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200 Things We Learned From The Game of Thrones Season 5 Commentary, Part One

Since we’re in Game of Thrones Season 6 Preview mode, I’ve tackled the 12 hours of commentary on the Game of Thrones Season 5 Blu-ray.
By  · Published on April 19th, 2016

If you’ve been with us for a while, you know that we at Film School Rejects love DVD commentary tracks. These commentaries — from directors, actors, and crew — offer a wealth of interesting facts and insights for any production. It’s always disappointing for us to pick up a new DVD/Blu-ray release and see no director’s commentary. For us, this is the good stuff; the in-depth insight into the filmmaking process.

During normal weeks, our Chief Critic Rob Hunter would be bringing you a list of Things We Learned from a film release that is either recent or related to something coming soon to theaters. Every once in a while, I get to jump in, usually with a big list of fun facts from a TV release (see also my list of 107 Things We Learned from Rick and Morty Season One).

Since we’re in Game of Thrones Season 6 Preview mode, I’ve tackled the 12 hours of commentary on the Game of Thrones Season 5 Blu-ray.

It’s such a massive undertaking that I’m having to break it into two articles. Today’s part one includes the six commentary tracks from the first six episodes. Tomorrow’s part two will include the six commentary tracks from the last three episodes (curiously, there wasn’t a commentary track for episode 7, “The Gift”). In total, I learned 200 things that could be construed as interesting.

Without further ado, here are the first 96 of the 200 Things We Learned From The Game of Thrones Season 5 Commentary, with some bonus “Best Context-Free Commentary” quotes at the bottom.

Episode 1: “The Wars to Come”

Commentators: Michael Slovis, DP David Franco and Ciarán Hinds (Mance Rayder)

1. Recording this commentary (which took place a month after the episode’s premiere) was the first time Ciarán Hinds had watched the episode.

2. Everything outside Maggie the Frog’s tent was shot outside, but after the girls pass through the doorway, everything inside is an inside set. The same thing happens in reverse when we go from inside Cersei’s palanquin to the streets of King’s Landing.

3. According to David Franco, they paid minor homage to Marlon Brando in *Apocalypse Now* when Maggie comes out of the shadows.

4. Michael Slovis had worked previously with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on a show called *New Amsterdam*.

5. Praising the cast, Michael Slovis explained that many cast members do their own stand-ins for lighting as they prepare to shoot. This is something usually done by actual stand-ins.

6. “I love scenes that open up with questions (like the flashback, and opening Tyrion’s scene inside the box),” explains Michael Slovis. “And then we visually answer them later on.”

7. “As a director you try to stay out of the way,” Slovis on his approach to *Game of Thrones*, specifically praising Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Conleth Hill (Varys) for how well they know their characters at this point.

8. “Sitting on a shot for 20-30 seconds is so rare on television,” explains Slovis, referencing the long pause that leads up to the Unsullied soldier having his throat cut.

9. All the major internal sets are shot in a studio in Belfast. Meereen exteriors are shot in Croatia.

10. Michael Slovis on some of the unseen scale of *Thrones*: “They have more lighting equipment on this show than I’ve seen on any feature film.”

11. The practical elevator at Castle Black’s outdoor set goes up about 20-30 feet. The inside of the elevator is shot in a studio.

12. David Franco: “There’s no compromise on locations.” To this end, Michael Slovis tells a story of going way up a mountain to shoot the single scene in The Vale as Sansa and Littlefinger leave Robin Arryn. During scouting, he was sure that the production would never go to such a remote place to shoot such a short scene, but they did.

13. Slovis on the backward logistics of *Thrones*: “On other shows, it’s usually the actors who move around and directors never get to meet each other. On this show, it’s the directors and their team (DPs, etc.) who move around. So they can meet, share stories, etc.”

14. The scene in which Varys and Tyrion are staring out across the water was shot during a major tourist time in Croatia. The visual effects team had to remove cruise ships, yachts, etc. from the water. Explains Slovis: “You’d never know this is in the middle of a busy city.”

15. One of the toughest things to shoot is dragon fire. It’s something that, due to the interactivity of lighting, has to be done practically with what are primarily massive flamethrowers.

16. Ciarán Hinds explains what it’s like to work with Kit Harington: “By his nature, he’s very open. But when he plays Jon Snow he’s got this sadness.”

17. Instead of doing effects and face replacement for the Mance burning scene, Slovis insisted that they should do it old school with close-ups, practical effects, a stuntman for wide shots. “It’s not a scene about a guy burning. It’s a scene about a guy not burning.”

