To mark the occasion, CE Pro Eu attended an exclusive screening this week at Empire Cinema in Leicester Square in London to see (and hear) the devastating series five episode Hardhome as it had never been heard before, followed by a special guest Q&A with cast members from the show.
HBO explained prior to screening the episode on the enormous 20.5m x 11m screen that Dolby engineers had been tweaking and optimising the sound earlier that day to ensure attendees experienced the best possible sound.
In fact, CE Pro Eu and the invited guests were the first ever to hear Hardhome in this exact sound format.
Great sound does not just shine in the big moments on-screen, it is the very fact that we don’t notice it, that sound engineers know that they have done their job well.
This was the case in Hardhome, which in its quieter moments saw a conflicted Daenerys pondering the fate of Tyrion, who after a spot of father-killing sees it necessary to skip town in search of serving another ruler. Meanwhile in Braavos, Arya has assumed the role of Lanna, a simple oyster-seller, who in a bid to show the Faceless Man that she is indeed ready for whatever it is he has planned, spies on ‘the thin man.’
Atmos was used to great affect in ‘Lanna’s’ journey throughout a busy harbour and market scene; her shrill cries mixing with the hustle and bustle of the crowd, hearing everything from all angles from her point of view.
The storyline also pays a visit to a less cocky, but relentlessly venomous Cersei, who is still imprisoned until she confesses her sins of fornication, treason, incest and King Robert’s murder, while in the North, a cold-faced Sansa learns from Reek that her youngest brothers are still alive.
At The Wall, Sam gave viewers a glimpse of hope for season six, (or is CE Pro Eu just hoping?) when uttering the words: “I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back”.
But Hardhome won’t be remembered for these storylines. Echoing an online reaction similar to that of The Red Wedding episode (only with more blood), this episode’s battle sequence was as unexpected as it was thrilling and terrifying; this is TV at its best, giving Dolby Atmos the perfect vehicle to flex its muscles.
This is TV at its best, giving Dolby Atmos the perfect vehicle to flex its muscles
The tension in the theatre was palpable as dogs on-screen began to bark and whine; something wicked this way comes, indeed. Spoiler alert: what follows is a 20-minute slaughtering of some 5,000 odd ‘free-folk’ by the apparently very real, White Walkers.
Speaking to MTV News about filming Hardhome, the episode’s director Miguel Sapochnik declared: “this is not a battle, it’s a massacre. Instead of just an action sequence, I wanted to make it a tragedy.”
Filming the sequence took place over 15 days in Northern Ireland, the team racing each day to get the footage needed before it got dark.
Jon Snow actor Kit Harington said that the CGI-laden sequence was the hardest thing he’s done on the show, shooting every scene three times amongst approximately 400 extras and 50 stuntmen.
With regards to the White Walkers, Miguel said that “movement was a big thing, making them feel like they swarmed where possible. They are puppets for the Night’s King. And they don’t think; [they] just pick a target and go after it until it’s dead, or they are cut into enough pieces they can’t chase it any more. Once you have the rules you just apply them to every beat, and see where it takes you story-wise.”
Integral to the feeling of being surrounded and outnumbered by the swarm of White Walkers is Dolby Atmos, which places the viewer at the heart of the massacre, reinforcing every sword making contact, every person being ripped apart, every Walker being obliterated, leaving the viewer slack-jawed and dizzy at the sheer force of the immersiveness.
The brutal 20-minute sequence was incredible when it first aired, but remixed in Atmos, it’s epic. Lord of the Rings meets 28 Days Later; it’s frenzied, horrifying and in some places, genuinely frightening.
The viewer is left slack-jawed and dizzy at the sheer force of the immersiveness
As the score swells at the end of the episode, the audience is right there with Jon Snow as he watches, helpless, as his allies of just moments before, rise from the dead as White Walkers as his boat sails away.
The episode ends in near silence – a deliberate and stark contrast to the carnage of just moments before – Atmos being used subtly now, leaving the audience reeling with only the sounds of the waves and the wind as they try to digest what they have just seen.
The stars of Game Of Thrones reveal what it’s like to work on the show in a Q&A following the screening:
Q&A With Special Guests
Two characters that have made it to season five in one piece are Podrick (Pod) Payne, played by Daniel Portman and Eddison Tollett, a member of the Night’s Watch, played by Ben Crompton.
Daniel and Ben took questions from the crowd in a Q&A following the screening and revealed some interesting insights into the show.
What are your memories of filming Hardhome?
Ben: My memories of filming Hardhome consist of Kit and I playing Risk on our iPads, with rivers of s**t running through everywhere and relentless rain. It was a great experience; it was taxing and physical. The shot with Kit with me in the background, we did that about 18 times. But everyone was just on-board with it as I think we knew that it was going to be a special episode.
How far in advance do you know if your character is going to be used, or not used?
Ben: The scripts for me sometimes come in drips and dabs, so I’ll look at it and go: “oh I’m still in it? That’s a bonus!” You sometimes get wind of an episode coming up, so Hardhome we knew was going to be a massive sequence. When you start reading it, there were pages and pages as there was a lot of physical description, talks of giants and walls breaking down, so we knew they were going to have to put some time and effort into this. And they did.
