Game of Thrones is known for its epic battle sequences, but one of its action movie moments came in the form of a one-on-one confrontation between Gregor Clegane, the Mountain that Rides, and Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne. These two fought a battle to the death to determine the fate of Tyrion Lannister. It looked like the valiant Viper would come out on top, but then…well, you remember.
Just the other day, Entertainment Weekly interviewed the cast and crew to get their feelings on the Red Wedding, another iconic Game of Thrones sequence. This time, it’s about the Mountain vs the Viper. This oral history is a MUST READ, so let’s jump in!
First up, episode director Alex Graves reveals his two biggest priorities for the scene:
There were two big things [going into the scene]. My biggest concern was that you not see the end coming and that you would become confident that the Viper was going to win. And then the second was that I [wanted] the fighting to be more acrobatic and musical than the earlier fights in the show had been.
And just how did they accomplish Oberyn’s acrobatic spin moves? Pedro Pascal (Oberyn) trained with a Los Angeles based Wushu master named Liang Yang, who actually performed the jumping portions of the fight sequence. “I apologize to the fans: That was not me,” he said. “But I did learn the fight, and when you see my face, it’s me!” I can’t even do a cartwheel, so I’ll forgive you.
Once filming began at the abandoned seaside Hotel Belvedere in Dubrvonik, the cast and crew found the conditions less than ideal, although Indira Varma (Ellaria Sand) found a way to deal. “The heat was unbearable, but I was really lucky because I was barely dressed compared to everyone else in their corsets.” According to Varma, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (the Mountain) was fed extra meals between takes to compensate for the calories burned he was burning, but Björnsson didn’t seem to mind. “It was grueling work, going through the fight again and again and again in full armor in the sweltering heat in Croatia — but what a scene!” Yes, indeed.
And of course, there’s the scene’s biggest moment: when the Mountain crushes a victorious Oberyn Martell’s head like a grape. “The squish!” Pascal exclaims. “The squish that I will gladly take to my grave!” Pascall had an unexpected reaction to seeing his head recreated by the special effects department for destruction: “‘Holy sh—, I look so much like my dad.’ I learned that from staring at the cast of my head, right before watching it repeatedly get squished.” That’s one way to get closer to your father.
Björnsson called the experience “really gruesome, even for me,” although Graves was quick to point out that Oberyn’s skull isn’t actually crushed on screen:
Everyone always gets on me about that, and I’m like, “It’s a sound effect! It’s not on camera!” And they’re like, “No, it is!” They don’t care. They felt it happen.
Ellaria Sand’s reaction to the squish quickly became the stuff of meme legend. As Varma explains, the horror was real: “I literally had one take for my reaction shot to the fight. My coverage was, like, the last thing of the day, like, ‘We’re losing the light!’ So I had one take with nothing in the eye line, so I think my look of horror is me going, ‘What?! Only one go at this?!’” Nailed it.
Filming might have finished, but the story did not end there. Pascal admitted to falling asleep on the cool stone before being awakened for a refreshing jump into the sea, according to Varma:
After [wrapping], Pedro and I just jumped in the sea, and very cheekily we met a guy who had a boat down there, and we hitchhiked back by boat instead of us taking transport back to the hotel. So that was the coolest way to end that fight scene. It was a very romantic escape.
That might just be our favorite behind-the-scenes moment. Be sure to check out the full oral history here for more great remembrances. Game of Thrones season 8 debuts on April 14.