons carried whilst riding horses are made from rubber or bamboo to protect the animals).
33. To achieve the sense of sunlight sparkling off the waves and through the windows of the ship that Littlefinger and Sansa are escaping on (which was on gimbals and moving enough to make a number of the crew sick during filming the scene) production used boards covered with sequins to reflect studio lights.
34. Michelle Maclaren originally opened the scene of Burn Gorman and the Night’s Watch Mutineers at Craster’s Keep in episode four with a shot of a man puking into the food being prepared, but it was cut for being too disgusting. Instead, a shot of Gorman’s character drinking out of Mormont’s skull was used. Er, much better?
35. Professional sex actors were employed for the horrid rape scenes happening in the background of the shots at Craster’s Keep, which were intended to look like a nightmarish cross between A Gustave Doré etching, a Breugel painting, and a work by Heironymus Bosch.
36. By the time Craster’s Keep was burned down, the cast and crew were as pleased as Craster’s wives by all accounts. By the end of the fortnight’s shoot, the ham hocks hanging from the ceiling had begun to rot and really stink, not to mention the thick, dirty mud that surrounded it, making filming very difficult.
37. When Rast takes Craster’s son into the woods as a sacrifice for the Others, actor Luke Barnes wasn’t comfortable holding the baby, something that, in combination with the thick mud, meant that multiple crew members were lined up underneath the shot ready to catch the child just in case Barnes slipped. Incidentally, it’s all fake snow where the baby is placed. It was actually about sixty degrees filming that scene.
38. That stuff coming out of Thomas Brodie-Sangster’s mouth when Jojen has the fit in Craster’s Keep? Scrambled egg whites. Don’t say we never bring you scoops.
39. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, wore a wig to film season four scenes, whereas Bran’s seasons one to three ‘do was the actor’s real hair.
40. As the crew wasn’t allowed to import horses from the UK to Iceland, local equines had to be used for some of The Hound and Arya’s Nordic scenes. Icelandic horses being closer in size to UK ponies, 6 foot 5 inch actor Rory McCann’s mount looked comically undersized, hence The Hound not riding in any of the Iceland-filmed scenes. You’ll also notice that the Icelandic ponies are always filmed in the distance from The Hound and Arya so that their small size wouldn’t be noticed. “The beauty of perspective!” says screenwriter Bryan Cogman.
41. An estimated 700 people all-in are taken to make an episode of Game Of Thrones, says costume designer Michele Clapton, around 100 people working on costume alone.
42. Look closely next to writer Bryan Cogman’s name in the opening credits and you’ll see his ‘House Sigil’ is a vomiting maester. This joke was made by Benioff and Weiss in reference to a wrap party at which he er, overindulged himself, back when he worked as their assistant.
43. The correct pronunciation of Arya is Are-ya (though Maisie Williams calls her A-re-ah).
44. At Tyrion’s trial in episode six, The Laws Of Gods And Men, the reaction noises from the assembled crowd were recorded in response to director and actor Bryan Cogman impersonating each of the lead actors and delivering their lines. He does a mean Charles Dance, we hear.
45. In the original draft of The Laws Of Gods And Men, Bryan Cogman intended for us to see what was left of Theon Greyjoy’s castrated genitals when he undressed for the bath scene, but Benioff and Weiss deemed it unnecessary.
46. The actor who plays the farmer that The Hound puts out of his misery in episode seven, Barry McGovern, was named specifically for the role in the script. Benioff and Weiss are fans of avant-garde Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, and McGovern is one of Belfast’s foremost Beckett interpreters.
47. The snow models of Winterfell from episode seven, Mockingbird, were made from Epsom and cooking salt. Six separate models were built and brought in for each take that Robyn had to destroy it.
48. Though they look different, the Wildling costumes south of the wall are the same as the ones they wear North of the wall, just turned inside out to blend in better with their surroundings.
49. The Dubrovnik location for the fight between The Mountain and Prince Oberyn in episode eight was an abandoned 1980s hotel called The Belvedere that was bombed during the breakup of Yugoslavia and left abandoned. It took a great deal of work to clean up the graffiti on it so it could be used as the setting for Tyrion’s trial by combat.
50. Rose Leslie’s character, Ygritte, is so quick with an arrow that the actress isn’t allowed to fire real ones in the series as she couldn’t be fast enough. All of the arrows Ygritte fires in the show are CG and Leslie mimes releasing them from the bow.
51. The giant riding the mammoth in The Watchers On The Wall is the UK’s tallest man, Neil Fingleton, who is 7 foot 11 inches tall.
52. Director Neil Marshall cameos as an archer under Jon Snow’s command in episode nine. Archery is a real-life hobby of his according to actor John Bradley (Samwell Tarly).
