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'Game of Thrones' Director: Shocking Scene Sets Up Bigger Things to Come (Q&A)

Alex Graves tells THR the episode's death is just the beginning of events that affect the show "through to the climax."

Game of Thrones Dormer Gleeson 402 - H 2014
HBO

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones, "The Lion and the Rose"]

Game of Thrones has done it again.

The HBO hit threw a wedding that ended in carnage, with the evil King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) dying after being poisoned.

Director Alex Graves knew the epic scene would be among this season's most talked about, and he, the cast and the crew felt massive pressure to get it right. For fans worried Thrones pulled out the big guns too early, Graves promises much more to come, saying the episode is the catalyst for big events that will fully play out at the end of the season.

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"Joffrey's death is a beginning," Graves tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Ned Stark's death was not an end -- it was a beginning. It's when the show began. All the deaths are like that, and Joffrey's is no different. Joffrey's death affects the show through to the climax."

Here, Graves details Gleeson's final days on set and teases what clues sleuths hoping to guess who killed Joffrey should watch for.

What was the biggest challenge about getting the Purple Wedding right?

The Purple Wedding took six months to prepare. It was a show-wide, gigantic effort on everybody's part -- from the design of the set to the costumes to the circus performers. There was a lot of pressure I put on myself. It was a 32-page scene that was actually 18 scenes, and it involved an enormous number of the cast, who were going to hang out for five days in Croatia while we put on dwarf shows and allowed jailed birds to literally go free. We had the death, and almost more important, we had Tyrion's humiliation in the middle of it. It was a lot for five days -- especially with rain.

Did you have any extra time to shoot this episode?

There is no normal shoot time, in that you shoot all of them once, however they work out for each continent. Five days to shoot the wedding was hardly extra time.

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It's a mystery who killed Joffrey. If they look closer at this scene, will viewers be able to figure out who's responsible for the poisoning?

I tried to shoot it and then edit in such a way that so that if they reveal later in the season who did it, it makes sense. If you watch what's going on, where the killer is and when, you'll go, "Oh, it's happening and progressing visually." It's not like you see it happen, because of the way he dies, but you will notice the movements and the adjustments.

What was it like saying goodbye to Jack Gleeson?

In what is an enormously large cast of the nicest, most professional people I've ever worked with, Jack is actually the nicest and most professional. It's really amazing to sit on set and see Jack being so lovely to everybody, curious and talking about all kinds of interesting things. And you say action, and he is Joffrey. What you realize is that you are looking at one of the most talented young actors alive. He is incredible, and he will do anything. It just so happens that he had incredibly lovely parents who raised him right. He is extremely intelligent, and he understands psychology. He's done a brilliant job from brilliant writing of fleshing out this guy and what he's thinking. It's something to see on set. It's like a Jekyll and Hyde thing.

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What did you talk to Jack about as you were directing him during his farewell to the show?

We talked about the poison and what it was doing to him, and how fast it was working and how fast it was working on his throat. I had mapped out with him "This is where you're feeling your air tube constricting, and this is when it's closed." The one thing I asked him to work on -- which he then delivered beautifully -- was a disturbing high-pitched squealing sound of inhaling two and a half times as he was staring at Margaery. Then it went into a debate of whether his death was gruesome enough, and it wasn't, so we went back and shot more gruesome stuff.

Speaking of gruesome, the Ramsay Snow stuff was pretty disturbing too.

When you get a script that ends with that death, you say, "Tonally, what's the arc, and how do I do it?" That it opened with the dogs was perfect, because I was able to take the dog sequence and escalate it scope-wise. You set the tone that something bad is going to happen in this episode. I sort of directed the dog scene with an eye toward Joffrey, so it was moving forward, like "What's going to happen?"

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The shaving scene was perhaps even more disturbing than Joffrey's death. How did you nail that so well?

The shaving scene is one of the most brilliant scenes they've ever written. Let's test the sick and disgusting results of what Ramsay has been up to for a season with Reek and see if it really works. Those three actors are amazing, but Alfie [Allen] is born to play Theon. You're looking at Ramsay, and Ramsay is doing all of this horrible stuff, and it's Alfie who humanizes the thing in such a way that you feel so sorry for Theon. You are really becoming desperate for Theon to make it and come back somehow. I always marvel at how Alfie takes the scene away and reminds everyone it's really Theon's story. When he says "Jon Snow is at Castle Black" because of his fear of violence – to reveal that to Roose -- it's just so pathetic.


Alex Graves

Tyrion also has a big moment in this episode, saying goodbye to Shae. What was filming that like? 

How incredible are they in that scene?  That scene is heartbreaking -- to watch Peter [Dinklage] do that in an effort to save her. I set it up so I could film both actors at the same time. There was no "We're going to do your side, and then three hours later we'll do your side." We didn't cut. We would do three takes in a row and we would just go, go, go.

How long did it take for them to get it?

By the time we were eight takes in, they were really mastering those performances, and it was brutal. Then she turned around and hit Bronn in the face, and I said, "That was really amazing, but let's not do it again." She said "I'm sorry" and was apologizing to the actor, and the actor said it was fine.  We do two more takes, and she turns around and punches him in the jaw. Then Bronn turns to me and said "I told her to do it, it helps."

How did you land this crucial episode, and what did you think when you found out it contained Joffrey's death?

When I was done with season three, they were so happy with the episodes I had done that they wanted me to come back and do four. They said, "We'll give you all the big stuff." I found out I was doing episodes two, three, eight and 10 about two weeks before I got the outline for the season. I started reading and said "OK. They're going to give me all the big stuff, starting with the Purple Wedding, all the way to the end – the biggest being eight and 10, but number two was quite the beginning.

Where does Thrones go from here?

Episode two is completely intertwined with the end of the season. Joffrey's death is a beginning. Ned Stark's death was not an end -- it was a beginning. It's when the show began. All the deaths are like that, and Joffrey's is no different. Joffrey's death affects the show through to the climax.

Stay tuned to THR.com/GOT for more about the Purple Wedding.

Email: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch