This Is What It Was Like To Film The "Battle Of The Bastards"
We spoke to Smalljon Umber, aka actor Dean S Jagger, about the most epic GoT episode yet. WARNING: SPOILERS.
Game of Thrones has done big battles before – Blackwater and Hardhome among them – but the penultimate episode of Season 6, "Battle of the Bastards", features the most epic fight yet. And not just in Westeros: It's one of the finest battles ever seen on television – 20 minutes of bone-crunching action so visceral and bloody you'll be spitting out dirt and asking, like a hungry orphan, for more.
To recap: An outnumbered Jon Snow squared off against Ramsay Bolton for control of Winterfell, and the resulting battle gave us both a clash of cavalry and a storm of swords, not to mention a literal mountain of bodies, and our cheery former Lord Commander going berserker on those Bolton boys.
The battle also offered as much of a cathartic climax as we've seen on Game of Thrones. For while we lost another Stark (RIP, Rickon, we hardly knew ye), fans finally got what they've waited four seasons for: Ramsay getting his teeth kicked in.
But plot points aside, it's the battle itself that has fans, and the crew, giddy. "We’ve had a number of night-time battles, we’ve had a number of sieges, but this is the first large pitch battle," co-writer and creator David Benioff says in HBO's excellent making-of video.
Even the actors were staggered by the scale of the production, which required some 600 crew, 500 extras, 80 horses, and four camera crews, including a 4x4 mounted crane; it's one of the most technically challenging scenes ever filmed on Thrones.
"The magnitude of it, it was unbelievable," Iwan Rheon tells HBO in the mini-doc.
"It was hard," Kit Harington says. "It was a long, long slog. We are a bit annoyed because I think everyone’s going to think it was CGI, but it wasn’t.”
"You’ve got horses, you’ve got men of either side just piled up in this massive heap. It was pretty grim, very brutal to look at," adds Dean S Jagger, who played Smalljon Umber.
I spoke to Jagger, a Dewsbury, West Yorkshire-born actor who played Umber in two Season 6 episodes, and spent much of the Battle of the Bastards in the thick of the action, to find out what it was like on set.
"It was insane," Jagger told BuzzFeed. "The set was the closest thing I can imagine to actually being there. Obviously as an actor you never pay attention to camera and crew while doing your job but I mean it was that intense – with mud, blood, and bodies flying around, you'd have never seen the cameras if you'd tried. Just chaos. And really boggy. When you add all that to carting around, fighting in armour. It felt very close!
"It took us about a month to get through it, including rehearsals. A long time, but I totally love the action stuff – who wouldn't?"
Umber meets his end at the hands of fan favourite Tormund Giantsbane in a claustrophobic scrap of head-butts and teeth, but Jagger says there's no hard feelings.
"Kristofer Hivju [Tormond] and myself had a blast, we laughed to the point of crying most days. He's a great actor, very enthusiastic, very positive, and a really genuine guy. It was really great to work with him."
Jagger also says that with the battle over and Ramsay dead, there's no animosity between bastards: "They're good friends. Both are decent guys, I enjoyed working with both of them. I worked with Iwan more. He was really gracious and hardworking, a real talent."
Jagger in full makeup as Smalljon Umber (left) and in Scorched Earth, a post-apocalyptic action thriller starring Gina Carano and John Hannah.
With his character added to the ever-growing pile of Thrones casualties, Jagger is hard at work on his next project, Corbin Nash, a supernatural action thriller he's starring in alongside Malcolm McDowell, Rutger Hauer, and Corey Feldman. His brother, Ben Jagger, is directing. "It's gonna be hell on wheels!" he says.
"It's something I'll remember forever," Jagger says of his time on Game of Thrones. "HBO are great to work for, everybody at GoT made me feel so welcome. Hats off to David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and everybody involved in making this episode the epic it was. It's a piece of TV history."
You can follow Jagger on Twitter here.