Interview: 'Game Of Thrones' Director Miguel Sapochnik On How He Constructed The Battle Of The Bastards

During the fifth season of Game of ThronesRepo Men director Miguel Sapochnik left a huge impression with "Hardhome." HBO and the key talent involved with the series were clearly impressed enough to invite Sapochnik back to direct two of season six's biggest episodes, "Battle of the Bastards" and the season finale, "The Winds of Winter."

As with "Hardhome," both episodes left fans buzzing. The major set piece in "Battle of the Bastards" is a high mark for the series — a brutal, unrelenting battle that's pure chaos. The finale doesn't feature a set piece as large in scope, but its opening sequence and pivotal character moments are just as grand to watch unfold as the battle in "Battle of the Bastards," which Sapochnik refers to as "BOB."

We were lucky enough to ask the director a couple of questions via email about the two episodes he directed. It should go without saying, but just in case: SPOILERS are ahead. Below, read our Miguel Sapochnik interview.

You've said before you always look for an episode's emotional spine, and its relationship to the rest of the series. For you, what were the emotional spines of "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter"?

Yikes. I guess the "Battle of the Bastards" is about Jon's journey into the darkness and ultimate rebirth. While "Winds of Winter" is all about the end of a chapter and the beginning of new era for all concerned. The latter is less an emotional throughline and more a philosophical one.

With Karsi's death [from "Hardhome"], you wanted to cut before it got too graphic. How did you want to approach the major death scenes in the last two episodes? What dictated how much you wanted to show versus how much you wanted to leave to the audience's imagination?

With "BOB," I didn't want to shy away from the violence at all. I wanted it to be in your face because we weren't trying to color the audience with a sleight of hand. War is cruel and horrific and brutal, and I didn't want to dilute that idea. With the individual deaths, on the other hand, it seemed that there was no real need to dwell on them. The audience had for the most part already imagined many horrible deaths for Ramsay and their imagination was far more potent than anything we can put on screen.

The "Battle of the Bastards" battle was a massive undertaking, but were there any other sequences in particular that, although a viewer wouldn't guess it, were also significant challenges?

Between these two episodes, I feel like we got the lot: working with dogs, horses, children, fire, water, stunts, fake weather, real weather, giants and dragons. Did I leave something out?

As was the case with "Hardhome," Jon Snow's point of view drives the battle in "Battle of the Bastards." How did you want the framing, the camera movement, and the editing to reflect his point of view?

With "BOB," we treated the camera work in acts. The first act was all about the stillness, the calm before the storm. Long tracking shots, tableaus, portraits of soldiers, a steady form to the camerawork to evoke epic Westerns and movies like Ran. Rickon's run was all about the misdirect of the third arrow and we wanted to play the extremes of it all. Either near or far but never in between in terms of shot size. Once Rickon falls and Jon fails, it was all about plunging the audience into chaos and keeping them there by Jon's side for as long as possible. That's what the oner was about. Eventually, this gave way to a lot of handheld and long lens work, lots of edits, smash cuts and polarizing sound effects that were intended to make it uncomfortable, too close for comfort and unflinching, leaving little room for imagination. This only really eases up towards the end once Jon bursts back out into the battle after being buried alive. All the time the camera was a means to ground and tie you to the character but also to reflect his turbulent state of mind.

How long did it take to prep and figure out the logistics of that battle?

Around five weeks but we had a couple of months lead in where it was just myself and the first AD [assistant director] Charlie Endean talking by phone.

What were some solutions you made, with both "Battle of the Bastards" and "The Winds of Winter," to overcome their tight shooting schedules?

The Meereen Slaver's Bay battle was severely cut back and then in time a few things made their way back in. "BOB" too. It's really the norm in most situations to write larger than you can achieve and then pare back to what you have. Sometimes it's more painful than others and as long as you can keep reference [with] the spine of the story, ask yourself 'are we telling that story?' and if the answer [is] yes, you're golden.

The buildup to the explosion in the season finale, with that piece of music playing, flows so well. How did you find that rhythm, in the prep, the shooting of it, and in the editing room?

I think I had music in my head from day one on that sequence, I just wasn't sure what it was. Interestingly, the bell tolling at the beginning really helped frame the sequence and was initially put in because we couldn't find the right piece of music. One my biggest fears as a director is that everything is taking too long on camera. The actor saying their lines, the silence between lines, the length of time it takes to walk from A to B. So you try it at different speeds and then see what sticks in the edit room.