#1 They used real horses, and Kit Harington really wants everyone to know about it
That shot where we see several dozen horses galloping towards Jon Snow? Completely real. In HBO’s behind-the-scenes explainer about the Battle for Winterfell, showrunner David Benioff, stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam and, perhaps most of all, Kit Harington – who plays the former Commander of the Night’s Watch – spend a lot of time explaining that Harington really could have been squashed by a horse.
“When we had horses charging past me, those are all real horses. Until the last minute I was stood facing off against this cavalry charge, which is really scary,” Harington said. “I’m a bit annoyed because I think everyone will think it’s CGI, and it wasn’t.”
#2 And they weren’t provided with Portaloos
Even fancy actor horses must attend to the call of nature, whether Harington is reading his lines or not. As well as practical matters, such as adding gravel to wet ground so they could run properly and giving them a separate field to rest in, the horses interrupted a number of takes because, well, they were horses. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, director Miguel Sapochnik explains: “They sh– and p— all the time. They would fart and pee a lot, often in the middle of [Harington’s] lines.”
#3 The Battle of Winterfell was inspired by historical battles
How did the showrunners come up with a strategy as crafty and conniving, a bear-trap so enticing, as that which Ramsay cooked up? By studying the other evil means of mass death used by warlords in the past. Alexander the Great was among the early deployers of the pincer move used by the Bolton side to entrap Jon’s beleaguered troops, but a similar situation took place as recently as 1943, when German forces were trapped for weeks by the Red Army during the Battle of Stalingrad.
The Battle of Cannae also provided inspiration for the pincer attack, when Hannibal used the tactic – also known as the double envelopment – to essentially destroy the Roman army.
The gruesome body pile wasn’t entirely the stuff of fiction, either. Benioff said: “You read accounts of the Civil War where bodies were piled so thick it became an obstruction on the battlefield.” The Battle of Agincourt was cited as a major inspiration behind the script, and the opening moments of the Battle for Winterfell mirror those of the 1415 battle: action was triggered when the English side set off a flight of arrows, causing the French to charge forward. Many fell before they reached the English, but others started fighting and dying in the same place.
Both sides continued to charge, slipping or falling in the mud as they tried to clamber over the fallen. The wounded or knocked over were crushed, as Jon nearly was, by those behind them, causing a wall of bodies in the middle of the battlefield.
#4 The body pile was very well dressed
Production designer Deborah Riley described the body pile as “absolutely enormous in terms of its scale and ambition”. Although no specific number of fake bodies and their parts was given – probably because they lost count – each one had to be dressed according to the side they were fighting for, which meant proper costumes, including shields, flags and armoury for fake horse corpses too.
#5 Ramsay’s wall of shields was originally meant to be made out of horses
The pincer move has been knocking around in military history since the 6th century BC, but was used with aplomb by Alexander the Great in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC, generally considered his last brilliant victory. Alexander, however, used cavalry units – or soldiers on horses. Which might be why Battle of the Bastards was scripted with horses being used, rather than Bolton’s riot police-style shields.
However, Sapochnik explains that when it came to filming, they just didn’t have the money to use horses and stage the background scenes and fallen soldiers that would have been seen in the background. So they used shields instead, which the director says he really liked, calling it “very fascistic and graphic.”
#6 The shoot took a really long time
Last year, Harington told The Telegraph that some parts of Hardhome took “a month to film”, and the Battle of Bastards followed suit: the shoot took 25, 10-hour days. One of those consisted of Harington straddling Ramsay Bolton actor Iwan Rheon for a solid 10 hours while “kneading him like bread”. Sapochnik described it as “a little surreal but mostly fun.”
All of the days had to be rain-free, which was a challenge given the shoot took place in Northern Ireland, on a private piece of land named Saintfield. Other stats? There were 500 extras, 160 tonnes of gravel, 600 crew members, four camera crews and 65 stuntpeople.
#7 Jon Snow’s near-death scene was known as ‘the rebirthing shot’
In the trailer for Battle of the Bastards, Snow may have said, “if I fall, don’t bring me back”, but the warrior was brought back from the brink of death in a way that was reminiscent from the closing moments of the dramatic season opener. This, Sapochnik says, was “affectionately called the ‘rebirthing’ shot”, and wasn’t even scripted.
Instead, the rebirthing shot came about after Sapochnik was forced to shoot without the script after rain, mud and fatigue had made it clear that was not going to be filmed on time. Sapochnik told EW there was “no VFX, no fighting, just Kit giving a stellar performance and a crazy top shot as he pushes his way back out… [I was] allowed to follow my gut and go for it.”
#8 That noise you hear from Ramsay is from a squealing pig
Presumably not a real one, given the efforts the crew went to maintain the horses’ safety earlier in the episode. Sapochnik notes, chillingly: “The most effective moment for me was the sound of a squealing pig you hear from Ramsay in the background as Sansa walks away. Apparently it’s actually what happens when you rip someone’s windpipe open while they’re still alive and gasping for air.”
Source: The Telegraph | Written by Alice Vincent