Episode 2: “The House of Black and White”

Commentators: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) and Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne)

18. “We’re in London, in our underwear,” explains Gwendoline Christie. Commentaries recorded in multiple locations. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is in Belfast while the other two are in London.

19. Gwendoline Christie on the Titan of Braavos: “Do you think that Maisie Williams resisted the urge to look up the Big Chap’s skirt while sailing beneath him?”

20. There’s lots of talk about The House of Black and White being a spa where Arya is going to learn acupuncture. The coin, they explain, is like the Westeros version of a Black AMEX.

21. “I’m grateful of the camera angles that were used to make me look huge,” explains Christie while we watch the scene with Sansa and Littlefinger.

22. Daniel Portman: “That’s real water, ladies, and gentlemen.” When Pod falls into the water. “He’s not acting wet, he’s really wet,” explains Christie.

23. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau: “We shot that probably 15 times before it opened the way we wanted,” on the scene in which the Dornish box opens to reveal the viper and necklace.

24. Author’s Observation: Gwendoline Christie has one of the best laughs in the history of all-time laughs.

25. Coster-Waldau playfully believes that Myrcella’s death was Oberyn’s fault: “It was Oberyn’s own fault, he fucked up.” “Are you saying that Oberyn deserved it?” asks Christie, to which he responds in the affirmative.

26. “Are you saying that Oberyn deserved it?” asks Christie, to which he responds in the affirmative. Spoken like a true Lannister.

27. Gwendoline Christie explains how the Sons of the Harpy masks looks like “a BAFTA for being terrible.”

28. “I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to realize what the real theme of this season is. It’s chocolate,” Christie explains, referring to all the things that make her think of chocolate, including the peeling of a chocolate orange in the viper/necklace scene.

29. The cast becomes obsessed with whether or not Tyrion’s ornate wine decanter (in the scene where he and Varys are riding toward Volantis) is hand tooled, or not. It is a gorgeous piece I hadn’t noticed in previous viewings.

30. Gwendoline Christie on the scene in which Jon Snow, Stannis, and Ser Davos are talking: “I bet it was a musky room. Strong male pheromones wafting through that room. And the strong smell of hair oil.”

31. Dominic Carter (Janos Slynt) was the first other member of the cast that both Daniel Portman and Gwendoline Christie met on set.

32. The cast spends a lot of talk about David Peterson, who developed some of the foreign languages on the show. Coster-Waldau estimates that there are about 1,000 words of Dothraki developed. (As of September 2011, there were over 3,000 words of Dothraki, according to the official Dothraki Blog — which is something that exists.)This commentary track was recorded just before the read through of season 6.

33. This commentary track was recorded just before the read through of season 6.

Episode 3: “High Sparrow”

Commentators: Production Designer Deborah Riley, Costume Designer Michele Clapton and Director of Photography Anette Haellmigk

34. The group likens the opening credits sequence to the old Robinson Crusoe.

35. According to Anette Haellmigk, The challenge of the House of Black and White is that it’s supposed to be lightless, as opposed to the natural light that we get in other locations.

36. According to Michelle Clapton, there’s an intentional texturization of the blacks and whites of the costumes to give it depth, even though it’s all so monochrome.

37. One thing we see in season 5 is Margaery usurping Cersei in the costume game. This is an intentional thing that signifies the change in the balance of power. Also, as Clapton explains, Margaery’s costumes become less revealing, as she’s gained a more concrete position.

38. Tommen’s chamber is a set that was built completely new in Belfast, which was in contrast to what Michael Slovis said earlier about how sets are dressed and redressed to be different rooms within King’s Landing. Tommen’s room being dark with protected windows were also intentionally done to show that he’s being shuttered in. Anette Haellmigk: “To me it was like he’s in a cage, like a little birdie.” All these little details to show that Tommen is an incredibly sheltered King.

39. The outdoor exchange between Cersei and Margaery was an indoor shoot that was lit and dressed to look like an exterior.

40. Deborah Riley points out how masterful the coordination of the extras is in the fluid shot that introduces us to the rebuilding of Winterfell. The amount of background action had to be perfect. Otherwise, the shot would look off.

41. Michelle Clapton talks about how Sansa’s costume (the all-black number) is a conscious decision that Sansa makes to be part of the team with Littlefinger. They also mention her hair, as its indicates that she’s moving further away from being who she was in previous, “Sansa, the victim.”

42. Clapton reworked Brienne’s armor for season 5, bringing forward the blue color and making it a little more streamlined. Brienne’s armor includes two metal versions and two rubber versions. According to Clapton, “You have to be very careful and very exact so that it’s safe.” It’s a change that snuck by even Haellmigk, who says, “I’ve worked with her all these years, and I’ve never noticed the difference.”

