The Game of Thrones director revealed his approach to episodic television at a DGC Master Class.
By Jorge Ignacio Castillo
The Directors Guild of Canada’s Master Class Series hit a homerun last Saturday, when the Vancouver International Film Centre hosted the man responsible for the two most talked-about episodes of Game of Thrones’ final season. Miguel Sapochnik —in town to tackle Netflix’ sci-fi series Altered Carbon— was at hand to address his work on the well-received chapter “The Bells” and the more divisive “The Long Night”.
Known as the go-to guy for GoT’s battle-heavy episodes, Sapochnik joined the HBO show during season five, after the previous specialist (Neil Marshall, The Descent) became unavailable. The TV veteran was tasked with capturing the mêlée between White Walkers and the Wildlings. Even though he didn’t love being supervised and second guessed by Game of Thrones’ showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, it would be the beginning of a relationship that would last three seasons.
Miguel Sapochnik’s method when dealing with TV is first to identify what the episode is about: “In the case of ‘The Bells’ it was about what have we become, the characters’ inability to control their emotions.” Sapochnik was reluctant to glorify violence, so he looked for inspiration for the leveling of King’s Landing in the Bombing of Dresden: “The massacre was no longer about power, but retribution.”
According to the director, there was longer versions of some scenes. Also, Arya’s escape from the Westeros capital’s smoldering ruins was originally a continuous shot, but ended up cut in sections after Sapochnik realized Arya’s journey mirrored the one of Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. One consumed by revenge, the other barely escaping the same destiny.
Considering both “The Long Night” and “The Bells” were episodes that featured Arya Stark heavily, Sapochnik made a point of developing his relationship with actress Maisie Williams, same as he did with Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) for “Hardhome” and “Battle of the Bastards”. “There was a little sparring which led to common ground. It helped in the sense she didn’t feel the pressure.”
Apropos of nothing, Sapochnik added, “everybody goes a little loopy on the final season.”
IT WAS A DARK, STORMY NIGHT
While “The Bells” was well received, Miguel Sapochnik’s other episode this season, “The Long Night”, endured some criticism due to the darkness of the visuals (a problem for anybody with traditional entertainment systems) and general sense of chaos.
For Sapochnik, there was a method to the madness: “Every time you’re watching a battle on screen —like in Lord of the Rings— it feels like hindsight. In battle, everybody knows what’s going on until the bullets start flying. I wanted to recreate that experience for the audience. Also, it was night, that’s why it was dark.”
The director believes the border that separates film from television is disappearing and he makes decisions based on how to better serve the story, rather than being determined by the medium.