“Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” could easily be dismissed as HBO’s way of maximizing its ample investment in the series, a glorified electronic press kit to extend the program’s run by one more week. Yet after many viewers spent the final season bashing the show, the two-hour documentary served a dual purpose, offering a reminder of all the grueling work that went into making it.
Even Amid Plot Stumbles, the Crew Deserves Tremendous Credit
Much of the unsettled discourse around Season 8 focused on the observable story of the show: the writing, the pace, the plot. But Last Watch mostly steers away from these points, and from Thrones’ known faces; showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t give interviews, while the prominent actors and actresses speak just a few times. Instead, the documentary is a love letter to the Thronesfolks whose names don’t appear in the opening credits: the production organizers, the cast extras, and the various crews—costume, makeup, set construction and design, and so on—who helped create the spectacle of the final season. “I’m a conductor of fine musicians who basically just waves his arms around,” says David Nutter, who directed episodes 1, 2, and 4 this season. The documentary centers those fine musicians’ stories and work.
That work is notable because, stray 21st-century coffee cup aside, that spectacle was present and extraordinary throughout the uneven final hours. “Every episode has as much in it as any one feature film, but we have to do it quicker and for less money,” producer Christopher Newman says early in the doc. That effort included 11 weeks of night shoots for the Battle of Winterfell, a seven-month construction project to build the to-be-destroyed section of King’s Landing on an unused lot in Belfast, Northern Ireland—for some reason, the authorities in Dubrovnik, Croatia, which hosts much of the King’s Landing scenery, didn’t want a dragon to ravage their city—and the continuous work of Del Reid, the “Head of Snow,” which is a job title that makes him sound like the leader of a group of Northern bastards.
Even during “The Bells,” as viewers questioned the suddenness of Daenerys’s choices, they couldn’t deny the splendor and the cinematic experience of the television episode. Last Watch displays just how much planning went into that final product.
Adding Episodes Might Not Have Been Feasible
One of the common criticisms of Season 8 was the rushed pace and progression of key plot points (see: Daenerys’s turn to villainy). In retrospect, it seemed, Thrones had committed a significant misstep by transitioning from 10-episode seasons. As it had been structured through the first six years, to a seven- and six-episode format for the final two seasons. More screen time could have helped smooth some of these wrinkled edges.
But more screen time also could have stretched the show’s production past the point of feasibility. “The schedule is impossible,” production designer Deborah Riley says. “I think this season, we’ve certainly found the limit of what’s able to be achieved.” Four more episodes needn’t have included anything like the Battle of Winterfell or Daenerys’s sack of King’s Landing. But Thrones already took nearly two full years off between seasons 7 and 8. So additional demand on the crew might not have worked within any reasonable time frame. It’s a better excuse, anyway, than Benioff and Weiss’s contention that they had “always believed it was about 73 hours.”
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