“The fans will not be let down,” director David Nutter told Entertainment Weekly. Nutter, a veteran of the fantasy series already, helmed three of Season 8's six episodes. "There are a lot of firsts in these episodes. There’s the funniest sequence I’ve ever shot on this show, the most emotional and compelling scene I’ve ever shot, and there’s one scene where there’s so many [major characters] together it feels like you’re watching a superhero movie.”
Then there's that massive (and we mean MASSIVE) battle sequence, which finds our heroes — the surviving ones, at least — staving off the Night King and his army of the undead. Dubbed "The Battle of Winterfell," the fight was overseen by Miguel Sapochnik, known for directing Season 6's "Battle of the Bastards" episode. To make sure his key warriors would be ready once the cameras started to roll, Sapochnik called them a year in advance, so they could start training.
“I skip the battle every year, which is bizarre since Arya’s the one who’s been training the most,” said Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, now a deadly and faceless assassin. “This is my first taste of it. And I’ve been thrown in at the deep end. Nothing can prepare you for how physically draining it is. It’s night after night, and again and again, and it just doesn’t stop. You can’t get sick, and you have to look out for yourself because there’s so much to do that nobody else can do… there are moments you’re just broken as a human and just want to cry.”
For most of the principal cast, "The Long Night" (as the shooting was soon dubbed by cast and crew) was an absolute nightmare. It was so grueling, in fact, that one main actress collapsed and had to be sent home for the day, so that she could get some well-needed rest.
“Everybody prays they never have to do this again," mentioned Rory McCann, who plays The Hound, the younger and scar-faced brother of The Mountain.
Even the crew got a workout, clocking 40,000 steps or more a day on their pedometers. The hard work will pay off because The Battle of Winterfell "is expected to be the longest consecutive battle sequence ever committed to film." Apparently, it's such a big moment, that it flits between different genres and tones as it progresses.
“This final face-off between the Army of the Dead and the army of the living is completely unprecedented and relentless and a mixture of genres even within the battle," said EP, Bryan Cogman. "There are sequences built within sequences built within sequences. David and Dan [wrote] an amazing puzzle and Miguel came in and took it apart and put it together again. It’s been exhausting but I think it will blow everybody away.”
Hmmmm. Maybe we're not as prepared for Season 8 as we originally thought, but that's a good thing. The last seven seasons were merely a warmup for the mind-blowing conclusion. It seems like our expectations will soon be stomped to bits by a zombie giant before being burned to a powdery ash by the flames of Daenerys Targaryen's two remaining dragons.
Game of Thrones returns to HBO for the last time Sunday, April 14. The series finale (directed by creators/showrunners, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff) will air on Sunday, May 19.