Storyboard of an episode of Game of Thrones

Liza Golysheva
Liza Golysheva
Content Writer
7 min reading·

"Game of Thrones" is a monumental project that will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the biggest and most successful ventures of our time. The production alone cost for the series totaled nearly $1.5 billion, but the investment has paid off tremendously. The first season earned HBO a whopping $171 billion, and the show's profits continued to grow over time. By the time the eighth and final season aired, it had already raked in $525 million in revenue.

The show, which is based on the series of novels by George R. R. Martin, "A Song of Ice and Fire", has become a worldwide phenomenon, garnering a massive following and critical acclaim. With numerous extras, extensive international shooting locations, elaborate graphics, and a vast ensemble cast, "Game of Thrones" has set a new standard in the world of television.

Martin's interest in writing began in his childhood when he discovered the works of John Tolkien, which had a profound impact on him. He began writing "Game of Thrones" in 1993, and his manuscript eventually landed on the desk of HarperCollins editor Jane Johnson. Johnson was immediately impressed with Martin's sharp, witty, and dynamic writing style, as well as the extensive cast of fully-realized characters and the breathtaking world he had created.

In the summer of 1996, "Game of Thrones" was published with an initial hardcover print run of just 5,000 copies. Although it did not initially create a sensation, no one could have predicted that it would eventually sell over 70 million copies worldwide and translated into over 40 languages. Today, a first edition of "Game of Thrones" can fetch up to $240, while a signed copy can cost as much as $6,000.

The fifth and most recent book in the series, "A Dance with Dragons," was released in 2011 and was an instant success with a record 298,000 copies sold on the first day alone. This renewed interest in Martin's work also led to increased sales of the "Game of Thrones" novels, with over 1 million copies sold in 2013 alone, earning the writer a whopping $12 million.

The popularity of the "Game of Thrones" saga exploded in 2011, not just because of the release of the latest book, but also due to the debut of the show's first season. Set in the fictional world of Westeros, which bears a striking resemblance to medieval Europe, the series has captivated audiences with its intricate plot, complex characters, and stunning visuals. The impact of "Game of Thrones" on popular culture is undeniable and will undoubtedly be felt for years to come.

The production of "Game of Thrones" was a massive undertaking, and the storyboard artists played a crucial role in bringing the show's epic scenes to life. One of the most talented of these artists was Will Simpson, who worked closely with the show's directors to plan out key sequences.

Simpson's job was to review each episode and meet with the directors to storyboard the most important scenes. This process allowed the directors to get a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve before filming began, ensuring that the final product was as visually stunning as possible.

One of Simpson's most memorable contributions to the show was helping director Neil Marshall plan out the intense battle scene in season 2's "Blackwater" He also worked with Miguel Sapochnik to create the epic fight with the wights in season 5's "Hardhome," among many other scenes throughout the series.

Through his skillful storyboarding, Simpson played an integral part in creating some of the most iconic moments in "Game of Thrones." His work helped to elevate the show from a mere adaptation of a popular book series to a groundbreaking television event.

It would have been easier for Simpson to create legendary storyboards now than it was 10 years ago, because today we have MakeStoryboard.

“When you read the scripts, you realize the importance of certain moments,” Simpson tells EW. “You want a character to go out well. I’m getting myself invested in the characters. I want to feel it in the drawings, so that when a director looks at it, it helps with the next step”.

In the season 5 finale of "Game of Thrones" entitled "Mother's Mercy," viewers witness a pivotal scene in which Jon Snow (portrayed by Kit Harington) experiences betrayal from his own Night's Watch comrades, leading to unforeseen and tragic consequences.

Jon receives a distressing letter from the Boltons and then discovers from Olly (played by Brenock O'Connor) that a wildling has news of his missing uncle Benjen Stark (performed by Joseph Mawle).

Despite the Night's Watcher’s continuous search for their former First Ranger, his fate remains a mystery, which the audience had hoped to uncover but unfortunately had to wait for a future episode.

Simpson’s storyboards are drawn as comics, but some include arrow keys that indicate the direction of the camera and the movement of the character. And it really helps the whole crew.

In the season 5 finale of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow's storyline takes a dramatic turn as he is confronted by Ser Alliser Thorne, his longtime antagonist. Thorne informs Jon that a wildling claims to have seen his missing uncle Benjen Stark at Hardhome, a significant location beyond the Wall. However, when Jon arrives at the scene, he is met with a group of Night's Watch brothers instead of the expected wildling informant.

This battle is unlike the epic scale of the one at Hardhome, as it is more personal and close-quarters.

Jon tries to push through the group of Night's Watch brothers, hoping to find answers about his uncle's whereabouts. However, he is instead met with accusations of treason.

Jon's actions have caused a divide within the Night's Watch, with some seeing him as a traitor for bringing wildlings through the Wall as refugees while others recognize the greater threat posed by the White Walkers. The scene highlights the complexity of the show's characters and their conflicting motives.

During an interview in 2016, Owen Teale, who played Ser Alliser Thorne, shared how he approached playing the bitter character. Teale explained that he had to shed certain emotions as a human being, such as joy, to fully embody the character's resentment towards Jon Snow. Thorne's bitterness stems from his perception of Snow as a privileged and talented individual with a bright future ahead of him. Teale described how this emotional detachment allowed him to react to Jon Snow's character in a more authentic way, portraying Thorne's bitterness towards him. By shedding his own emotions and adopting Thorne's, Teale was able to deliver a convincing and authentic performance.

But Thorne is not the only one who kills Jon. Othell Yarwyck (Brian Fortune), First Builder of the Night’s Watch, is also involved in this coup.

This is the legendary scene when Harington's character Jon Snow was stabbed in the back by the Night's Watch brothers - and then in the chest, as well as in the side. The murder of Jon Snow is both a surprise and the most obvious thing that could happen in “Game of Thrones.”

Olly plays a crucial role in the coup. As the youngest member of the group, he's a fervent supporter of their mission and delivers the fatal blow to Jon.

Olly's actions resulted in the destruction of many fans' favorite on-screen relationships. Having already killed Ygritte during the Battle of Castle Black, he now eliminates Jon. 

Revenge is a recurring theme in the show, and Olly takes it upon himself to avenge his family who were killed by wildlings. However, this raises the question of whether the cost was worth it.

As Jon falls into the snow, the conspirators begin to leave the scene of the crime.

In Jon's final moments, the filmed version differs slightly from the storyboard in how close the camera is to his body. This is because directors often take the stage in a slightly different direction than the storyboard artist suggests. 

"I like being the beginner of ideas, somebody who gets to create the feel of the scene," Simpson tells EW.

While David Nutter directed the final cut of "Game of Thrones", according to Simpson, Olly's reaction to Jon's death was initially depicted as a clear display of tears, but Brenock O'Connor's portrayal of Olly in the final version of the scene was more ambiguous. It's unclear whether Olly feels remorse or believes that killing Jon was the right decision.

Simpson storyboard had a closer shot of Jon's face as he dies, showing his fear and horror. However, the director opted for a wider shot that captures the blood flowing through the snow. Simpson said he prefers close-ups to highlight characters' emotions, but he understands that the director's vision might differ, depending on how they want to leave the audience feeling at the end.

Despite these changes, Simpson stated that much of the storyboard ended up being reflected on screen. While there were divergences, the final product stayed close to the original concept.

If you want to create the same masterpieces and fantastic TV series, read these articles:

How To Become a Storyboard Artist?, 10 rules of visual storytelling, How To Storyboard Motion Graphics? 

and makeStoryboard will help you in your endeavor!

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