[WARNING: The following contains spoilers from the Season 4 finale of Game of Thrones. Read at your own risk!]
Trust Game of Thrones to put its own sick twist on Father's Day.
On Sunday's big finale, several characters bit the dust, but no one died with less dignity than Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), who perished while on the toilet after being shot by his son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) with a crossbow. Director Alex Graves, who was also responsible for directing Joffrey's Purple Wedding fatality and Oberyn Martell's gory demise earlier this season, took a different approach to Twyin's final scene.
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"Tywin's death is the anti-Game of Thrones death in that it's very simple," Graves tells TVGuide.com. "There's a guy sitting down and rather [than] it being how much blood or how much gore or how shocking it was, it's actually about how futile and humiliating it is that this pillar of strength and arrogance who has had an enormous purpose in the War of the Five Kings is killed on the toilet, a death he would not be happy with."
Check out Graves' other insights about directing the series' biggest season finale to date:
Was there anything tricky about that Tywin-Tyrion scene, such as the logistics of shooting in a confined space?
Alex Graves: It was an extremely small set, and it was built on the second floor of another set, so we had to have elevated platforms to get close-ups and stuff. The entire thing was about Charles' and Peter's performances before the moment and really delivering a face-off that I've known about for over a year, Peter has known about it since he's signed on to the show and [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] have been waiting to make it for something like a decade. And also for me personally, it was Charles Dance's final scene in the show. I've loved all of them, loved working with him. I really wanted it to be something to be proud of. And it was easy because Charles was incredible, and Peter was too. It turned out incredibly well.
Similarly, Tyrion has an emotional scene with his ex-lover Shae (Sibel Kekilli). What was the key to that scene — the initial confrontation and of course his eventually killing her?
Graves: The key to that scene was capturing the unfolding panic that results in her death. Peter and I talked a lot about it. We've thought a lot about the fact that they had been so successful in portraying that love story, moreso than the [in] the books, that it was very hard. I was terrified of that scene. That was one of my toughest ... much harder for me than Joffrey's death by far. It was really making sure that we were with [Tyrion] in the moment of, "This can't possibly be happening. It's the most psychologically traumatic event that I could imagine, and she's reaching for a knife -- what do I do?" And it goes wrong fast, like everything else does that night. One thing leads to another.
Was there consideration about the emotional toll it would take on the actors while shooting?
Graves: They went for it. They wanted to do the most challenging stuff they could do. I think among the three of us, we had a huge trust and we were all on the same page trying to make sure it worked. And we wanted to make sure that Sibel didn't accidentally hurt Peter, and that Peter didn't accidentally hurt her. One of the toughest things to sell in terms of stunts is a chaotic, improvised struggle, which is a big part of it. Again, it is really about a surprise that within 30 seconds ends so badly beyond belief. That is hard to do. Last year, I was thinking, "How are you going to do that? How is that going to work?" We feel pretty good about how it worked out.
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Switching over to Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright). How did you balance the action of that attack with all the more mystical elements?
Graves: The two hardest things about that sequence were: 1) Feeling confident that we could deliver a skeletal soldier attack that would make Ray Harryhausen proud, who had died right when were starting to do it. We wanted to dedicate it to him. And then 2) introducing a mythical, magical character like a Child of the Forest. It's something that Game of Thrones doesn't do, have characters like that, and introducing her in broad daylight in a snow sequence with almost nothing on. It was tricky, and what I wound up doing was folding her introduction into the climactic action of the battle so that it was all sort of part of the ballet. It was unfolding before you could even know it was unfolding, and suddenly you were in the cave.
Were there challenges in the three-eyed raven scenes and with that character in the tree?