53. Ian Whyte’s giant character, Dongo, was nicknamed ‘Dongo The Doomed’ on set because of his fate meeting the wrong end of a pointy arrow. Dongo’s fall after being shot in the back was inspired by the famous scene in The French Connection (1971) in which Gene Hackman shoots hitman Nicoli.
54. Director Neil Marshall and the crew achieved the beautifully fluid 360 degree shot of the Battle for Castle Black by dividing the cast into 7 groups and having the Assistant Director shout the cues for each group to start their choreography. The first take turned out to be the smoothest, and that was the one used in the final cut.
55. There are 410 visual FX shots in episode 9, The Watchers On The Wall, but Jon Snow’s hammer attack on Styr isn’t one of them. That was all achieved via the magic of prosthetics. “It’s good when we get involved and sometimes it’s better when we don’t” says VFX Supervisor Joe Bauer.
56. A 30 foot high, 400 foot long green screen was used in The Watchers On The Wall to achieve the height and breadth of the Wall landscape shots.
57. According to director Alex Graves, the opening scene of episode 10, The Children, in which Jon Snow walks out to parlay with Mance Rayder, was inspired by this famous scene from the 1967 film Point Blank, in which Lee Marvin strides down a corridor.
58. The episode ten scene of Jon lighting Ygritte’s funeral pyre then walking into the front of shot was inspired by a scene in Citizen Kane in which Orson Welles walks downstage into shadow.
59. A script note on The Children, written by Benioff and Weiss, read that Brienne and Arya are “both weirdoes but they like each other.”
60. Sets are continually repurposed and re-used on Game Of Thrones. Here are just a few season four examples:
– The Braavosi Brothel bathtubs in The Laws Of Gods And Men were originally designed for Brienne and Jaime’s bathtub scene in season three (and as such, were too deep for the purposes of the later scenes).
– Tyrion’s prison cell set used to be both Sansa and Cersei’s bedrooms.
– The Dreadfort set was made from the old Blackwater ramparts set, and has since been repurposed as the gardens of the Eyrie.
– The Moles Town brothel in The Mountain And The Viper was the same inn set in which The Hound and Arya killed Polliver and his men in Two Swords.
– The Meereen sewer outlet was the same lake they shot the Battle of Blackwater Bay in.
– The Dragonstone set was repurposed as the root-tangled tunnels underneath the tree in which Bran meets the Three-Eyed Raven.
61. Not only is Jerome Flynn (Ser Bronn) a former pop star from Robson & Jerome, but Carice Van Hoten (Melisandre) is also a recording artist, as is Natalia Tena, who plays Osha. Yara Greyjoy is played by Gemma Wheelan, a comedian known for a character named Charity Butterworth.
62. Celebrity fans abound for Game Of Thrones. One such is Madonna, who asked, and was allowed, to borrow one of Khaleesi’s gowns to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim. Snoop Dogg apparently also recorded part of a scene of ‘Dink in the clink,’ Tyrion and Oberyn Martell, on YouTube.
63. Benioff and Weiss keep their eyes peeled for cast-members when they’re watching TV and film. They cast Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) after seeing him in a BBC production of Bleak House. They cast Sibel Kelilli (Shae) after seeing her in the movie Head On. They cast Rose Leslie (Ygritte) after seeing her in Downton Abbey. They saw Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei) in an episode of Misfits and cast her.
64. The weather rarely behaves itself on set. In scenes Beyond The Wall where there was supposed to be snow on the ground, the crew found themselves faced with spring sunshine and a carpet of purple flowers that the Icelandic authorities wouldn’t allow them to clear. When Ygritte is cutting her arrow fletching in what was supposed to be a stark, cold landscape, it was seventy-five degrees. When it’s supposed to be sunny, as in Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding, it blew heavy winds and rained. There was a torrential downpour in the scene where Ygritte’s funeral pyre was filmed. The list goes on…
65. Whilst filming the season four finale, actor Kit Harrington accidentally knocked director Alex Graves’ three grand MacBook off the director’s monitor, destroying it in the process. At the time of recording the commentaries, Kit Harington was unaware that he’d done this.
66. In the finale scene of Qyburn and Cersei reanimating The Mountain, actor Hafthór Júlíus Björnsson was actually asleep on the slab (tired from competing in The World’s Strongest Man competitions or some such) and had to be woken up more than once for drowning out Lena Headey’s lines with his snoring.
67. Director Alex Graves was in charge of a massive four episodes of season four. His daily routine on set was to go to the hotel at 7p.m., work there until 2 a.m., and wake up at 5 a.m. to return to the set, and repeat for one hundred days. Blimey, no wonder the man’s taking a well-deserved break for season five.
Game Of Thrones season 4 is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.