Spoilers for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 9, "Battle of the Bastards." Duh.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the director of the remarkable "Battle of the Bastards" episode shared how an impossible shooting schedule led him to send one of history's most anxiety-producing late night work emails.
One evening I got home and I kind of knew we couldn’t finish in the time we had left so I wrote a long email to David and Dan and the other producers to suggest an alternative that I thought we could achieve in the remaining time, but that would mean going “off book” for three days. That is to say, we’d be shooting without a script.
The meeting between Ramsay Bolton and Jon Snow made headlines weeks before it aired, and ended up the biggest massive battle in the show's history of big, massive battles.
But at one point, "three days of consistent rain" that "turned the field into a bog nine inches deep" almost derailed it. Director Miguel Sapochnik began to wonder how he could ever get it done in time. Like anyone in a stressful work situation, he put his thoughts in an email, clicked send, and hoped he wouldn't get reamed out by his boss.
I finished the email and made a cup of tea (no whisky in the house) then waited for the response, which I fully expected to be a public chastisement and general reaming for even suggesting that (Dan and David like their scripts executed the way they wrote them, and with good reason).
Glamorous TV directing is full of the same nail-biting wait time on awkward emails to your boss as a job in marketing. The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, were in L.A., while Sapochnik was doing his best from the location of the shoot in Northern Ireland. Sapochnik sent the email and then probably glued his eyes to his phone and refreshed the email app a thousand times in a row.
Anyway, not 15 minutes later, I get a ping on the email and David and Dan have replied. They said it sucked not to be able to finish as scripted but they also understood the crunch we were in and that they trusted me and to have at it.
Not exactly the chillest bosses in the world, but credit to Benioff and Weiss for trusting their employee's instincts and not freaking out. The part of the battle in question ended up as one of Sapochnik's favorite sequences.
I think that this section of the fight — in which Jon is almost buried alive by a stampede of panicking wildings — turned out as one of my favorite little moments in the sequence. No VFX, no fighting, just Kit giving a stellar performance and a crazy top shot as he pushes his way back out (we affectionately called it the “rebirthing” shot).
If you watched the episode, you'll remember it as the moment when Jon Snow starts dry drowning in a sea of boots and flesh.
The part when you remember Jon and Melisandre's exchange from earlier in the episode, regarding the Lord of Light's plans for Jon, and you start to pray he'll make it out alive.
Melisandre: "Maybe he brought you here to die again."
Jon: "What kind of God would do something like that?
Melisandre: "The one we've got."
Read: "What kind of Writer would do something like that?" Answer: The one we've got.
Sapochnik's off-script gambit worked, playing perfectly into the rest of the battle and the episode in general. And in the end, office morale hit level 100.
The other reason I liked it is because of what it meant to be allowed to follow my gut and go for it. That kind of trust you can’t buy and it felt like a privilege to have been given that kind of support to go into unchartered territory by the producers in such a high stakes game.
There's something great about the dry mechanics and work politics that go into creating everyone's favorite fictional world. Everyone's got a boss.