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SYFY WIRE Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones showrunners and director sparred over Battle of Winterfell's death toll

By Jacob Oller
Game of Thrones Season 8 - Jon Snow - The Long Night

Much has been written about Game of Thrones’ controversial Battle of Winterfell, as the dimly lit episode was marked by many fans as the turning point for the show’s final season. The episode featured the showdown between the forces of the North and the army of the dead and resulted in plenty of important casualties — including a long-coming death that was shockingly abrupt. Now Miguel Sapochnik, the director of that episode and many more over the course of the HBO hit's seven-season run, has spoken out about the behind-the-scenes skirmishes that went down among the creative team, and how he would’ve done things if he’d been in charge.

Speaking to IndieWire, Sapochnik explained that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss always had very particular ideas about how the show should look — ideas that didn't always sync up with Sapochnik's. During the direction of Season 5's “The Gift,” for instance, Sapochnik filmed a few artfully dramatized shots of Cersei, Tommen, and Maester Aemon. Weiss and Benioff responded that they “hate it basically,” the director said. That resulted in a short leash for director when he tackled his next episode. “I was visually policed for the first three months of my shoot, and it made the creation of ‘Hardhome’ really difficult because I pissed them off,” Sapochnik said.

However, even when “Hardhome” was a hit and the director was afforded a few artistic liberties with his next endeavor, “Battle of the Bastards,” he didn’t stop butting heads with the bosses. As “The Long Night” rolled around, he ran into a disagreement about when and how some of the characters would meet their fate.

“I wanted to kill everyone,” Sapochnik said. “I wanted to kill Jorah in the horse charge at the beginning. I was up for killing absolutely everyone. I wanted it to be ruthless, so that in the first 10 minutes you say, ‘All bets are off; anyone could die.’ And David and Dan didn’t want to. There was a lot of back-and-forth on that.”

Jorah was originally supposed to live until the end of the series, but by the time scripts were out, was destined to go down defending his Khaleesi. Dying at the beginning certainly would’ve set a different tone for the episode, but the head honchos had different plans. And Sapochnik, as fans already know, accepted their decision.

“I think a key thing is like it's not my show right? I didn’t come up with the show and make it,” the director said. “I am a hired director to go and do that. They have let me in and let me be involved, and I’ve really loved doing that. But final cut is not mine. Final cut is theirs. It's their choice.”

How would you have changed the Battle of Winterfell?