After six seasons of build up over the fearsome power of the dragons, fire finally rained down upon Westeros in last week’s episode of Game of Thrones; Daenerys Targaryen, on the back of her fiercest fire-breather (and with a Dothraki horde in tow), showed the Seven Kingdoms what she was capable of.
The climatic Loot Train Battle in the fourth episode of the seventh season, “The Spoils of War,” was bigger and more deadly than anything yet shown on Game of Thrones. And it was only possible because of other epic Hollywood battles that came before it. Nearly every shot in the sequence drew from or built on previous films like Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. It took the best part of a month—three and a half six-day work weeks—to shoot, according to the episode’s cinematographer.
Dragons and helicopters
Game of Thrones could have channelled dragons like from Smaug in The Hobbit films or the 400-year-old Vermithrax Pejorative in Dragonslayer, but director Matt Shakman’s biggest inspiration for the sequence were the helicopters in Apocalypse Now. He told the Hollywood Reporter:
There’s one battle sequence between the helicopters attacking a village that’s very similar and that you are dealing death from the sky and you have multiple points of view and you’re with the villagers and they have to react to this horror on the ground. I used a lot of that as touchstone imagery: the idea of these helicopters flying through the smoke is very similar to Drogon flying through the smoke. And when he lands with the spear in his side, it really felt like those helicopters landing in the middle of all the smoke.
Jaime Lannister’s portrayal in the sequence resembled Tom Hanks’s character in Saving Private Ryan. Amid the carnage on Omaha Beach, the sound faded away to focus on Captain Miller’s shock. “That’s very much what Jaime was like in the middle of the battle as he sees these people carbonized and turned to ash,” Shakman said.
Shakman drew from John Ford’s 1939 Western, Stagecoach, for the advancing Dothraki hordes, who were partly inspired by Native American tribes themselves. That mass of Dothrakis, by the way—not CGI. Cinematographer Robert McLachlan told The Verge that the production filmed 50 to 60 people on horseback, and then duplicated and replicated the crowd to make it look like thousands, a trick the show used in other battles like season six’s Battle of the Bastards.
The lighting in the Loot Train Battle also harkened back to films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which were darker than other American Westerns, McLachlan said.
Referencing Game of Thrones
Shakman said he referenced Game of Thrones battles that came before his, as well. That long handheld shot of Bronn’s death-defying move across the battlefield drew from the Battle of the Bastards, directed by Miguel Sapochnik in season six. Shakman said he and another series director Neil Marshall were inspirations for the sequences.
Outside of the films Shakman and McLachlan cited specifically, the influences of movies like 300, Troy, The Hobbit films, The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, The Revenant, and Gladiator can clearly be seen throughout, The Nerdwriter noted in a video breakdown.