Admit it, at some point during Game of Thrones’ seven-season run, you’ve probably thought to yourself, “I could totally be an extra on this show!” And while swinging your replica Longclaw sword around in your garage might be fun, the real thing is a different matter entirely.
Entertainment Weekly talked to Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss and learned that being an extra on the show is a grueling, nearly thankless job. “Obviously they’re called ‘extras’ so there’s not a whole lot of money or respect that comes with that job,” Benioff said. Being an extra on the most popular series in history means you aren’t allowed to speak to the media, you and your colleagues are usually the first ones to show up on set (and the last ones to leave) all the while making about $100 a day.
“But the extras in Northern Ireland were spectacular in terms of their enthusiasm, and the realism they brought to it,” Benioff continued. “They work so hard with these insane hours. You think back on how many of our scenes where the extras play such a major part.”
That hard work can include changing their looks outside filming. “Many of these guys kept long hair and beards purely for the show,” Benioff explained. “[A]nd they even came up with character names and backstories for themselves, their childhood traumas, what House they owed allegiance to, even though [those details] are not in the show.”
It really adds to the believability of so many shots — whether they’re behind Jon Snow at Castle Black or at Winterfell or wherever — that these dudes really take this seriously and have passion for it.
Weiss agreed. “Extras can make a scene or they can destroy a scene if you don’t give what they do the respect and attention it deserves.” Clearly, attention was given, because I can’t think of a scene on Game of Thrones ruined by the crappy extras.
For instance, to make season 6’s “The Battle of the Bastards” work on screen, the extras were separated into different groups so that they could train with the rest of whatever army they were fighting in: Jon Snow’s or Ramsay Bolton’s. This helped each group gain a sense of teamwork that really paid off in the final cut.
But that didn’t really matter for the extras who had the unenviable task of being part of the large pile of bodies Ramsay used to trap Jon in. Those extras were mixed in with the “mock corpses,” and everything looked so lifelike that it could be hard to tell the real bodies from the fake ones.
Not all extras are forgettable faces in a crowd. The show has a long history of singers and bands making cameos. Coldplay’s Will Champion played a drummer at the Red Wedding, Heavy Metal band Mastodon played wights at Hardhome, and Icelandic band Sigur Rós actually played “The Rains of Castamere” during Joffrey’s disastrous wedding reception.
“A lot of people — especially bands that would come on the show — would come on [as extras] and we would warn them: ‘You realize this is going to intensely, numbingly boring for you,’” Weiss said. “And they say, ‘No, no, it’s great,’ and then six hours into their three-day shoot you have Sigur Ros asking if they can go home and you’re like, ‘No, you’re in this shot, and this shot lasts for three days.’”
They were as far from being divas about it as you can imagine but you could see this little piece of them die when they realized they were going to be there for another two-and-a-half days.
It almost sounds like Weiss enjoyed watching Sigur Rós get put through the ringer, but then again, he is a showrunner on Game of Thrones.
Now that the show is heading into its eighth and final season, there won’t be any more opportunities for you to use those sword skills in a battle against the army of the dead. Of course, there’s always hope that HBO orders the upcoming prequel to series; keep practicing.