Some Game of Thrones fans were upset when HBO confirmed earlier this year what had long been rumored: The hit fantasy drama is taking 2018 off and won’t return for its final season until 2019. But few should actually have been surprised. After all, when you require nearly two months to film a single battle sequence, it makes sense that you’d need a full year to complete an entire season of the most logistically complex TV show in history.
That’s right—Thrones recently wrapped up a 55-day battle shoot, according to the sleuths at Watchers on the Wall, a Game of Thrones fan blog. In a now-deleted Instagram post, assistant director Jonathan Quinlan thanked the cast and crew for an arduous two-month production that spanned three separate locations—all for a single battle scene.
Those 55 days easily eclipses the 25 days it took to film last season’s “The Battle of the Bastards”—the show’s longest battle shoot to date. Our research suggest this new battle shoot is actually the longest in television history.
“The Battle of the Bastards” reportedly required 600 crew members, 500 extras, 70 horses, and 65 stuntmen. At more than twice the length as that production, we can assume this latest battle will be an even bigger logistical nightmare. While details are still scarce, Watchers on the Wall reported that this production involved the Northern Ireland location typically used to depict Winterfell, the castle of the North under the command of House Stark, currently led by Sansa Stark.
Game of Thrones is an unusually lucrative TV show, whose episodes cost more than some feature-length films to shoot. On a per episode basis, it’s clearly the most expensive TV show ever made. (Episodes in its final season will reportedly cost HBO more than $15 million each.) Beyond those costs, Thrones must also deal with an industry that’s been irrevocably changed by its own existence. The HBO show’s elaborate production values have set a new standard for action-based TV, forcing other shows to up their games as a result.
The entrance of deep-pocketed Netflix and Amazon into the TV space, increasingly competitive talent bidding wars, and an industry-wide desire for big tentpole dramas have all also contributed to the medium’s rising production costs. Even so, it’s unlikely Thrones’ 55-day shoot will be topped any time soon.
By comparison, normal episodes of hourlong TV dramas (that don’t involve dragons and “White Walkers”) typically take just one or two weeks to film. Oscar-winning film Get Out cost $4.5 million and took 23 days to film. HBO could have essentially filmed three Get Outs with the time and money it needed to film this one epic Game of Thrones battle.