It’s been about a month now, but I still can’t shake the feeling of emptiness. After close to a decade of excellent storytelling, Game of Thrones has come to a close. Monday mornings will never be the same again. Game of Thrones isn’t just a regular old TV series, it was a weekly event that changed the landscape of pop culture. A work of art whose rabid fan-following burn with passion. It’s the kinda series that people obsess over long after the credits of the series finale rolls. It’s also the kinda cinematic event that has spawned/will continue to spawn behind-the-scenes books and documentaries for the foreseeable future.
One such documentary is The Last Watch which premiered on HBO a week after the final episode. What’s interesting about the documentary is that unlike most behind-the-scenes films, Jeanie Finlay’s The Last Watch centres around not the main cast and crew members (though, there are plenty of appearances from them as well) but the little guys — the unsung heroes that rarely get recognition. I’m talking about the extras, the makeup artists, the overjoyed talent who plays The Night King and heck even the dude who makes snow.
In a conference call interview with Lowyat.net and a couple of other regional media, Finlay discussed exactly what inspired her to make a documentary focusing on these unheralded talents. Finlay said:
“I’m interested in telling emotional stories and sometimes looking to people who aren’t the alpha characters… they’re not the immediate people you would expect to hear from. Who are the human faces that work behind the scenes that we usually don’t see in behind the scenes interviews? The incredibly important cogs in the machine that help build Game of Thrones.
The characters that I chose to focus on were the ones that really spoke to me on a human level or I was just fascinated by what they did. Everybody knows that Winter is coming, but who brings the snow? I was also fascinated by Vladimir [Furdik], the man behind the biggest baddest villain in the world and the emotional story of Sarah [Gower] and being away from her family. I’m a parent, so I really connected with her missing her child and sacrificing things to work.”
Finlay also goes on to give examples such as the importance of the woman in the food truck who kept the cast and crew fed and happy and the charming and passionate extra named Andrew whom pretty much stole the whole film.
“When I met Andrew [McClay], the extra, I knew that he was so passionate and so Northen Irish and funny and modest. He could act like the substitute for the audience. Cause he’s reacting, looking at the Stark statue or the flaming Dothraki. He could be any one of us who loves the show.”
Perhaps the most interesting scene in The Last Watch happens early on. It’s the final script-read through and we get to see the roller coaster of emotions felt by some of the actors and actresses as they discover the fate of their characters. While most of them had already read the script beforehand, some like Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Conleth Hill (Lord Varys) were clearly only learning the outcome of their characters then. At one point, we see a clearly frustrated Conleth Hill close his script and sit quietly in silence, his face as cold as an igloo. At another, we see Kit Harrington gasp out loud in what appears to be surprise and sadness. Jeanie Finlay shared her excitement of being in the room on that day.
“It was really exciting. Because it was like watching the scene unfolding in front of your eyes. The most fascinating to me was watching Kit Harrington because he didn’t read the script before. So he was discovering the fate of Jon Snow in real time. I always want my documentary to show not tell, so actually witnessing Kit emote like that so the audience can feel it was really important to me.
The emotion in the room was very charged. It was like going back to school. Everyone was happy and excited to meet their friends that they’ve gotten to know so intimately and well over 10 years of making a show. And I think this was the first time where everybody realised that they weren’t going to be coming back together anymore. There would be a point where Game of Thrones would be over and I think that that’s gonna be hard. It’s the beginning of the end. It’s like you’re not gonna see your family.”
While that was perhaps the most dramatic, emotional and shocking scene in The Last Watch, the most heartwarming is perhaps the one where Vladimir Furdik approaches the fans and just absorbs their passionate screams of adoration. “It was amazing!” says Finlay.
“I was at the back of the car filming Kit, so I could see and hear how passionate the fans were. He [Kit] has experienced it before, but for me… it was wild. People were banging on the car. There up to 400 fans there and we had no idea that Vlad was gonna just show up like that. Sometimes you have to recognise and film the moment. In that moment I was there with Vlad and I’m thinking… ‘ooh this interesting. Let’s see what he has to say.’ And then he suggested ‘let’s go and meet the fans’ and I had no idea what was going to happen and they loved him. What’s interesting is when he meets them, he doesn’t know what to say. He’s not practised at doing this and was overwhelmed as the fans were. He’s very endearing. Very modest. Not used to his actual face being in the spotlight.”
Apart from discussing her documentary, Finlay also spared a moment to talk about the Game of Thrones fandom. Calling the final season of the epic fantasy drama polarising would be an understatement of the century. There are some, like myself who love season 8 despite some of its glaring flaws, but there’s also a pocket of fans who are carrying pitchforks, creating petitions and demanding that the season be remade. But the director of The Last Watch chooses to look at the glass half full.
“I think all of the discussion around Game of Thrones is part of the reason why this show is so loved. People want to talk about it. It promotes conversation and discussion. Everyone identifies with a character or a house. You’re a Lannister or a Stark. And I think all the outpour about the final season just reflects the passion that people feel for the show. It’s part of the way people watch the show.
It’s so hard for me to comment on the final season because it’s still so fresh because I was there. So when I’m watching scenes I’m fascinated by how it’s all put together. For me, I want to relax and watch the whole season again with a bit of space. I’m sure people will come back to and watch it again and maybe feelings will… I don’t know… I think it’s interesting to watch shows with a bit of perspective. I’ve just rewatched The Sopranos after 20 years and it was an extraordinary experience. especially the finale which really stood out.”
The Last Watch is currently available to stream on HBO Go and Astro Go.