Director Alex Graves helmed some of the biggest moments in “Game of Thrones’” Season 4.
He was behind the camera for King Joffrey’s Purple Wedding, Prince Oberyn’s battle against The Mountain and Sunday night’s Season 4 finale. Unlike seasons gone by, where the final episode served up reaction to those season-finale-worthy episode 9s, and a bit slower paced, this time around, “Thrones” wrapped things up with major shocks, deaths and (non-book) twists.
Alex addressed directing the episode’s biggest moments – from that fight between The Hound and Brienne, to the deaths of Shae and Tywin (at the hands of Tyrion), and from uniting Stannis Baratheon and Jon Snow’s storylines to dealing with Daenery Targaryen’s dragon dilemma.
Access: How much fun was it to be the man who actually got to bring those two sides together – Jon Snow’s storyline and Stannis’? Liam Cunningham (Davos) talked about how their camp – Stephen Dillane, Carice van Houten and Liam – has, for the most part, been so standalone. And now they’re not, and you got to be the one to bring them together.
Alex Graves: It was funny, because on the first day of filming with them in Season 4, they came in and we were at Dragonstone, and they were doing a scene at the table (laughs) and it was kind of whatever, and I was trying to get them energized and I said, ‘Hey, look. Just remember, the season ends with you invading the North, okay? You’re gonna be on horses, you’re gonna be killing people.’ And it was hilarious because both Stephen and Liam went, ‘Yeah, all right. Great.’ And they had a blast. They were riding through the forest conquering and meeting Jon. … Kit was incredible this season and he was great with them, and… as a maturing Jon facing off with them.
Access: You got to craft a series of deaths in this final episode, most notably Charles Dance’s death as Tywin and Sibel Kekilli’s death as Shae. What went into that, knowing that these are two very celebrated actors on the show?
Alex: [Out] of everything I did in the four episodes [I directed this season], I think those were the most exhausting things I shot. And on top of the visual FX sequence battles… and The Mountain and The Viper and everything… I went home after shooting those two scenes and just passed out, because they’re very intense scenes. You’re terrified you’re going to not pull them off and what that means is, are you in the visceral, emotional journey of Tyrion as he goes through those rooms and those things happen? Because [Peter plays] such a beloved character and [Peter is] such a beautiful guy and Tyrion has that in him, that… it’s not like you expect him to walk in and do the things that he does in this episode and have it make sense and there was a lot of rehearsal of breaking down like, what happened second to second that set in motion a downward spiral.
Access: What instructions did you give Peter? [In the books] it’s like a crime of passion.
Alex: Well, it’s a crime of passion, and we mixed in a little bit of self-defense and confusion and overreacting and some physicality… that I asked for in rehearsal that when they did it, everybody went, ‘That’s it’… and we were happy with the result. But ultimately, it was very exhausting, because it was just sad. I mean, Sibel’s wonderful, and they’ve been so successful at the love story, more so than the books, that it was very intimidating to just sort of follow through with the result that everybody knows about.
Access: What do you do to celebrate Charles and Sibel’s time on the show and their work?
Alex: You get down to business. Both of them, it was their last days. They came in, it was very focused and there was a lot to do, so there was a lot of work to distract you, and that was fortunate. [It was] similar to Joffrey in that it wasn’t like, it’s a gunshot and it’s over. They’re very dramatic scenes. … We focused on work a lot and at the end, I said something about each actor, and they were [present] and everybody applauded and was very happy that we’d sort of succeeded. It’s a weird thing because you have this moment like, ‘Oh it’s so sad that it’s over and it’s so hard filming these scenes, but what a victory because we just finished an incredible story.’
Access: And you make such a change in the drama too when you take Charles’ character out ‘cause he has been driving it for so long.
Alex: You pull anyone from an alien planet down to earth and you want to show them great work, show them Tywin Lannister on ‘Game of Thrones.’ I mean, it’s just as good as it gets.
Access: You talked about there being some confusion [that happens between the characters] in the scene with Tyrion and Shae and that’s something that happened in the scene with Brienne and The Hound. Words get said and all hell breaks loose.
Alex: Yeah, Brienne and Arya and The Hound was my favorite scene of the whole season, for some reason. … I just loved the way it was written, because it’s three characters who you’re really at a point [where] you… like all three of them… and they bump in to each other and every single possible thing that could be said or go wrong goes wrong and it goes the way it goes. We filmed it on top of a volcanic rift, a mountain top in Iceland, and went to a lot of trouble on it. It’s one of those things where you knew those actors were going to just kill it (laughs). We were up there filming in the wind and everything and they brought it and it was just as good as it could ever get. … I was just so happy and like blown away by them. It was just really fun for all the work.
Access: We leave The Hound in sort of a cliffhanger place. What was it like to leave him there? … You don’t know what his fate is.
Alex: It’s all about the writing, because the way he’s left — and he’s clearly dying when he’s left — but what is going on between him and Arya in those last seconds, is so dramatic that you’re almost not even thinking about that. You’re thinking about the relationship and the two characters and really, what it means about Arya.
Access: What did you do for Rory McCann [who plays Sandor Clegane/The Hound]. I think he might be one of the most interesting actors I’ve ever met.
Alex: Ever. I had so much of him last year with the sword fight with Beric Dondarrion, and I fell fast and hard for him and we were fast buddies and it was interesting because the big thing – the scene between The Hound and Arya is a very ugly scene in the dialogue and I waited all season to go into that rehearsal and go over to Rory and say, ‘You’re absolutely in love with her,’ and so everything he says, he’s basically saying, ‘I love you. I love you, I want to take care of you and… I’m crazy about you,’ and it’s definitely not the words that are coming out of his mouth. And, he should win any award you can give him, let alone Maisie. And don’t forget, Gwen, ‘cause there’s a scene — the lead up, with Brienne finding Arya after two years … It’s great.
Access: How do you feel about wrapping up Daenerys’ storyline this season?
Alex: The way I feel about finishing a scene with Daenerys is always the same, which is I never, ever, ever, ever want to leave the presence of Emilia Clarke, whether in character or not. A set doesn’t get much better than a set with Emilia on it and what they did was they managed to mix in the two key challenges that are gonna define some of the storyline going forward, which are, on the surface, ruling is going to be difficult. She’s gotta learn how to rule and we know that. She also, you know, after Khal Drogo went from rapist to lover, gave her a child, killed her brother, she lost Khal and the child. All she came out of that first season and second year with [was] two things… she had Jorah and the dragons and at the end of the season she’s got neither. And it is gonna f*** her up.
Access: So, sum it up for me. You handled some of the biggest moments ever in ‘Game of Thrones’ history. What does that make you feel like just walking around town. Do you get people coming up to you? Does it put a little extra spring in your step?
Alex: I never seem to get past — I feel like a stupid guy from the Midwest. It was as much of a great gift to me creatively, and also personally, because I just obviously love everybody so much and there’s a reason. It’s an incredible sort of event going on and the wonderful people, and I get enormous support… But also, it was incredibly hard and challenging. … And I’m the ‘Star Wars’ generation. I grew up with ‘Star Wars.’ I mean, I’m here because I saw ‘Star Wars’ when I was a kid and wanted to do that. I literally walked out of the theater [looked at] my mom and said, … ‘This is what I want to do. I don’t know what it is, but I want to do it.’ And I stumbled into ‘Game of Thrones’ and was handed the ‘Empire Strikes Back.’
“Game of Thrones” returns for its fifth season in 2015.
-- Jolie Lash