Daniel Sackheim on “Book of the Stranger,” the Tower of Joy and directing Game of Thrones

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Director Daniel Sackheim, the man behind the two most recent episodes of Game of Thrones talks to the Wall Street Journal this week about his methods and the creation of the show.

Along with the interview, the newest edition of “The Game Revealed” has turned up online, offering behind the scenes material and more insight from Sackheim on his inspirations behind “Oathbreaker” and “Book of the Stranger.”

While talking to WSJ’s Michael Calia, Sackheim provides details on Daenerys’s fiery moment in the fourth episode of the season. As for the flames surrounding the khaleesi as she walks out of the temple, Sackheim says that “90 percent of them are real. Through some magic, the actress herself didn’t actually have to walk through a wall of fire, but we did have someone walking through a wall of fire.”

The director discusses his techniques for helping the actors achieve their performances. Using the scene with Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and the distasteful negotiations with the slavers as an example, Sackheim explains, ‘I did my coverage on them first, and when they actually posed questions about it, I said, “Let’s not talk about it.’ Let’s go in and start shooting the scene because I actually wanted them to be confused. Because that sense of confusion seeps its way into the character itself. There are some moments where Missandei is communicating with Varys and trying to figure out where he’s going. I find that to be effective sometimes.” He says there are “little tricks” and they tend to do “lots of rehearsal” on Game of Thrones.

Of last Sunday’s most emotional scene, WSJ asks Sackheim, “How many different ways did you try playing the reunion scene between Sansa and Jon?” and the director replies, “One. The way you saw it.”

Sackheim speaks more on Daenerys and Jon Snow at the WSJ, so visit the complete article for more!


The newest video from “The Game Revealed” series has turned up online, so watch it while you can! The docuseries covers two episodes at a time, going behind the scenes with cast and crew interviews, with Sackheim in particular sharing a great deal of insight. The video for “Oathbreaker” and “Book of the Stranger” is here:

The director observes that the two episodes are thematically linked, with Jon and Daenerys both experiencing a rebirth, him in the cold, and her through fire. Ice and fire.

“The Game Revealed” takes us through Jon’s reverse stages of grief, and includes more on the hanging of the Night’s Watchmen, Ser Arthur Dayne and the Tower of Joy, and the filming of burning of the Dosh Khaleen temple.

I found the info on the Tower of Joy most interesting. Sackheim explains his inspiration for the segment was in fact the classic Sergio Leone western Once Upon a Time in the West.

From the video:

It’s all about creating tension through anticipation of what’s to come. And I thought, that’s the key to this. You would see this tower and horses on a plain and then you would start to hear the sound of a stone on a blade of a broadsword. It would sort of sync in rhythms with the horses’ hooves and then you would see these powerful horses’ hooves and then you would cut to a gleaming knight’s helmet. And little by little tease the audience into a sense that a mythic event is about to happen.

I do enjoy these behind the scenes extras, so keep ’em coming, HBO!

41 responses

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    1. So, Ser Arthur’s sword is now confirmed to be the show’s version of Dawn. I’m glad we got the confirmation, no need to have a debate about that anymore.

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    2. And Now his watch is ended
      Thank you Daniel Sackheim for two amazing episodes, you will be missed 🙁

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    3. It’s all about creating tension through anticipation of what’s to come.

      Haha because we weren’t already tense with anticipation for ToJ. Tease us indeed, touchè.

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    4. The poll for Episode 4 uses ‘Tormund’s bear-screwing story’ as the epitomy of depression. Nothing about Tormund is depressing. Can we replace this with ‘a Sand Snake slapping contest’ instead?

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    5. Wowo love how the show tries to make everything as real as possible
      With someone actually walking through fire that’s awesome e
      I love this damn show, it’s actually a sickness

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    6. Daniel Sackheim did absolutely stellar work with his two episodes, from the major moments – Jon’s first scenes post-resurrection, the Tower of Joy, Jon and Sansa’s reunion, Daenerys burning the temple – to everything else in between. Game of Thrones has certainly had no shortage of amazing directors contribute over the course of its six seasons so far, but Sackheim acquitted himself very well. I’d love to see him return to direct an episode or two next year, if he’s willing to commit to the schedule yet again.

