True to form, the seventh season of Game of Thrones was filled to the brim with harrowing violence, political backstabbing and pure human atrocity. One of the most upsetting scenes this season was the “death” of Ellaria Sand, which was set up like a Rube Goldberg machine of psychological torture before actually happening off-screen. And now, the actor who portrayed Ellaria has revealed the scene was just as tortuous to play as it was to watch.
In a new behind-the-scenes video uploaded to YouTube, Indira Varma talks about her final scene on Game of Thrones. In the black cells beneath the Red Keep, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) binds, gags and tortures Ellaria Sand and Sand’s daughter Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers). And, according to all involved, filming the difficult scene was no joke.
Director Mark Mylod reveals that, somewhat awkwardly, the discomfiting scene was shot on the first day of filming.
“It was literally the first day shooting of the season,” Mylod says. “And it's a four-and-a-half page, incredibly intense scene. So it was a heck of a thing to ask Indira and Lena and Rosa to drop into on day one of shooting."
Aside from the acting challenges it presented, the physical realities of the scene were equally difficult.
"Rosabell and I had to wear manacles and we were tied to the wall and we had trouble, because either they'd come undone, because we were fighting against them, or couldn't get them off," Varma says in the video. "Literally, at the end of the day, I was like 'mate, I can't get it off, can someone help me?' And everyone's gone. Pete from props is like, 'I think we need a saw,' and I had to be sawn out."
All that having been said, what happens to Ellaria Sand is that she’s chained to a dungeon wall and forced to watch her poisoned daughter die and then rot in front of her eyes. So some uncomfortable handcuffs and an awkward first day at work don’t seem like the worst torture in the world, relatively speaking.
Ellaria Sand was far from the only character to endure agonizing pain in the show’s seventh season, although Jorah Mormont’s torment was more physical than psychological. Purely physical, really. Of course we’re talking about that hideously gory greyscale removal scene.
In the scene, Sam Tarly cuts away the numerous grey, scaly lesions covering Mormont’s skin. And it was important for that to look realistic.
"We had to devise a way of removing the top outer skin of this disease, and having an underlayer beneath which could bleed and would have pus and various gooey things,” says prosthetics designer Barrie Gower in another behind-the-scenes YouTube video.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, actor John Bradley, who plays Sam, describes how the effects team achieved all that great-looking pus.
“There were about five or six guys on set that day that you can't see but were just out of the camera line, there with pumps and buckets of pus,” Bradley told THR. “Mark Mylod, our director, would count down from three, and when we reached one, I would open up the tiny little hole in the prosthetic, and at that exact moment, the guy with the pus pump let it go and it squirted out of the hole.”
In another behind-the-scenes video, the show’s team talks about the edge-of-your-seat excitement and dread of that Greyjoy battle at sea. A ton of work goes into the effects it takes to sell the gravity of a scene like that. And not just work, but innovative thinking.
“One of the major challenges of the boat sequence was how to sell the idea that this was happening at sea, that they were floating on water, and, yet, we’re in a car park” says Mylod. “[SFX supervisor] Sam [Conway]’s first ever words were, ‘We’ll just blast a load of water against the sides, and it will splash up.’ There was immediate, visceral connection with the ocean.”
“We had some larger rigs as well, we had a couple of moments where the whole section of the mast would come collapsing down,” Conway added about the scene’s many pyro effects. “Sometimes we had flares fired freehand, and sometimes we had flares fired down wires.”