43. “The clothes look should look like they are lived in,” explains Clapton. “These are things they’ve worn all their lives… They wear things until they are worn out, then they change.”

44. Riley: “We have so many sets now that we’re actually running out of stage space, which causes some of the cinematographers problems with space restrictions.”

45. The costumes in the House of Black and White all have these front flaps that flip up, almost like doctor’s hospital masks, for when they are dissecting bodies. It’s something we’ve never seen used in the show, but it’s a detail that exists for a character reason.

46. “Sometimes we like these things because we don’t have to work so hard,” explains Riley, speaking of the scene in which the High Septon is surrounded by nude prostitutes.

47. “That’s so Game of Thrones.” A line repeated twice — when Slynt’s head comes off and when the camera lingers on the nude abdomen of a prostitute walking toward the camera. A commentary on some of the essential, primal elements that make Thrones so iconic, even for its creatives.

48. The design of the bridge to Volantis is loosely based on the Fenghuang (Phoenix) Bridge in China.

49. The Volantis set, where the Red Priestess is holding court, was an old Moat Cailin set and a Harrenhall set before that. The Volantis brothel interior is also a set reused from the Mole’s Town brothel used in season 4.

Episode 4: “Sons of the Harpy”

Commentators: Director Mark Mylod, writer Dave Hill, Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell) and Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon)

50. Mark Mylod wanted a smaller boat for Tyrion and Jorah, but because of Jeremy Podeswa’s Stone Men scene, they had to make the boat bigger to ensure continuity.

51. The interior of the boat on which Jaime and Bronn are sailing was shot on a stage with a big gimbal that rocks the boat back and forth. Mylod found himself ultimately unhappy because he was the one who chose how much the boat rocks, then he couldn’t notice it in the final cut.

52. According to Dave Hill, Jaime and Bronn going to Dorne was Bryan Cogman’s idea.

53. The small council scenes are always hard to write, according to Hill. “Everyone is just sitting down, and it’s hard to make them interesting.”

54. In the books, Cersei giving power to the Faith Militant is an idea driven by the manipulation of the High Sparrow. According to Hill, they changed it in the show to make Cersei a more active participant in her own downfall.

55. Speaking of the volume of questions she gets about whether or not it’s weird to have intimate scenes with the much younger; Natalie Dormer cites the inconsistency of the criticism: “As soon as it’s the woman who is older, everyone has a comment to make.” Her ultimate response: “He’s legal.”

56. Dormer had a situation in her real life when she and her significant other had a crash in a hot air balloon. Her significant other later said that he learned at that moment how calm she could be in a crisis. This is something she drew on later for the moments when Margaery is receiving bad news about Loras. She becomes very calm and continues to calculate.

57. “We always envisioned S4 as the kind of halfway point,” explains Hill. “In season 5, we have disparate characters meeting. We’re bringing everything back together.”

58. Mylod explains that in directing scenes involving sexuality and nudity (specifically the Melisandre and Jon scene) he gives the choreography a count almost like you would in dance. This dance just involves more breast-grabbing.

59. Dave Hill’s favorite scene that he wrote was the Stannis and Shireen scene. “One of the reasons we have that scene is that we want to show the bond between Stannis and his daughter so that the later scene would pay off that much more. People are gonna get really angry.”

60. During the filming of the Sansa and Littlefinger Winterfell crypt scene, the fire from the candles caused a bunch of spiders to start coming down from the ceiling. It was showrunner David Benioff’s idea to shoot that scene in the crypts, in front of Lyanna’s statue, as an homage to the scenes between Ned and Robert in season one.

61. “Kit Harington said he was going to have a housewarming party two years ago, but it never happened,” explains Natalie Dormer as an example of the fact that the actors don’t get much time to hang out, as GoT has given them all a platform for getting other work.

62. Natalie Dormer can no longer eat poached salmon, because “I made the mistake of taking a mouthful of poached salmon on a different medieval show and the scene took all day, so I ended up eating a bunch of warm poached salmon. Now I no longer have a taste for it.”

63. During the scenes in which Jaime and Bronn are meeting with he Dornish guards, they had to have a crew come in and rake up the sand between takes to make it look virgin again. Then they went through and meticulously replaced the foot and horse prints that were supposed to be there for each shot.

64. Mylod tells a story of working with Steven Spielberg on a new project (the Minority Report TV show, most likely) and seeing the original Rosebud sled hanging on the wall in his office.The Dornish beach scenes were shot in Northern Ireland, which was very cold during shooting.

65. The Dornish beach scenes were shot in Northern Ireland, which was very cold during shooting.

66. In the scene in which Jorah and Tyrion are sailing and talking, Ian Glen — an accomplished sailor in real life — is sailing the boat through most of it.

