Spoiler alert! This story contains details from Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Beyond the Wall.”
Alan Taylor’s return to Game of Thrones was hardly a yawner.
The TV and film director, whose credits range from Mad Men to Thor: The Dark World, directed Sunday’s “Beyond the Wall,” which featured an epic battle of fire and ice; an emotional dragon death and ominous resurrection; and an intense sibling battle that verged on sororicide.
The killing of one of Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragons by an icy spear thrown by the Night King, who revived the fire-breathing giant as a blue-eyed wight, will have major ramifications as Thrones heads toward its Season 7 finale (HBO, Sunday, 9 ET/PT) and onto the six episodes of its final season, Taylor tells USA TODAY.
“It’s very satisfying to (to get a script like that), because it has a real emotional wallop and it gives you a chance to capture the feelings it engages. And this is a game-changer, because the archvillain has nuclear weapons, just like we do, so it means everything’s different from now on,” he says.
The size and scope of Thrones has changed since Taylor’s most recent episode, the Season 2 finale, “Valar Morghulis,” but the mood remains the same, says Taylor, who won a directing Emmy for The Sopranos.
“It’s transformed on every level. Audience awareness is huge compared to what it was earlier on. The scale of what they’re trying to achieve is huge. The resources HBO is willing to devote to it have grown immensely,” he says. However, “the tone of making it is still scruffy. It still feels like an indie movie, no pretensions, the actors carrying their own lunch and sitting on milk crates or in the snow if we’re in Iceland. It feels like the same spirit, but it’s become awesome and daunting in what it’s achieved.”
Speaking of Iceland, much of Sunday’s north-of-the-Wall action took place in that island’s breathtaking, snowy mountain regions, including the long march by Jon Snow’s motley Wildling bunch and the battle with a White Walker and wights that resulted in the capture of a wight (“We called him Liebman for some reason,” Taylor says.).
“Iceland is a fantastic place to shoot, but it’s challenging because the places are hard to get to. You have to walk everything in,” says Taylor, who spent almost five months on the episode. “The day in winter is just five hours long, which is really tough, but the great thing is the sun stays low the whole day, so you’ve got the magic hour all day, which makes it beautiful” on camera.
(The battle between the humans and wights on the ice-locked island was shot in a quarry in Northern Ireland.)
Upon his return, Taylor was delighted by another change. Actors who started as children — Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner — have grown up. Their sibling characters, Arya and Sansa Stark, have gone from childhood bickering to adult feuding, with assassin Arya coming very close to threatening Sansa’s life during Sunday’s episode.
“Maisie and Sophie were kids when I was there in Season 1 and now they’ve matured into these wonderful actors. Their characters have matured and gone through hell and (relationships) deepen and darken,” he says. “I think the scenes between the sisters are almost my favorite moments, because it feels like the episode is functioning on both levels,” big action spectacle and smaller, more intimate drama.
Taylor won’t spill any details about the season finale, other than saying the pace and intensity increase.
“We had a major plot point in our episode and things are moving faster. The scale of the threat is getting bigger, so this does lead to something next week that is an even bigger story point,” he says. “It’s hurtling from here on.”