Graves: Well, the three-eyed raven was about the casting of the voice and also it was the set. [Production designer] Deb Riley had to order hundreds and hundreds of tree roots ... It would be bleached white roots, and they were piled high in the parking lot in Banbridge in Ireland. Basically, the art department went in and laid out and sculpted out the shape of the cave until the form fit into what he sat in. Without any lights on, it's just this weird-looking root thing that you would see in a club in New York or something. But when my [director of photography] lit it and brought it to life, it was him. That whole set became that character, through her lighting. It was tricky to pull off that whole sequence. Again, if you think about it, it begins with Jojen (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) almost freezing to death in the snow, and by the end of it you're attacked by an army of skeletons and you're underground in a cave with a guy who's intertwined with tree roots. It started with Miles Davis and ended with Led Zepplin. It's like, how did we get here? It was the "Bohemian Rhapsody" of directing.
Was Jojen's death and his sister Meera (Ellie Kendrick) having to kill him particularly hard to do?
Graves: This is a terrible thing to say, but it was one of the most beautiful deaths that's been done on the show. They are both such talented young actors that we met and sort of rehearsed that bit of it separately so that on the day, we were out in the snow with stunts and everybody running around. We were ready to go.
Jon (Kit Harington) starts out wanting to assassinate Mance (Ciaran Hinds), but somehow doesn't get to that. What did you want from that scene?
Graves: For me, the filmmaker, it's a geek moment of Michael Corleone/Godfather, entertaining the idea of peace while he goes and meets with a mobster. The episode opens with a very strict photographic position of Jon's point of view... You realize that beyond looking at Mance, he's looking at things that are very sharp and pointy. It's pretty clear that he's there to kill him. And Mance, who is far more seasoned and experienced at this sort of thing than Jon or we would even know, begins to fight Jon with the one weakness Jon has as a warrior, which is his gift for logic. And Mance starts to talk to him about where they are, what's gone on, what the numbers are, how he honestly feels about things -- including Ygritte (Rose Leslie), whom they both loved. They have that in common. And he takes a young guy who he respects and sees as a major threat, who walks in wanting to kill him, and by the time the scene's over, he's not sure if he should kill him or not. And then you find out in the moment after the scene ends is when he has the opportunity to have him killed, but he doesn't do it. So Mance wins that fight with logic.
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Somehow in this episode we also fit in a battle when Stannis (Stephen Dillane) swoops in. How did you approach that?
Graves: Stannis' invasion was the king of all "Well,we can't afford to do that" conversations. [Laughs] It was really like, "How much money is left? Can we do this?" That's a kind of incredibly unromantic thing, but you don't want to say it. I went to dinner with David and Dan one night and I drew on a napkin the invasion. I didn't understand how Stannis had got there with all the guys in boats. And of course David and Dan look at me like, "You're an idiot" because you've never been to Westeros like they have... Later, there was a meeting where it was, "OK, we can afford three digital effects shots." Ultimately, which is usually the case, we squeezed four out because everybody's so cool and did their best. The rest of it became the sections, which was the raid outside the trees, the attack within the trees, the chaos that allowed Stannis to then close on the camp, which denigrated to the taking of the camp. And then [there's] the scene, which was Stannis Baratheon, the one and only true king, walking up to Jon Snow and saying, "Hi, I'm part of your story now."
Can you discuss the challenges of the Brienne-Hound fight and Arya and Brienne's meeting?
Graves: It started with a just a meeting about the story of the fight. What happened and who's winning and why are they winning this point? The other thing is that, you're also taking two knights in a way that's never been done on the show, pitting them against another knight, the likes of which they have never seen. You've got the Hound fighting a woman, and you've got Brienne fighting a guy who could kill her, and she's not used to that. They were taken to a place that's so primal, a place they've never been before, because each of them takes place in the fight with the thought that they're going to get killed. There's a little buildup, there's a huge rise and fall to it that has to do with people who have beat the odds and also has to do with who has any strength left internally. They've both been through so much. Who's more determined to save a little girl who they don't realize yet is too old to be saved?
The thing with Brienne where she finds Arya (Maisie Williams) and they chitchat until the Hound comes out was possibly my favorite. It was one of those scenes when I read it that I thought about every day until I directed it. I couldn't wait to direct it because it's four people coming together at exactly the wrong moment and everything going wrong. The more they try to make everything right, the more everything's going wrong. It's some of the best writing I've ever seen.
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