Game of Thrones this week brought us perhaps its most explosive action scene to date. Ten minutes before the end of Spoils of War, Daenerys staged an ambush attack on the combined forces of a Lannister and Tarly army that was the visual spectacle we’ve been waiting for since those dragons were born.
The people at HBO are calling it “The Loot Train Battle”. We’re calling it “Drogon and the Dothraki bully some dickheads.”
The set piece was a feast for the eyes, and as revealed in a new HBO behind the scenes video the skirmish required less visual effects than you would imagine.
According to episode director Matt Shakman (who directed 44 episodes of It’s Always Sunny, strangely), the Loot Train attack took nearly half a year to put together. Talking to the Hollywood Reporter Shakman said, “I spent the better part of six months working on that one sequence, which I started prepping at the beginning and shot it at the end of my shoot. It got the most attention of everything. But it was one of the toughest things I've ever done, and certainly one of the most rewarding.”
Considering the majority of the Loot Train Battle revolved around a CGI dragon torching stuff, the scene’s artistry owes a lot of some inventive practical effects.
For example, that shot of the Dothraki breaking through the Lannister phalanx of shield and spears? Largely real, thanks to special stirrups designed by the Game of Thrones crew that could allow Dothraki actors to stand upright on horseback while firing their arrows….
“Working with our horse wrangler, we came up with some of the specific things that they [Dothraki] can do,” explains Shakman. “We wanted to show their horse mastery and why they were so formidable in battle. Those were some of my favorite images: When they rise up to shoot arrows, they're literally standing on their saddles, defying gravity.”
Drogon’s destruction of the grain wagons was also achieved by more practical means. Rather than use VFX to show the grain stores on fire, the GOT crew simply… blew it all up.
And as teased by Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, there was a scene in season seven that could set a world record for stunt men set on fire and it was achieved here.
"We burned more stuntmen than have ever been burned in a single shot and in a single sequence," said episode director Matt Shakman.
"If someone's on fire, you know, it's quite a high adrenaline thing going on and saving your breath is very important so you've got to be calm," said stuntman Doug Robson.
20 brave souls all posed as flambeed Lannister soldiers to achieve the sense of chaos of Drogon’s actions. Stuntmen were told to hold their breath during those scenes in order to keep their heartrates down and keep things safe.
Drogon himself did require some creative computing however. As actor Emilia Clarke explained, all the shots of her on dragon back were achieved by her riding a quasi-mechanical bull in front of a green screen.
"So being on this theme park ride is kind of what it is, and you're strapped in. Then looking like you are controlling it when there's so much going on," said Clarke in the behind the scenes footage. "You just got to harness every single bit of imagination you have and just use it."
While the swooping shot of Drogon flying down the river required the use of a large drone.
You can watch the full break down of the loot train attack in the video below. We’re off to watch the episode in full one more time...