Can you give a sense of what you had to go through to shoot that?
Benioff: I think pretty much a month straight of night shoots, which is just tough for anybody unless you’re a vampire. It’s Belfast nights, which means it’s cold and it’s usually wet. There was an incredible amount of mud. It’s tough for the crew, but then when you actually see it on screen and see how good it looks, you see the way the weather affects people. You see the wind blowing their hair and the rain coming down. None of that’s faked.
Weiss: The weariness and the bleariness that you see on the people on screen feels real because it is real. We needed an extra sort of stipend to do it ’cause there was no way to fit it into the box that most episodes fit into.
Benioff: We went down on bended knee [to HBO]: “Just this once. Please.” We were genuinely nervous about it for the whole time until we finally wrapped it. The impressive thing about the conversation where we went in asking for more money, a considerable sum, in order to shoot the Blackwater battle — we didn’t get everything we wanted — but [executives did not ask]: “Will this attract more viewers? Is this something that’s gonna pump ratings?” It’s all about why this story needs this big battle. “You guys were able to do the first season successfully without major, big scale battles, [so] why does this one need to have one?” And so it was really a long conversation about how the second season all builds towards Blackwater. You know it’s coming from quite a ways off and for us to all that build up and then have someone running in and saying, “The ships are in the bay!” Certainly other shows have gotten away with it. But it felt like it was gonna be cheap if we did that.
Now fast forward. The producers have finished all the post-production work on “Blackwater.” These questions were answered by email.
Did “Blackwater” meet your expectations?
Benioff: The episode has dramatically exceeded our expectations, and much of the credit for that goes to our superhuman [visual effects] team, lead by Steve Kullback and Rainer Gombos. When you look at the shadow demon Melisandre births, or the detailing on the dragons, or the beauty of Pyke, you realize you’re dealing with talents that could someday win an Oscar. “Blackwater” has far more VFX shots than any other episode we’ve done. We try to avoid excessive VFX on the show, but with “Blackwater” there was no alternative. Steve and Rainer look over a large team of tech wizards and what they’ve accomplished is, in our completely unbiased opinion, some of the best effects work in television history.
Weiss: And it’s not all visual. A big part of any battle scene is sound, and we’re lucky to have an amazing team. Ramin Djawadi, our composer, is equally adept at scoring a quiet, mournful scene or an explosive battle. And for this episode, we gave him an added challenge, the results of which people will hear in the episode.
Benioff: Then we have the sound designers, who have been working seven days a week, 16-hour days on this episode. It’s a monster episode, we all knew that going in, but foreknowledge doesn’t diminish the workload. Peter Brown, our sound designer, is our hero because he finally came up with the ice-cracking chatter we had in our heads when we imagined the White Walkers speaking Skroth. For “Blackwater,” he had to orchestrate a major naval battle and a land battle. And he had to come up with something very big and very loud, which would be a spoiler to explain but book readers will understand. Once Ramin composes his cues and Peter comes up with a sound design, we have the masterful Onnalee Blank and Matt Waters putting it all together on the mixing stage. “Blackwater” is essentially a short feature film, so their ability to get the job done on a TV schedule is astounding.
Weiss: And our colorist Joe Finley, who labors over each shot of Neil’s and Sam’s like a painting. And holding this whole team together is our post producer Greg Spence, who is a miracle. He works unfathomable hours, keeps 10,000 balls in the air at once and never drops one of them. Managing and coordinating the post-production workflow was a unique challenge here, and his perfectionism never flagged – not for this episode, and not for the whole season.