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Game of Thrones: Bringing the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ to life

More than 2,000 extras, 80 horses and hundreds of tonnes of gravel… The Big Issue goes behind the scenes to discover the secrets behind the most ambitious Game of Thrones episode to date

“A long, long slog” is how Kit Harington described the experience of filming The Battle of the Bastards, the spectacular penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ sixth series. Broadcast earlier this year, it saw Harington’s Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton’s armies finally square off in the shadow of Winterfell.

Here, we have Snow gasping for breath in the thick of the battle as Bolton’s men close in from every angle in a pincer-like circle of shields (below). According to director Miguel Sapochnik, this scene was inspired by Alexander the Great’s fourth and final major victory in the Battle of Hydaspes in 326 BC. Nothing about Game of Thrones is less than epic.

This hour-long episode was Game of Thrones at its finest. A cast of hundreds, a budget of millions, explosive set pieces and lots of beloved characters in peril. It was the biggest Game of Thrones episode to date – and one of the most brutal and elaborate battle sequences in small-screen history.

Fittingly, it also catapulted the HBO fantasy series into the TV history books, winning several Emmy Awards in September (including Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing) to place Thrones on 38 gongs, ahead of Frasier’s previous record of 37.

What makes Game of Thrones’ on-screen Westeros truly magical is the real-life, Northern Irish grit that underpins the extraordinary fantasy scenes, from the hordes of locally-grown sweaty, beardy extras to the incredible locations that CGI couldn’t dream up.

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2,395 EXTRAS

More than 500 extras were hired for the battle. For series six, GoT cast 2,395 extras – a total of 13,717 working days (more than 37 years). Of the 75 new roles cast for series six, 45 went to talent from Northern Ireland.

8,500 MILES

The battle was filmed on a private 31-acre estate near Saintfield, a market town in County Down. In total, supervising locations manager Robbie Boake has driven more than 8,500 miles – more than a return trip from London to New York – in scouting Thrones filming spots across Northern Ireland.

100 PAVISE SHIELDS

For the battle and pincer scene, weapons master Tommy Dunne and his team had to make 100 pavise shields – each 6ft 6in high and 2ft wide – with just three weeks’ notice. The shields, swords, bows, arrows, spears and artificial corpses now join more than 2,000 handcrafted items stored in the armoury department at the Titanic Studios, Belfast.

160 TONNES OF GRAVEL

The one-hour episode took 25 days to shoot, plus two weeks’ rehearsal. It required 600 crew, 25 stunt professionals, 80 horses, 14 40ft lorries, and 160 tonnes of gravel.

Game of Thrones series six is out on DVD and Blu-ray

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