It’s the one time I think I’ve been on set where you think: “Have we got the budget for this?” I was in the boat and there were two cameras right there, I looked up and there was another on the hill, and another over there. It’s the only thing I’ve worked on where they’ve used four cameras at once, covering everything.
Daniel: When people are torn up about imaginary characters dying weeks and weeks and weeks after it happens, you now you’re doing your job! I don’t think you can quite plan for something to be the phenomenon that it’s turned out to be.
How did you both get involved in the show?
Daniel: HBO have a certain stamp of approval, all of their stuff is always the best stuff and it’s always to such a high standard. It was a really simple audition process: I went in, auditioned a few scenes, got the job!
Ben: I was sat at the doctors and I got an email through that said something about Game of Thrones and I was like: “what’s that?” I saw the poster with Sean Bean in and I had no idea what it was. So I went to the meeting and they were telling me: “okay, you’re on the wall,” and I go: “What wall? What’s going on?” No idea! So I picked up speed and looked at the books and realised: oh, it’s not real, it’s fantasy! I’ve only read one book and bits of the others.
Daniel: I read up to the fourth one and then I stopped because things changed; storylines changed.
The show is now outpacing the books; do you look at each script now with trepidation?
Daniel: It’s interesting actually, for season five I didn’t read anybody else’s bits because I wanted to watch it. Because the storyline with Podrick and Brienne is so isolated, I didn’t need to know about any other bits. Watching it was a whole new experience because you’re surprised and you’re watching it as a fan for the first time.
How do you manage not to find out what is going on?
Daniel: With great difficulty!
Ben: I read the scripts and get to a certain bit – it’s quite time consuming – and I think: “this is a bit that I’m not in”. You do skip some bits, and then you might be at the read-through. Then you watch it and go: “Oh my god, this is brilliant!” I remember watching Mother’s Mercy – the one with the dragons with the big fight; oh my god, I thought that was brilliant! I was a proper fan; I didn’t know that was going to happen. I really loved it.
What’s the most difficult part of filming your role on Game of Thrones?
Daniel: I stand around in the background a lot; it’s not very difficult! I pour some wine, make some fires. It’s great as well as I’m meant to be really clumsy, so if I fall over it’s good stuff!
Ben: It’s all good, you can’t complain when you’re on a job like this. It’s not always fun when we’re filming in August and it’s supposed to be freezing and you’ve got your cloaks on and there’s a fire going, and then you’re doing a fight scene for the 28th time.
Always in the cast we were saying [hopefully]: “I don’t think my character had his cloak on in this scene?” It’s normally Kit! I remember one stunt guy doing a take, going out, throwing up and then going again and sweating and dehydrating. But it’s boy’s toys, you’ve got a sword there, it’s brilliant. I hurt somebody with a sword once; I felt really bad. I swung it back and walloped a tree, heard a clunk, turned around and realised it was a man’s head. He was okay.
If you could bring back anybody that has died in a previous season, who would it be and why?
Daniel: Khal Drogo. He’s just really cool, isn’t he? Nice tattoos, good hair.
Ben: I think I’d bring back the Red Viper [Oberyn Martell] because I think he was one of those characters that just came and hit the ground running. I went: “Oh my god, he’s mint, I’m on board with him”. And then I was like: “he’s got no eyes!”
We do ADR when you go in and you rerecord any sound that’s not been picked up on the day. I went in for one session and they showed the Red Viper / Mountain fight and they showed us an edit where he puts the fingers in (spoiler alert!) and he just pulls his face apart, but instead of cutting like it does in the show, you see the face come apart. I just thought: “Oh my god, you are never going to be able to show that on telly” – and they didn’t. But the effects were brilliant.
What’s your favourite moment and favourite episode?
Ben: From Hardhome, there’s a moment when we’re on the boat; that was on my 40th birthday. What they did that was quite nice was – although I should have been suspicious – they put the camera right up in my face and went: “okay we’re doing a close up” – I don’t normally get a close up – they shouted action, and they brought out a birthday cake and all sang happy birthday. They are very lovely people. The whole episode is my favourite – the way it just builds and the payoff is just brilliant.
Daniel: I struggle to decipher between the episodes – if it’s been a long time, it all merges into one season! Favourite moment; it’s a very clichéd, diplomatic answer but it’s a really great job with great people. I’ve had five years of really, really good memories so I can’t think of anything that I’ve not really enjoyed. It doesn’t feel like work at all.
Have you ever lied on your CV?
Daniel: I said I could horse ride before I could horse ride.
Ben: I said I could swim before I could swim. They asked me if I could swim and I said: “I’ve not drowned yet!”
If you could play any other Game of Thrones character, who would it be any why?
Daniel: Theon. I’m an Alfie Allen fan boy; he’s an amazing actor and a great guy. He’s gone through a lot and has had a really cool journey, so that would be nice as an actor to mess around with all that psychological torture.
Ben: Karl Tanner [played by Burn Gorman] – remember him? He was the mutineer. He’s a brilliant actor and he had about three lines, and he just blew everybody else away. And then the next season they gave him about eight pages of dialogue, just pure monologue.
CE Pro Eu for one, can’t wait to see what Atmos bring to the rest of season five.