The "Game of Thrones" Season 5 finale packed an emotional punch, but can you imagine being the guy that had to bring "Mother's Mercy" to life? That was no easy task, but director David Nutter was up to the challenge. Nutter directed the final two episodes of this season, and going into them he'd had some experience with shocking death scenes. He previously helmed the episode "The Rains of Castamere" and the infamous Red Wedding that caused shocked reactions around the world.
Speaking to International Business Times prior to the airing of "Game of Thrones" Season 5, episode 9 ("The Dance of Dragons"), Nutter had to remain coy about the impending sacrifice of Shireen, Drogon's return and the deaths of Jon Snow, Stannis, Selyse and Myrcella in the season finale.
"You look at the immensity of all the work I had to do and I try not to get too freaked out about it, but I always do," Nutter told IBTimes. "I try to think of it as one stone at a time, and take a pragmatic approach. The other part is letting my feelings take over what my actions are going to be."
For "The Dance of Dragons" and "Mother's Mercy," Nutter worked closely with series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to gain insight into each scene. For Nutter, it's about listening to your instincts and more about feeling than technique and cranking that up to 10.
Jon Snow's Final Moments
"With episode 10, I kept saying 'the hits just keep coming.' In the script, you turn the page and that would happen and that would happen and then that would happen," Nutter said. "In some respect, it was about the vigilant instrumentation of that. How do I orchestrate that in a visual way that would have the most impact," Nutter said of the season finale.
Nutter invited Robert McLachlan, the director of photography, and his wife along with Jabbar Raisani, who was the additional visual effects supervisor, to watch the finale at his home. "When Jon Snow's death happened, there was crying involved. Those tears caught me by surprise and I started to tear up myself and became quite emotional and taken by it, especially on that last, long shot of Jon Snow as the camera booms in to his face and seeing the blood pool in the snow.
"When the shot went black and held on black for an exorbitant amount of time, I realized we did the right thing and did it the right way."
As for Jon Snow being truly dead in that scene, Nutter said there's no uncertainty. "When he turned around after seeing the sign that said 'Traitor' and that first knife goes through his chest, the volume of that and hearing it cut through his flesh you think, 'Uh-oh, he's going to be a dead man real soon,' " Nutter said. "And each subsequent stabbing put a nail into that particular coffin. Especially when Olly came in at the end and gave Jon the last blow, so to speak, it felt quite definitive that Jon Snow was dead."
The cast and crew of "Game of Thrones" are a close family and Nutter said they shared a moment before Jon Snow's (Kit Harington) final scene. "Everyone cares about each other and there's real sadness when you learn someone is leaving the series. When I did the Red Wedding, it was a situation where there were a lot of tears in the room" Nutter said. "I took the members of the Night's Watch, the extras, aside and recited the Night's Watch creed together. It wasn't just to kill Jon Snow, but they thought it was the best thing for the Night's Watch."
Cersei's Walk Of Atonement
Perhaps the most complex scene of the "Game of Thrones" Season 5 finale was Cersei's walk of shame. Lena Headey's character had her hair shorn and had to walk the streets of the Croatian set naked and surrounded by extras. "Lena's one of the greatest actors I've ever worked with and it was great to work with her again on such an intense level. I even thought her scene with the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), when she confesses, was some of her best work I've ever seen," Nutter said.
"As for the walk itself, we were shooting in the middle of Dubrovnik, which is quite a big tourist facility and the walled city in Croatia has millions of tourists travel through, around and above it along the walls throughout the year. For us to control part of the city without any cameras or onlookers that could spoil what we were doing, I was impressed," Nutter said. "It was important to walk the scene with Lena so she knew what the journey was going to be. It's about her character going through Flea Bottom and experiencing the hate and how the poor people of King's Landing despised her.
"I was trying, in some way, to make you feel sorry for her. Through Lena's performance, that succeeded in many ways. She's a brave actress and understood what was necessary. There was a body double we utilized, but she was there every step of the way. The extras were amazing as well and the wonderful production staff out of Croatia who spent time describing to them what they were doing and the vengeful hatefulness toward Cersei and where they needed to go to enhance that," Nutter said.
While everyone is talking about Jon Snow's death, Stannis' demise also was a huge part of the season finale. Stannis went from a person driven by duty and his claim to the Iron Throne to a man defeated by his actions. "Our goal was to make Stannis a real person and seeing that his actions were taking an emotional toll on him," Nutter said. "He had second thoughts and regrets and the realization that this wasn't all meant to be. Just because you believe in something so desperately and deeply, you may need to rethink one's life goals."
The biggest part to connecting with an audience is delivering scenes that are not ambiguous or confusing, Nutter said. "For Shireen's death, it wasn't what could be considered gratuitous by just watching her burn at the stake, but really seeing how it affected the people watching it. How it affected Stannis' soldiers, Stannis' wife and Stannis himself," the director said.
"They all paid the price for what they witnessed and you see in the next episode that many of Stannis' men, even after the thaw, deserted and took all the horses. The burning of Shireen wasn't a victory at all, but the death blow to Stannis' efforts to win back Winterfell."