GOT’s season 7 episode: “Beyond the Wall” stands out among others in a clear shift in focus of vfx vs. narrative in this complex battle sequence. At the macro level storylines converge through individual character development and plot shifts that previous seasons spent a heavy amount of time building. Subtle weaving of The Night King, Three Eyed Raven, geographic importance and all micro details is abruptly shifted for pace and action.
Of course no one gives a shit because the scale and execution of this episode was incredible. In many ways there’s a lot of familiar ingredients in this Alan Taylor direction to Alejandro Inarritu’s The Revenant in terms of chaos: harsh shoot location, bears + vfx layered rendering, coordination of hundreds of extras etc. There’s a pattern among producers, actors and directors that’s consistent in shooting in Nature. No matter how great visual effects are, there’s nothing like shooting in a real environment to generate emotion.
At the same time, the more real the location the harder it is to shoot. Working out the direction plan, production logistics, crew coordination etc almost always mimics a combination of a military campaign and conducting a large orchestra. The heavy lifting in this episode took place in both Iceland and Belfast where units rebuilt Nature to achieve the look and feel of the frozen lake battle. Yet even with this large scale production, directing an effective narrative of intense emotion with actors working with an artificial stage is in constant tension to achieve powerful visual effects.
In the filmmaking creative process there’s many similarities that can be compared to warfare. A singular goal of victory, coordination of multiple moving parts and constant random chaos all dependent on limited economics. But it’s those disciplined few who fight viciously to preserve the deeper narrative that always create the classics. Commentary from Kubrick, Coppola, Scorsese to Inarritu all have early tales on set of desperation to the brink of complete failure. But it’s these rare do or die moments that usually define the serious film makers from the manufactured ones. The GOT crew carries on the tradition of intense strategic labor while appearing effortless to the audience completely oblivious to the creative process.