      Sackheim’s having a good week in general. For those of you who watch The Americans (the only current show that can come even remotely close to competing with Game of Thrones in my affections), he’s also directed several episodes of that program, including an excellent one that just aired last Wednesday!

      Agro,

      So am I. His work on Lost was consistently among the best of that series.

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    7. Sounded like Michael Calia was fishing Sackheim for a criticism Emilia’s acting.
      Like he was expecting him to say “O we had to shoot that scene 100 times.”
      In fact seemed Sackheim caught the drift of the question and sort of quashed it.

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    8. Boojam:
      Sounded like Michael Calia was fishing Sackheim for a criticism Emilia’s acting.
      Like he was expecting him to say “O we had to shoot that scene 100 times.”
      In fact seemed Sackheim caught the drift of the question and sort of quashed it.

      I do wish Sackheim had given Emilia Clarke some better direction on how to approach that scene. Maybe show some apprehension, some excitement, some intensity, nervousness, tension. I hated that one note expression she had on her face. Right from when she enters the hut. It did not change as she continued to burn people with that weird half assed smile on her face. Took away from my enjoyment of the scene.

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    9. They were not subtle about those ice and fire parallels lmao.

      The way they shot the hanging scene was very interesting to me.

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    10. SerNoName,

      It’s always interesting how different people interpret things. While there have been times I haven’t been overly impressed with some of her scenes, I thought she was spot-on in this one. I definitely felt some intensity from her, but it was a sort of quiet confidence kind of intensity. She knows the Dothraki only respect strength, and imo that’s what she gave…no fear, no hesitation.

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    11. Nymeria Warrior Queen:
      SerNoName,

      It’s always interesting how different people interpret things.While there have been times I haven’t been overly impressed with some of her scenes, I thought she was spot-on in this one.I definitely felt some intensity from her, but it was a sort of quiet confidence kind of intensity.She knows the Dothraki only respect strength, and imo that’s what she gave…no fear, no hesitation.

      It’s the opposite with me. While I have loved most of her earlier scenes (Especially Dracarys, where she came off as confident and strong), I really did not like what she did with this scene. Sure, she was just burning to death a room full of rapey Dothraki, but I wanted more of a quite, strong confidence in what she was about to do and what she did. Not walk around smirking as she burned them to death. No wonder some viewers are latching onto the ‘Mad King’ comparisons after this scene. I don’t think that’s what the show is going for i.e making Dany a mad Queen like her father. Did she enjoy seeing those people painfully burn to death? Not sure.

      Anyways, was not a fan of the scene because of that. I like the character. I think she is one of the good guys, but I thought that scene was sloppily done.

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    12. I was surprised the director was talking about “figuring out” what he wanted to do in cases I thought would have been set in the script.

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    13. FictionIsntReal,

      Directors generally wield a enormous amount of influence when it comes to shaping the way that the scenes the writers provide will be realized on screen. That’s especially true when the working relationship between the writers/showrunners and the director is a strong one, as it sounds like this one was.

      Benioff and Weiss undoubtedly had certain key things about the scenes they had written that they wanted to make sure were presented in a precise way. I’m sure that they communicated those critical elements via either the script or in conversations with Sackheim. But Sackheim would have had his own ideas about how to frame and stage those scenes, and obviously Benioff and Weiss respected those ideas.

      Meanwhile, many of the smaller details – like the anecdote about where Cersei was standing during the scene with Olenna – were primarily driven by the director (and the actors as well), after extensive rehearsals. The showrunners would have veto power and the right of final approval, but sometimes you need to see the pieces move to discover something true about the scene that couldn’t be expressed on the page. Everyone gives one another notes and feedback and suggestions, and the best possible version of the scene emerges.

