This show has afforded you the opportunity to do all kinds of sequences, like the Altman riff at the wedding, or the very quiet Jaime/Brienne scene at the baths, or these huge action set pieces like the sacking of Astapor, the duel between the Hound and Beric. As a director, what's it like to work on a show that lets you do all these things?

Alex Graves: Well, it's heaven. One, the writers are friends. They're great to have around. The scripts are incredible. It's impossible not to become obsessed with the books and what Martin wrote once you read it. And as a director — I grew up loving "Star Wars" and "All the President's Men" — so I get to do a bit of each. It's perfect. It's like you're getting to direct "The Lion in Winter" with sci-fi mixed in. It's a blast. Everything anybody would love to do, it's got. And the scene with Jaime and Brienne in the bathtub is like you're shooting a film with a lesbian and a knight, she's a knight, he's a knight, they're in love and don't know they're in love; where else would you get to film a scene like that?

The sacking of Astapor has already become this iconic sequence. How difficult was that for you to put together, given that it's practical action mixed in with a lot of computer effects?

Alex Graves: It's very complicated, and I started prepping in Morocco two or three months before. In a way, it wasn't complicated, because all it really was, and I think it's true of any scene we've had on the show, which is, "What's going on with this character?" The whole thing was making sure you understood her experience, which was "I'm not relying on anybody. I'm playing a huge gamble. I don't know how it's going to go. No one knows what I'm doing, including my own guys." And it starts to unfold and work, and then she takes it. And at the end of the day, no matter what you plan, you can never equal what Emilia (Clarke) gives you. It always gets finished off with a cherry on top because she's in it. 

How do you make the action look as good as it does in the time you have?

Alex Graves: You work morning, noon and night. You do nothing but work on the show seven days a week. And you have, more than anything, great texts, and the best group of people you could possibly have ot make it, who are just as passionate about it as you are. I'll tell you, the biggest fans of the show by far are the people who make it. They love it, and they're very precious about it in a great way, and I think that comes off on screen. Really, you do your best, and you have a lot of wonderful people to lean on.

Logistically, how does it work filming pieces of episodes in different countries? Since you're doing back to back episodes each time, do you film all the Croatia scenes for both in one stretch, or are you going back and forth to just do the parts of episode 2, and then episode 3?

Alex Graves: The schedule's built entirely around the idea that we're in Belfast filming locations while we build sets. When we're done in Belfast everyone goes to Croatia, the sets are being built. When you're done in Croatia, you go back to Belfast and start shooting on all the new sets. You're prepping Iceland while you're in Belfast shooting. You were in Belfast at the beginning prepping Croatia, and if there's a third time, you're prepping that.  Normally what I would do is shoot four or five days a week, then get on a plane the next morning, fly to Morocco, prep for two days, fly back, and keep shooting. It's really built shooting everything out location by location and continent by continent.

So you're shooting those episodes over a very long period of time and then it's meant to be compressed back into an hour. 

Alex Graves: On day 1 of shooting, let's say I'm shooting a scene from episode 2. On day 100 of shooting, I'm shooting a scene from episode 2.  The first thing we shot in season 3 was a piece of the finale, and the last thing that was shot on the final day of shooting was part of the opening scene of the first episode. So you literally spend six months jumping in and hoping you remember where you are in what you're shooting.

And how do you make sure that both you're in the right head space for that, and that your actors are in the right place for their characters, when it's done this wildly out of sequence?

Alex Graves: One of the things you're doing besides planning your shots and hoping to put together, is you're really becoming a bibliography and a road map. You can't do anything you don't know what's going on, but then you have to tell your actors what's going on, and they're incredibly grateful for it. A lot of that comes down to sitting down with Dave and Dan and saying, "What happens in season 6? Because I don't know what I'm doing." And they'll tell you what you're doing. I've had many moments with the actors where I've taken them aside and told them, "This is what happens next season" or even at the end of the whole series. And they'll go, "Oh, thank God you told me that. Now I know how to play it."

Are there any actors who don't want to know that sort of thing in advance? 

Alex Graves: They only want to know if they're playing something wrong. But otherwise they don't want to know anything about it, because they like to be fresh and energized.

This is a very major development in the life of the series that you got to direct here. Have you at any point spoken with either Alan Taylor, who got to chop Ned's head off, or David Nutter, who directed the Red Wedding, about what those experiences were like and what you might expect from the fans as the man who killed Joffrey?

Alex Graves: I didn't talk to Alan, because Alan was on "Thor 2" when I was working on the show. But I loved what he did and was very affected by his work in the first and second season. I think he really helped hone it. David and I are friends, and I did the show because of David. When David was doing his first episode, they asked, "Are there any other directors out there like you?" And he said, "Alex Graves, you've gotta hire him right now." And, yeah, I've talked privately about the Red Wedding with David. (laughs) We've shared some stories.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com
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