'Game of Thrones' Director Recalls Ed Sheeran's One Request on Set

Director Jeremy Podeswa weighs in on the Sheeran of it all and more in this deep dive into the season premiere.
Helen Sloan/HBO
Ed Sheeran and Maisie Williams of 'Game of Thrones'

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the seventh season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones, "Dragonstone."]

Winter is here, and for a minute, so was Ed Sheeran.

The singer-songwriter made a brief appearance in the season seven premiere of Game of Thrones, appearing as ... well, Ed, a Lannister soldier with a heart of gold and the voice of ... well, Ed! Midway through the episode, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) encounters Ed and other Lannister loyalists sitting around a campfire, enjoying the young man's tunes and feasting on game meat. It's a brief moment of peace for Arya, fresh from butchering House Frey at the Twins, now on her way toward King's Landing to do some more killing.

How did the Sheeran cameo come together? Director Jeremy Podeswa doesn't have the answers to that exact question, but he can certainly attest to the man's demeanor on set. Here's what Podeswa (who returns later this season to direct the finale) said about that scene and some of the other most notable moments from "Dragonstone."

What do you know about how the Ed Sheeran cameo came together, and what was it like working with him?

When I got involved in the show, they told me that Ed Sheeran was going to be doing it. I thought, "Oh! Cool. Interesting." I can't tell you specifically how it happened because, strange as it seems — I didn't have those conversations with anybody on the show and what their relationship was prior. But he was certainly known to the producers and some of the cast. He's certainly a big fan of the show. When they needed somebody who could sing for a little part, and he's been acting lately, they just thought he was the right guy for those things. It was great. He was lovely to work with. He was lovely on the show. I think he fit right into that world. He's so down to earth and really, really lovely. If you didn't know that he makes hit records, you would have no idea from meeting him. He could not be more kind. He just wanted to do a good job. He was very cute. The only thing he asked is if he could change the key of the song he was singing, and he asked it very tentatively. (Laughs.) He wanted to do a good job and was very concerned about that. He hung out with everybody on set all day, with all of the other guys sitting around the campfire. He was a team player. I swear to God, he was really just like one of the guys. He was lovely.

The first scene of the premiere is a cold open that responds to the Red Wedding, and also acts as the tone-setter for the season. What were your first ideas when approaching the scene?

So many things, but the first was I wanted to honor the great writing. As soon as I read it, I thought it was such an awesome scene. Maisie is so incredible and David Bradley is so amazing, so I just wanted the scene to be great and live up to its full potential. As we got more into it, you knew the audience would have questions coming right into the scene, knowing Walder Frey is dead. So, what is this? Is it a flashback? Is there something else going on here? It's about playing that line of audience surprise and curiosity and how they read the scene. David's performance is so fantastic where there's a moment you can almost feel Arya inside of him. It's even before the dialogue betrays who he is. There's something about the performance that's just very calculated. I saw it with an audience at the Walt Disney Hall before the broadcast premiere, and the audience immediately reacted to that. There was a moment where you could feel it rippling through the audience: "Oh, God, it's Arya!" It was so great. When you're directing it, you hope that moment happens in an interesting way that gives the audience pleasure. Maisie's performance at the end and says what she says to Walder's wife ... I had chills when we shot it and I hoped I would have chills when we cut it, and I did. I knew it was a great scene from the moment we shot it, really.

After the opening credits, there's an extended shot of the White Walkers and their army of the dead walking toward the camera. How complicated was this to create?

It was a very complex shot to create, but conceptually, it was an image that [showrunners] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff] had, which was very clear. We knew it would be one shot. Nothing fancy in terms of camerawork. But it's a shot that very slowly reveals itself over time, and we take that time. Then it was a matter of me conceptualizing it with the storyboard artists and visual effects department. How long can we have this play? You almost want it to be indistinct at the beginning, but then they pass the camera. It was a matter of calculating it and calibrating it, figuring out how they would reveal themselves through the haze of snow and wind. The idea of ending on the eye of the giant, to be honest, I'm still not sure at what point we decided that was what we're going out on. I don't believe it was in the script. I'm pretty sure we developed that with the artists involved. It was quite complicated with green screens and makeup and the special FX team doing their magic. Many layers of action that you're compositing to make it look like the full army of the dead.

Can you take us through the two sides of the Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) scene — shooting these little flashes in the pan, so to speak, and stitching it all together in the editing?

It was an amazing experience, actually. It's a really complex montage. I had done it in a previous season with the corpse washing montage with Arya at the House of Black and White. That's something we all felt really good about. In David and Dan's minds, they made a connection between me and montages, even though tonally these two are very different. But I love doing it, generally. It's something where you go into the cutting room with an idea of what it might be, and then it's really finessed and made manifest for real in the cutting room. It was very complex both tonally and practically because there were so many different sets and component pieces. Many of these sets only appear really for this montage: the mess hall, the infirmary, the privy, the washing room ... so many different elements that had to be built. It was quite an extravagant achievement, and an extravagant thing to even contemplate going in. It advances the story somewhat, but it was very much a character piece, really. It's a very much uncharacteristic for the show, but one that was very satisfying to play with and try. We wanted it to be very telling about his life and what the Citadel is all about, and also to be funny and to play with that tone a bit. The editor did a first assembly of the scene, which was about seven or eight minutes, because there was so much material. It was too long but it was hilarious. (Laughs.) I was very pleased that it was so funny and that it did everything it needed to do. It said a lot about the Citadel and Sam's life, but it had that extra thing that gives the audience that extra bit of pleasure.

The episode ends at Dragonstone. I know some of it was shot on stages in Belfast, but so much was shot on location in Spain. How awe-inspiring was it to behold in person?

Actually, very little was shot on stage. The only thing shot on stage were the gates at the top of the stairs that leads to the long winding pathway up to the castle. Everything else was shot on location, in a number of different locations: Zumaia Beach in Spain is where she lands and walks up the stairs and gets to where the gates are. Another place — San Juan — is the place where that amazing staircase that doesn't look real and looks like a CG creation, but it's not, that's a spectacular location going up to Dragonstone castle. What is shot on stage, of course, are the interiors, which are all-new and designed by Deb Riley. It's a very new look for the show, I think. It has a fascist architecture feel to it, in a way, but it also integrates elements of the actual location in terms of the striated rocks you see on the beach, which is married into the interiors in a beautiful way. Plus, we had a new version of the map room. It's slightly redesigned and revamped from what we had seen with Stannis. It was a very big sequence and very exciting to shoot — every single aspect of it, cinematographically, was amazing. There was so much to work with on location and in those fabulous sets. Creating this new geography was a very big challenge, but a good one.

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