The Emmy-wining practical effects in Game of Thrones have maintained such realistic standards for so long, and merged so well with all that dragon-y CGI, that it’s easy to take for granted just how much of it is real. From stone-flinging catapults to a working castle forge, GoT’s set design has left behind so many functioning, real-world props that there’s probably a small medieval siege’s worth of high fantasy equipment still lying around from the show’s epic eighth and final season.
If you’ve seen Season 8’s “The Last of the Starks” episode (and if you haven’t, turn back now, because there be spoilers ahoy), we can now add Euron Greyjoy’s massive new “scorpion” crossbow to the list of real Game of Thrones stuff that really does what it looks like on TV.
Speaking recently with IndieWire, GoT weapons master Tommy Dunne explained that to make the gigantic, ship-mounted crossbow Euron uses to take out Rhaegal, he consulted period-appropriate engineering ideas to make a beast of a weapon that really does fling massive, arrow-shaped objects at speeds that appear to be tempered mostly by the show’s need for on-set safety.
“It’s basically an homage to Leonardo da Vinci because it was Leonardo da Vinci who created a massive crossbow with overlapping limbs,” Dunne explained.“Da Vinci’s [version] never got made and [in] modern time it was proved that it wouldn’t work because of the lamination of the limbs. But you see the shape, the outer shape of the scorpion itself is exact same look as the Leonardo da Vinci drawings that he has and I wanted to do a little bit of a homage to that.”
The result, he said, is a weapon whose on-set version requires four people to prepare, and one person to fire. Dunne confirmed to IndieWire that it indeed takes four people to position the pivoting beast and load the arrow bolt, including one person (that’d be Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyjoy on the show) sitting in the reclining “pilot” chair, swivel-turret style, to pull the trigger.
“In the workshop, I got to test it with a cardboard tube bolt,” added Dunne, who in 2017 told Popular Science that his crew often intentionally hobbles Game of Thrones’ fully-functioning weapons so that they’re “just powerful enough” to toss their ammunition across the shot. The crew then "fired [the scorpion] in the workshop, which is about 100 feet long. It flew very well. It nearly took out my bench.”
On the show, of course, the scorpion takes out much more — not only leaving Drogon without the company of his one remaining fire-breathing sibling; but shattering Daenerys’ fleet of ships and sending Tyrion and his companions into the drink.
With an epic battle for the Iron Throne just around the corner, and only two episodes (and one dragon) left to tell the story, it’s possible we may not have seen the last of what Dunne’s Renaissance-derived scorpion is capable of. The fifth and penultimate series episode of Game of Thrones arrives this Sunday at HBO. Dracarys!