Director Alex Graves Talks Joffrey's Death, Dany's Big Move & The Biggest Game of Thrones Finale to Date

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Still suffering from a Game of Thrones hangover?

Nearly a week has passed, but the death of King Joffrey continues to shock and confound fans of this HBO epic. What will this mean for his enemies and allies going forward?

How will Cersei react? And what might she ask of Jaime Lannister in terms of retribution? Will Sansa truly get away? Will Tyrion be tried and hanged for the crime?

I had the pleasure this week of chatting with Alex Graves, who directed the amazing Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 2 and will also be behind the camera for Sunday's Game of Thrones Season 4 Episode 3, “Breaker of Chains.”

Graves talked about shooting the long wedding sequence last week; how shooting GoT is different from other shows he’s worked on; and how things will only get bigger and bigger as the season forges ahead...


TV Fanatic: Last week’s episode was from a George R. R. Martin script. Is that different than directing a script of another writer’s since it is truly his world?

Alex Graves: That’s a good question. It isn’t different in that I think that the scripts are so cohesive and you have George’s mind in it anyway regardless of who wrote it. Obviously, last [week’s episode] just had the pressure and responsibility and obligation of delivering an iconic death, which is not an easy thing to do on this show. Also, making it a great exit for Jack [Gleeson, who played Joffrey].

TVF: When you saw the script for the episode, did it scare the hell out of you or make you a giddy little kid? Or a little of both?

AG: I have to admit that every time I get a script from Dave [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] or George, I do act like a little kid because it is director heaven but I had read the outline weeks before and knew about the events of the episode but the big shock in the episode was how large and involved the other scenes would be that weren’t the wedding such as the dog sequence in the beginning…but then the other thing was that the wedding itself, that was a 32-page scene. I had expected 8 or 10 pages but then the doves, the dwarves, the scope of it of adding the circus element was surprising and scary and really, really fun.

TVF: Why do you think the wedding scene needed to be so long?

AG: I think that in their world and in character, which is always where the guys are writing from, it’s really Ty Lannister’s very public celebration of his victory in the war of the Five Kings…it’s almost like the Kennedy family or the Bush family shoving it in your face and saying ‘We’re still standing.’ It’s a kind of celebration, the characters are mingling and, something that I’ve gotten a lot of comments about, you start to go ‘why on this tightly written show are we sitting around chit-chatting’ and it really makes you feel nervous like something’s going to happen.

TVF: I definitely thought that and what a pay off! From the director’s standpoint, how do you contribute to the pacing of the show? Are you working with the writer of the particular episode or do you just go by the script you’re given?

AG: You stage it and you design it and you design the shots and how they’re going to be cut together and in designing the shots and how it’s going to be cut together, you’re designing the pacing and how it’s going to be cut together. Especially with that [wedding] sequence because you can only move at a certain tempo with the action that is going on and you’re moving towards something but you don’t know what it is so it has to have this kind of steadiness to it where one thing is handed off to the next.

I had a lot of fun orchestrating that I would hand off to Jaime to Brienne to Cersei back to Joffrey and over to Oberyn and I really enjoyed doing that. So it’s a big part of it. Nobody has brought that up but it’s a lot of what my daily worries were centered around.

TVF: What can you tease about this week’s episode? I know Joffrey’s death is going to affect a lot of different people.

AG: I think several things happen. Obviously, Joffrey’s death, like any death on the show, is a beginning and you start to see that. You start to see Cersei’s state of mind [and that] is very much a part of next week. Sansa Stark escaping King’s Landing with a bizarre twist that is the beginning of, really, her adult story on the show and Sophie [Turner] is incredible and going forward in the season as a grown-up. And then the show stopper is Daenerys, who arrives at the city of Meereen and teaches them a lesson or two.

TVF: Is there an advantage to shooting two episodes back to back?

AG: You shoot based on location and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You just have so much mapped out in your head that you go ‘okay, I know where I am’ and you communicate that to everybody and the actors.

TVF: Has that been an adjustment for you to work that for this show? It’s definitely different than what you did, say, on The West Wing.?

AG: In a weird way, a lot of directing is designing road maps and arcs and where you are at certain points throughout the narrative and the thing about Game of Thrones is it’s a little easier because the scripts are written in advance so when you go in you’ve read all ten episodes and that’s a real advantage to most shows, including West Wing where you might not have a whole script let alone what the next episode is.

TVF: In a broad sense, how would you characterize this current season of Game of Thrones? Do you see it as different or is it just a continuation?

AG: It is a continuation but it is escalation. It’s a turning point. It’s unlike any season and it’s certainly larger than any season we’ve ever made and what changes in it is huge and I think episode two is the smallest episode. And then it’s the biggest finale ever made because there are huge changes, amazing sequences and some of the best writing you’ll ever see. And it’s the most incredible to do and everyone is really happy with it. I will tell you, I’m not exaggerating.

Game of Thrones Season 4 airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of Follow him on Twitter.

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