As season finales go, it was pretty epic. Before the Game of Thrones fourth edition even started director Alex Graves said that it would be the biggest episode ever made on the show and "one shock after another." After the fans finally got to see it on June 15, they’d be hard-pressed to argue (well, at least most of them).
It had a bit of everything—big battles, intimate emotion, a duel, a funeral, a murder in the privy, a forest kid tossing fire bombs. Something for everyone. Amid it all there was no real down time as characters we’ve followed for the better part of 40 hours seemed to all at once take a turn down a new path or hit a...ahem...dead end.
For the guy charged with bringing it all to life, Graves felt the pressure. Even though he had helmed four episodes this season, this final instalment was different. Episodes aren’t shot in sequence, but when a finale scene came up, the director says the atmosphere changed.
"Everything slowed down and was just a bit harder because all the scenes in episode 10 are real shifts for all the characters and where they’re heading," says Graves. "They’re doing things they haven’t done before. Arya watching the Hound die was new. Seeing Brienne and the Hound end up in a street fight was new. Cersei telling her father to fuck off was really different. Each scene was like making an incredible little movie with each character because so much was happening. It was all very fun and very challenging."
But if he had to pick a favorite? "My little pet scene was Brienne finding Arya and the Hound," says Graves. "It was such a beautifully written trainwreck. I love that scene."
There was so much to like that HBO actually decided to run the episode six minutes longer than usual. Graves says that even as a director who typically thinks there’s always something that can be cut, he just couldn’t axe those extra minutes. "My cut was six minutes long and I thought, ‘God, how are they going to get the time down?’ I’ve never been over but I just couldn’t get the time down," says Graves. "Then David Benioff called me one day and said, ‘Congratulations, they’re going to air the whole thing.’ What would you take out of that episode?"
We may have been caught up in the many memorable moments—meeting the wizard under the tree, watching Varys decide to accompany his controversial shipment, Tyrion’s rather harsh Father’s Day gift, among many others—Graves says the entire finale was less about where we were than it was a nod to where we’re headed.
"For me, a lot of the directing this season, especially the finale and episode eight, were about things that happen in the future. A lot of it," says Graves. "That’s where the potency comes from because, as a viewer, you’re not quite sure what’s going on, but you know that we know what’s going on. If you watch season one right now, it’s incredible how clear and specific it is, and they’re talking about things from this season. It’s thrilling to see that. As entertaining as it is to watch the show in the moment, you will look back and hopefully marvel at the clearly laid out linear story that was going on right under your nose."