      Sounds like a healthy collaborative creative process to me. 🙂

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    14. Nice work on the last two episodes. He seemed equally adept at handling the big moments (Joy, Dany) and the small ones (Jon/Sansa, natch). I’d give him an invitation back for S6.

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    15. The only gripe I had with Episode 4 was the burning scene inside the temple, it looked very weird, almost comical…but the rest of the scene was perfect.

      I expected too much from it though, something on a much bigger scale. Aaargh, expectations…

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    16. FictionIsntReal:
      I was surprised the director was talking about “figuring out” what he wanted to do in cases I thought would have been set in the script.

      A script doesn’t really tell the director what to do but just sets up the dialogue and a general description of anything critical for the scene. That is why you have a storyboard to give visual clues and the director then does “blocking” to work out how they are going to shoot it. As Jared says, the director is very often left to his/her own devices when it comes to putting some creative input into a scene (and indeed it is expected of them) and some general guidance how the actors convey it (good actors of course bring their own creativity also but have to be directed or steered to stay within the director’s own vision)

      Obviously the director needs to establish in advance where they want the cameras and lighting and sometimes that will dictate how the scene is filmed ( e.g. limited access in buildings that aren’t dedicated studio sets.

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    17. I’m dead AF! Ladies who watched behind the scenes did you pause at certain spots too? Soooo perfect. Also first time I’m seeing B. O’connor out of character and he seems lovely, so much difference from Olly. It’s very interesting to see the filming and get different views.

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    18. Wait so this was another “rebirth” for Dany? Huh, I didn’t see it that way. More like showing that she’s still annointed and has her game on. So when the dragons hatched it was rebirth for her as well as this time? If they are now talking paralells with those two maybe Jon will have to go through another death/rez? That would be weird. I don’t think they’re going to be that even with these characters but who knows!

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    19. ygritte,

      No I don’t think there is need for that

      Dany was prophecised to have three love three fires and three mounts ..basically lots of threes..

      And this is only her second one ..there will still be another one

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    20. I watched the behind the scenes film and found it interesting. OT will we get a curtain call for Natalia Tena or is that in genesis while I type.

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    21. dragonbringer,

      So I’m assuming the 2nd love is Daario, but she’s supposed to fall in love with someone else in future? Do you think she will find out she loves Jorah or it be someone totally new?

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    22. ygritte,

      Well in the books dany is called bride of fire and the last one we have is blue flower growing at wall( i guess you know who is blue flower at wall )

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    23. Dame of Mercia,

      I hope so – I love OSHA. I wish we had more of her before she was killed. Why the rush?

      Edit: I’m gonna answer my own question. I think it’s because if they don’t kill her right away, she would be tortured Ramsay style or else it would have been out of character if he didn’t…. And maybe they were avoiding that. I do like that how she died was her being brave and trying to protect rickon one more time.

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    24. I love these past 2 episodes! Can’t wait for episode 5. Goodness, we’re halfway through already.

      Jon’s “rez” is really like a rebirth. It’s been said that babies get so terrified and confused when they get out of their mother’s womb. That’s exactly what he went through when he came back from the dead. I didn’t see Dany’s moment as a rebirth though. It was more like proving to everyone, and to herself, that she’s a powerful human being. She’s embracing her power and coming into her own.

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    25. Sam,

      It is a ”rebirth” in a way. She is returning to her roots, ”fire and blood”, she is done trying to negotiate and compromise.

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    26. This is great to hear the thinking behind various notable scenes

      Plus it’s good to get it confirmed it was Dawn, instead of being blue it’s meant to be White etc

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    27. ygritte:
      Wait so this was another “rebirth” for Dany? Huh, I didn’t see it that way. More like showing that she’s still annointed and has her game on. So when the dragons hatched it was rebirth for her as well as this time? If they are now talking paralells with those two maybe Jon will have to go through another death/rez? That would be weird. I don’t think they’re going to be that even with these characters but who knows!

