Features and Columns · TV

The Massive Glory of Game of Thrones in IMAX

By  · Published on February 3rd, 2015


“I’ve already seen this movie,” was the quote from my roommate and fellow Game of Thrones superfan Theo as we stood outside the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin at the front of a constantly growing line in our post-brunch haze on Sunday. About an hour later we’d be inside the museum’s IMAX theater watching two episodes of Game of Thrones that we’d already seen (several times) in the ten months since they premiered. The only new thing we’d ultimately witness would be a two minute trailer for the upcoming season five that had been online for about 24 hours at that point. There was little to no practical reason for us to be standing in the sun, a little buzzed from some A.M. libations, waiting for an hour to watch a television rerun.

But we’re fans of the show and that’s what fans do. We wouldn’t know until several hours later that it was completely worth it, as Game of Thrones on IMAX screens is a pretty cool spectacle, indeed.

The chosen episodes for the Game of Thrones IMAX experience were the final two of season four. To recap, episode 9 (“The Watchers on The Wall”) is the Neil Marshall-directed battlesode set entirely at The Wall and focused primarily on the battle between the Wildlings and The Night’s Watch. It’s full of sprawling battle shots, several very memorable deaths and Kristofer Hivju (as Wildling warrior Tormund Giantsbane) grunting loudly as he mows down rows of black cloaks.

Episode 10 (“The Children”) finishes off the surprising (to non-book readers) ending to the battle at The Wall followed by a long, twisted tour of the rest of George R.R. Martin’s world. We witness a fight between Brienne and The Hound that changes Arya’s direction in life, Daenerys locks up two of her dragons, we see Tyrion get some help, The Mountain suffers from venomous wounds and Cersei is just plain venomous with her father. Surely she’ll come to regret that…

What’s most notable about these two episodes isn’t just that they combine for a massive, shock and awe two-hour finale for the show’s most eventful season yet. They are also two of the most cinematic episodes Game of Thrones has delivered to date. A lot of this can be attributed to you and me, the fans. The success that HBO has enjoyed with the show has allowed showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to continually ramp up the scale of production. These two episodes are the culmination of this idea. Neil Marshall, best known for big, awesome action movies, gives us one or two of the best shots we’ve ever seen on this show. I would argue that the shot of Ygritte running toward Castle Black firing and ducking arrows and the long continuous shot of the big battle later in the episode are two of the show’s best action sequences, hands down.

Then in episode 10, director Alex Graves forgoes fanciness and holds the camera still, allowing the expansive backgrounds and wonderful set design to take the lead. He also very intentionally holds his camera in a way that absorbs every ounce of some exceptional performances. It’s an entire ensemble – cast and crew – operating at the top of its game.


There are several other things that come across wonderfully in the IMAX presentation. For example:

The beautiful scores of both episodes: Composer Ramin Djawadi has scored 50 episodes of Game of Thrones, including the creation of the main title. But his work in these two episodes is most exceptional. He brings back notable hooks (like a broody variation of “The Rains of Castamere” in episode 10) and delivers some pulsing new action music for several great fight sequences. When viewing these episodes in your living room, you undoubtedly hear and can appreciate the score. But in an IMAX theater with the sound at the appropriately loud volume, you really feel it.

The devil in the gory details: Not that we need any additional blood and guts in our Game of Thrones cocktail, but seeing some of it on the big screen delivers a greater effect. Several in my group commented about forgetting about The Hound’s gruesome injuries after his fight with Brienne, something that comes through loud and clear in the big screen version. It’s not just the bloody bits that shine on a massive screen. All of the details are more pronounced, including the intricately designed costumes and sets.

That fight between The Hound and Brienne, though: The fight for custody of Arya in episode ten was already one of my favorite sequences in all of season 4. Mostly because it was a surprise (read: not in the books) and because it pits together two of the most interesting and intimidating warriors in all of Westeros. What begins as your run-of-the-mill sword fight quickly escalates into a brutal scrap that brings out the survival instincts of two characters known for their ability to escape the worst situations the show has to offer. The cinematography around the fight is steady and wide, showing off the gorgeous landscapes behind the participants. And the sound design, oh that sound design. Several times late in the fight, Gwendoline Christie lets out loud, animalistic screams as she pummels Rory McCann’s Hound with a rock. It’s some of the most visceral stuff you can imagine from a show that cut its teeth on visceral stuff. Brienne proves herself a worthy warrior against The Hound, a nasty victory for the women of Westeros. It’s a sequence that is inescapably compelling, especially on the big screen.

Let’s summarize: Game of Thrones in IMAX is an awe-inspiring experience. Surprisingly so, considering we’ve seen this story before.

The only wish I have for it has to do with the overall presentation. Aside from an opening title card that explains that we’re about to watch two unedited episodes and a trailer, HBO hardly makes an effort to create a special experience. I wish they had done a little editing. Showing the “Previously On” and the individual episode credits took me out of the experience, reminding me that it’s a TV show that isn’t really meant to be presented in this format. The break also gave the audience an excuse to start talking between episodes, which isn’t something that should be encouraged. Simply cutting the two episodes together as one big one would have made the entire experience more cinematic. It wouldn’t have felt off in the least. The way episode 9 ends and the way episode 10 begins is almost seamless. For all the work they did to make the massive IMAX transfer look great in-episode, the worts all existed in the main title sequence. The credit text was simply fuzzy.

If HBO decides to do this kind of IMAX release again in the future – and I hope they do, as it was very cool – I would hope that they put in a greater effort to make it feel like an event. Cut the episodes together. Trust in the audience and leave the “Previously On” segments on the cutting room floor. Perhaps even deliver the episodes with their director’s cuts (some additional footage would have been very cool). Don’t just make it bigger, make it something special.

Oh, and no matter what you do HBO, please do this again. I would once again be first in line.

Click here to watch the Game of Thrones season 5 trailer and see photos from the new season.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)