67. Mylod hints that Dany passing the sentence and the ensuing riot was a scene that was moved up from later in the season. The Barristan/Dany council scene in which he talks about her family was moved up, as well. Which would also suggest that Barristan’s death was moved up from later in the season, as well. Jeremy Podeswa directed the sequence in which Barristan and Grey Worm are ambushed. Which means Barristan’s death would have originally come in episode five or six, but was ultimately moved up to close episode four.“We discussed hewing closer to the books,” Hill explains regarding Barristan’s death. “But we wanted to create more stakes for Dany. And he was the best candidate.”

68. “We discussed hewing closer to the books,” Hill explains regarding Barristan’s death. “But we wanted to create more stakes for Dany. And he was the best candidate.”

Episode 5: “Kill The Boy”

Commentators: Director Jeremy Podeswa, Director of Photography Greg Middleton, Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton)

69. According to Greg Middleton, the Barristan funeral is the first time they had shot any night scenes in Dany’s Meereen audience chamber.

70. The dragon pit set in Split, Croatia is known to the crew as “Dragon Daycare.”

71. Jeremy Podeswa explains that European stuntmen get paid for every time they are lit on fire, which is why they were okay with doing the fire scenes over and over again.

72. The group gets off track a bit, talking about how Kristopher Hivju was in the fantastic film Force Majeure. But it’s an important point. If you haven’t seen it, you should seek it out.

73. Podeswa, Middleton and Stephen Dillane (Stannis) had worked together previously on a movie called Fugitive Pieces (2007).

74. The window where Brienne stands and watches Winterfell is a room built onto the Castle Black set.

75. “And yes, that really fucking hurt,” explains Iwan Rheon, referencing the moment when Miranda bites Ramsay’s bottom lip. Not real blood, but some real pain.

76. Rheon and Alfie Allen always take some time after horrific scenes to debrief and go about having a lovely evening after shooting, just to “maintain our sanity.”The map on the table when Roose and Ramsay are talking about strategy — which shows the troop positions in the North — is meant to be human skin, the favorite material of The Boltons.

77. The map on the table when Roose and Ramsay are talking about strategy — which shows the troop positions in the North — is meant to be human skin, the favorite material of The Boltons.

78. The scene in which Stannis and Ser Davos are talking in the Castle Black mess hall involves two shots: one interior, with them talking. And another moment outside, as Stannis walks away. The two shots were filmed three months apart.

79. The shot with the Stone Man behind Tyrion was an idea from Weiss and Benioff. It was inspired by Alien, in which you see things happen in the background, and we’re not entirely sure of what we just saw.

80. Tyrion’s blurred vision (as he wakes up) was created with Greg Middleton putting his fingers over the lens.

Episode 6: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

Commentators: Producer and writer Bryan Cogman, Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Tom Wlaschiha (Jaqen H’gar)

Author’s note: I hate that Maisie Williams is on this commentary track. Because the track is super entertaining, but the episode is such a downer.

81. In the opening shot, Maisie Williams was alone in the room with the bodies that Arya is cleaning, save for the three cameras used to shoot the scene. She describes it as a very peaceful environment.

82. The Tyrion and Jorah scenes on the shore were shot in Belfast, which comes as a surprise to Maisie Williams and Tom Wlaschiha, as Belfast usually isn’t so sunny.

83. Bryan Cogman talks about the most exciting part of season 5 is the new pairings it created.

84. Willaims said that she laughed at (and sort of taunted) Sophie Turner when Weiss and Benioff told them that she would be going to Croatia, with Turner staying in Belfast. No remorse, that one. She was so glad not to be in the cold and the mud.

85. “I don’t want these faceless people to get all the cool stuff to do,” explains Williams, referencing the fact that while Arya is using a different face, an entirely different actor is playing her part.

86. Walking up and down staircases in the House of Black and White took an entire day to shoot, according to Wlaschiha.

87. The trio talks about Ramin Djawadi’s score during the Hall of Faces. How it’s hopeful and eerie at the same time.

88. During early costume and make-up tests, Williams took a picture of concept art from the Hall of Faces on her phone and was worried that she’d get caught.

89. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s faces are in the Hall of Faces. The face Arya stops at is the face of the mom of the man who makes the faces. The tests for the faces in the Hall of Faces were all different versions of Weiss and Benioff’s faces. Dark versions, light versions, etc.

90. According to Cogman, there has not been an episode since Ned Stark’s death (season one, episode nine) in which Ned Stark isn’t mentioned at least once. Some day I’ll go through and painstakingly verify that, but not today. We’re going to have to trust Cogman on this one.