      Yeah I can see the issue with Dany, she’s tried the whole rulership thing and it didn’t work, so she is reborn but this time she will be more of a full on Targaryen conqueror

      As for Jon, just quietly I wouldn’t be surprised, I do think Shireens death was to pay for his life and perhaps I can’t let go of the idea of him rising from his Funeral Pyre

      Whereas in this case he has awoken as a Stark and casts aside the Night Watch and his LC position within it, next time would perhaps relate to him arising again and embracing his Targaryen identity, perhaps this would occur when we learn “what’s in the Tower”?

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    28. ygritte,

      Yes it is ..
      if GRRm does it it will be in a satisfactory way ..just because they became a pair does not mean everything will be well and good …there will be some bittersweet for sure ..

      I think it better to think Dany as Rhaegar and Jon as lyanna in this story ..

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    29. it was a good episode, i love the stark reunion sansa i am pretty neutral ( in a good way) toward jon 2.0 i like him he less one dimensional than before he smile more,laugh more and even make joke, he is also more of a realist (obviously) and less reckless than before….but on the other side there is something “off” with i don’t know if this is the acting or the will of the writters but i expected a better reaction for jon,not necessesary on the letter but by the simple that rickon is implied, i find hard describe his emotion when he saw rickon on the letter…was that anger or fear? jon was wise there they need time to gather armies…..but there weaird abiout him in that scene that i can’t truly describe….the pink letter is huge part on jon storyline…but sansa his thunder on that scene and shows her level up moment that all i wanted for sansa since season 1 but i wanted THAT particular scene to be for jon….and that fact he didn’t read it until end dissapoint me… i think jon is still in shocked and don’t truly realise that he came back i hope this is just a phase and jon don’t end being “the loyal sidekick” all the seasonnhe need a purpose and i hope D&D don’t fuck his character up for the sake of the plot…….oh and he need a talk with mel

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    30. emperor:
      it was a good episode, i love the stark reunion sansa i am pretty neutral ( in a good way) toward jon 2.0 i like him he less one dimensional than before he smile more,laugh more and even make joke, he is also more of a realist (obviously) and less reckless than before….but on the other side there is something “off” with i don’t know if this is the acting or the will of the writters but i expected a better reaction for jon,not necessesary on the letter but by the simple fzct that rickon is implied,id he really need to shake him up? i find hard describe his emotion when he saw rickon on the letter…was that anger or fear? jon was wise there they need time to gather armies…..but there is somthing weird about him in that scene that i can’t truly describe….the pink letter is a huge part on jon storyline…but sansa steal his thunder on that scene and shows her level up moment that all i wanted for sansa since season 1 but i wanted THAT particular scene to be for jon….and that fact he didn’t read it until end dissapoint me… i think jon is still in shocked and don’t truly realise that he came back i hope this is just a phase and jon don’t end spend the season being “the loyal sidekick” he need his purpose and i hope D&;D don’t fuck his character up and eat his storyline for the sake of the plot…….oh and he need a talk with mel

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    31. SerNoName: I do wish Sackheim had given Emilia Clarke some better direction on how to approach that scene. Maybe show some apprehension, some excitement, some intensity, nervousness, tension.

      I loved the way the scene was directed and acted. I didn’t want to see apprehension, nervousness and tension. Daenerys is past all that by Season 6, episode 4. She has finally remembered by now that she IS the dragon, and the scene simply showed her quiet confidence that she is. In my opinion, it would have been yet another regression for her character to be all tense and nervous in front of a bunch of not-so-smart Khals.

      ygritte: Wait so this was another “rebirth” for Dany? Huh, I didn’t see it that way. More like showing that she’s still annointed and has her game on.

      I didn’t see it as a rebirth for Daenerys. I saw it as a moment of reawakening, a moment when she remembers what she had forgotten for 4 seasons, that she has a special power, and that it was given to her for a purpose.

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