The documentary maker spills the beans on what it was like to be at the heart of the final season of Game of Thrones.
Its fair to say that most Game of Thrones fans are still reeling from the quick tidy-up job the showrunners did on its eighth and final season. And thanks to director Jeanie Finlay, there’s a tiny bit of Thrones left to fill the gap. While a cast and crew of 2000 beavered away making the last season of the television phenomenon, she was there capturing behind-the-scenes moments for new documentary Game of Thrones: The Last Watch.
For 14 months she joined the team as they filmed across the world, immersing herself in George R. R. Martin’s world and seeing what it takes to make the smash hit television series. And after seven months of editing, 950 hours of footage has been whittled down to just under two. If you’ve watched the doc, you’ll have seen Kit Harrington cry as he learns Jon Snow kills Daenerys, and you’ll probably have fallen in love with the extra Andy McClay (the unsung hero of Westeros, tbh).
We sat down with Jeanie to find out what it was like being immersed in the series, and what she thinks of the petition to remake Game of Thrones’ final season.
What do you think made Game Of Thrones so successful?
“It encompasses love, lust, ambition, a journey – but the thing for me is that nobody’s safe Westeros, and that’s really enticing as an audience. I love the so-called villain Cersei, and Diana Riggs’ character [Olenna Tyrell] was my favourite character in the show. I mean, she’s a big, bad bitch. It’s amazing. Who doesn’t love a queen who gets the job done?”
We’ve seen the clips of Kit Harington in tears; were there a lot of tears whilst filming the final season?
“There were a lot. I think the people who work or star in Game of Thrones – this has been their life for 10 years. People have built their lives around it – moved to Northern Ireland, found their family, found their brethren, and now it’s finished. I was surprised how emotional it got so early on, there was this impending feeling of ‘the end is coming’, and nobody wanted to think about it.”
Was there anything that really surprised you?
“I was amazed at the scale and ambition of it all – it’s enormous. And I was surprised by how big it was. When you’re at Winterfell you’re in a castle, it’s not just half a set, you’re in a castle. And it feels cold because there’s snow everywhere. You’ve got over 2000 crew members, it’s like a city raising a world. It’s a lot. “
And you were there for a lot of those night shoots as well?
“The night shoots were a thing to behold. When we drove onto set when the battle of Winterfell was being filmed, and they’re pumping the smoke and setting the world on fire, and there’s a security guard chomping on craft services and 500 extras dressed up, and all the undead, it’s extraordinary. It feels like you’re watching it already!”
Did you feel any sort of pressure from the superfans working on Game of Thrones: The Last Watch ?
“I was really lucky that I didn’t have to think about that at all – as the film was a secret. And because it was a secret I didn’t tell anyone I was making it.”
Was it hard keeping it a secret?
“Yes – I’m the worst secret keeper ever, and obviously I had the scripts! I had the scripts before some of the cast had read it… I was really glad there were no leaks because of me. But also the idea that HBO wanted to keep the existence of the documentary a secret, and so I edited at home in Nottingham and everyone who touched the production had to sign an NDA. The guys from HBO came and secured my office, my daughter was an extra and managed to not tell her friends.”
There’s been a lot of criticism of the final season. Do you think that when viewers watch the documentary they might appreciate it a bit more?
“Maybe. A lot of people have got in touch on social media to say thank you for The Last Watch and for helping them to say goodbye, and that they didn’t realise it was so much work. I think it is good to show the blood sweat and tears of it.”
And there’s this petition which has reached 1,000,000 signatures to have the final series of the show remade, how do you feel about that?
“The petition for me just shows the fans care. And I feel like people should be able to express what they think about the show. So if you want to set up a petition go for it, or if you want to complain about the show go for it. Game of Thrones is about the show, but is also about the community who love the show and feel passionate about that. There’s also going to be strong opinions so I sort of think that it’s OK for people to express their passion, in whatever form that takes.”
And I guess a little bit is people not wanting to say goodbye?
“It could be, it’s hard to say goodbye. If you love something it’s hard to let go, and sometimes you’re meanest to the person you love the most!”