91. Cogman talks about not being able to shoot at the Alcázar of Seville (the palace used for Dorne’s Water Gardens) at night, which is what forced them to shoot the Sand Snakes fight during the day and in a tight timeframe. Beyond that, he has no insights. “Sorry, I wasn’t there.”

92. “The show was popular, but we didn’t really know if we were going to be able to finish this thing in season two. By the time we got to The Red Wedding, we were sure, but not in season two,” Cogman explains, talking about the notion that they’d want to bring Jaqen back after season two, but they didn’t know if the show would make it all the way to Braavos.

93. The set for Arya’s cell in Braavos is right below the set for the top of The Wall. Williams remarks about the times she’d take a break, then go up to The Wall and look out at the green screens.

94. As we get to the Sansa sequence at the end of the episode, Bryan Cogman says that he needs to hijack the commentary for a minute to talk about the scene and its ultimate backlash. This is something we’ve discussed at length on this site, so it’s only fair that we present his comments verbatim: “When we decided to combine Sansa’s storyline with another character from the books. It was done with the idea that it would be hugely dramatically satisfying to have Sansa back in her occupied childhood home and to have to navigate this sort of gothic horror story she’s found herself in. And to be reunited with Theon. And to set her on her path to reclaim her family home and to become a major player in the overall story. When we decided that we were going to do that, we were faced with the question that if she’s marrying Ramsay, what happens on the wedding night? And we made the decision not to shy away from it. From what realistically would happen on that wedding night with these two characters in this situation, the reality of that situation, the reality of this particular world. And that was not an easy decision to make. It was a very difficult situation to write. I’ve known Sophie since she was a kid. I love her. I love Sansa. And every effort was made to do the scene as respectfully as possible. You could, of course, argue with the adaptation choice. There’s a larger argument about sexual assault being used in entertainment at all. I’m not going to weigh into that here. I will say that the argument that our motives were to that we just threw in a rape for shock value, I personally don’t think the scene as shot, as written, and as acted by our wonderful actors supports that argument. Nor do I think the aftermath of the scene supports that argument. Not only in these episodes but in future episodes. The main thing I would say is that the story’s not over. This is a long, ongoing story. Sansa has a journey ahead of her. And what happens to her in that room is a huge part of that journey. And one that we’ve thought through. It’s an upsetting scene, it’s a horrifying scene, and it’s meant to be. I guess where I took issue with some of the criticism is the idea that the people criticizing were in our heads as to our motives. And our motives were about telling a powerful story. I don’t know; I guess that’s all I really have to say about it right now… She’s brave. And this is something brave that she’s doing… Sansa is a survivor. She’s surviving in any way that she can as a woman in this world. Yes, it would have been immensely satisfying for her to have a shiv up her sleeve and gut Ramsay. But that’s not Sansa. We can’t all be Arya. And in fact, most people aren’t Arya. Most people in that situation have to play a longer game. She goes in without the right information about Ramsay. She gets a sense that Ramsay’s dangerous. And when it turns out to be even worse than she thought, she’s not broken by the attack. She immediately sets to getting the hell out of there and then planning her next move from there.”

Cogman also states that he’s more bothered by the attack on the motives behind their decision. He gets choked up talking about how much he cares about the characters and how it isn’t an easy thing to put Sansa through.

He also takes issue with the criticism that the show takes the pain of this moment away from Sansa and gives it to Theon. “I don’t personally think that’s the case… I don’t consider this her being shoehorned into Theon’s redemption journey. If you watch this scene, it’s played from Sansa’s viewpoint for the most part. The reason we cut away at the end is that, frankly, this was Sophie’s first scene of this nature, and we didn’t feel it was necessary to… we didn’t want to show the attack. And so we cut to Theon to hear the attack. I understand why many people reacted to that in that we were making the scene about Theon and not about Sansa. I’m sorry that it was viewed that way by a lot of people. All I can say is that it was certainly not my intention when I wrote it or when we were producing it.”

95. He goes on to praise the work of the actors in the scene — which he’s right; they are all exceptional in this scene — “I hate watching this as much as anybody. And we could have stayed on her face for the entirety of the attack. That would have been a perfectly valid choice. To me, it was about being respectful to Sophie.”In the end, Cogman admits the difficulty in writing this particular episode: “A very tricky episode to write. Certainly, the hardest thing I’ve done on the show. Despite all the controversy, I’m very proud of it.”

96. In the end, Cogman admits the difficulty in writing this particular episode: “A very tricky episode to write. Certainly, the hardest thing I’ve done on the show. Despite all the controversy, I’m very proud of it.”

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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)