To say Game of Thrones is the biggest show on TV right now is no exaggeration. With the most recent season raking in an average of 30.6 million viewers per episode, the show has established itself as a cultural phenomenon.
Many are sad to see the show go - 2019 will be the final season of Game of Thrones on HBO. With millions of fans anticipating the end of the show, now seems like a good time to look back on everything that has made Game of Thrones what it is.
It's clear that Game of Thrones relies on computer animation technology for its more fantastical elements, but just how much of what we see is real, or fake, or a mixture of both? Many of the special effects are more based in the real world than you may think - and many of the sets are just as epic as they look both on screen and off.
Besides the epic filming struggles and special effects department, plenty of other things go on behind the scenes too. There are tons of candid moments and surprising fun facts of the show's creation. Friendships and strong bonds have been formed over the years between the cast and crew, as well as the audience who has watched both characters and actors grow up in front of our eyes.
Let's take a closer look into all the elements that have come together to make George R. R. Martin's epic Song of Ice and Fire into HBO's hit show Game of Thrones.
Here are 25 Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Game Of Thrones That Change Everything.
25 No Sibling Rivalry
If you're at all familiar with Game of Thrones, you'll know that Cersei and Tyrion Lannister don't exactly get along. Sure, we know this whole show is an act, but these actors are so convincing we honestly forget sometimes that they don't hate each other in real life.
Here we get a rare moment where Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Lena Heady (Cersei) are sharing a laugh over something on Heady's phone.
It's good to know that even with Game of Thrones' heavy subject material, the cast is still able to let loose on set.
24 White Walker Close-Up
There are many reasons why Game of Thrones requires so much CGI - dragons, other worldly elements, zombie polar bears. But it may come as a surprise that one of the most impressive parts of the show is actually the real deal.
That's right: the White Walkers actually look like that, both on and off screen.
Barrie Gower, the show's prosthetic designer, admits the White Walkers were originally inspired by The Walking Dead, but soon formed a life of their own.
The result is a version of zombie we've definitely never seen before!
23 Zombie Polar Bear
By far some of the coolest effects used in Game of Thrones come into play when creating the monsters. Here we see how they created the infamous zombie polar bear. Believe it or not – the effects team along with a few actors were not thrilled by it.
While the showrunners have wanted to create the zombie polar bear for years, everyone else wasn’t as impressed. The special effects team found the task daunting, while some actors found it ridiculous.
Rory McCann, who plays the Hound, called it a “ping-pong-ball thing” and found it hard to act as if the contraption was a bear.
22 Khaleesi's Dragon
While the White Walkers may be created by prosthetic geniuses, Daenerys dragons are definitely the computer animator's task. When it comes to our favorite Targaryen queen's pets, green screen is the way to go.
Here we get a glimpse of just how massive this contraption is that Emilia Clarke has to ride on.
Not only is this thing huge, it moves like a flying dragon too. Clarke is basically riding the biggest mechanical bull we've ever seen, all while having to act like she's smiting people from the sky. Impressive acting skills, to say the least.
21 Double-Take Twins
If you had to do a double take at this picture, don't worry, so did we. While this could easily be some dedicated cosplayers, it's actually our favorite Game of Thrones character body doubles hanging out on set.
For scenes where a character's face is not shown, body doubles or stand-ins are often used in their place.
We can see why these people got the job, since they bear such a striking resemblance to their counter parts.
Getting paid to hang around the Game of Thrones set doesn't sound like a bad gig at all!
20 Jon Befriends Dragon
It's easy to get on a dragon's good side when he's nothing but a fake head! Here we see yet another example of what the Game of Thrones actors are really going against on screen.
It's clear that Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) really have to use their imaginations when it comes to the CGI dragons.
Thanks to movie magic, or in this case TV magic, the audience doesn't have to do any imagining. Seeing Jon and Daenerys like this makes us realize how heavily this show relies on good acting and a great special effects team.
19 Prosthetic Realism
Here we see a few examples of the makeup and prosthetic departments' work. To the left we see a Tyrion face double, and above him seems to be one of the many faces we see in the Hall of Faces. Most notably, to the far right, is the mold of the White Walker's Night King.
What's almost more impressive than the prosthetic work is the actors who have to wear them. The Night King is an especially grueling process, taking 4 hours or more to complete. The pain staking detail that goes into these looks is mesmerizing.
18 "Fire Breathing"
The Game of Thrones dragons may not be real, but their fire sure is! Of course there are also plenty of instances where CGI is used to create the dragon's massive flames, but not in this case.
Here we see just how the "fire breathing" effect is created.
Thanks to some brave and professional stunt men, along with a camera and flame thrower rigged to a track, this is about as real as a dragon fight scene can get. Game of Thrones has definitely mastered blending the real world and computer animation.
17 Khaleesi Pets Her Dragon
If you laughed when you first saw this picture, don't worry, so did we. While Emilia Clarke plays one awesome dragon queen in Game of Thrones, the reality of the situation is kind of laughable.
We're definitely not bashing the special effects department - they are, after all, the backbone of the entire show. Even still, it's hard to take Daenerys seriously with a green screen mold in her hand that's meant to be a dragon head.
Where's the rest of its body? Apparently for this scene, a green stick will suffice.
16 Stark Children are happy for once
Ah, season 1 of Game of Thrones. It was a simpler time when the Stark family was all together, Sansa still had fairy tale ideas of what marrying a King would be like, and Arya's only life goal was mastering sword fighting.
For fans who have been there from the start, it's easy to forget that we have literally watched these actors, and characters, grow up before our eyes.
The first season of Game of Thrones aired in June of 2011. Next year, in 2019, we will get the eighth and final season of the saga.
15 Making Of The Wights
When Game of Thrones reputes to mix reality with CGI, they sure aren't kidding. Here is a prime example of just that.
We can see how costuming and prosthetics along with green screen technology create the look of the decaying Wights. A Wight is created by the White Walkers, who reanimate the fallen in order to control them.
CGI has certainly come a long way in making fantastic visions come to life. Even with the green screen bits, this Wight is every bit as intimidating and creepy looking as the final product. Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne of Tarth, seems to think so too!
14 Cast Sharing A Laugh
Is that the Game of Thrones cast laughing? Well this is definitely a sight for sore eyes. It's also fair to point out that this is quite the random group of characters coming together - so this shot must have been part of a recent season where worlds keep colliding left and right.
With long, grueling shooting hours and plenty of down time, it's no wonder the cast get to know each other so well.
It may be all frowns and sadness on screen, but off screen the set looks like a blast.
13 White Walker Battle
This is another great shot that gives us an up close look of the White Walker prosthetics and make-up. Also, notably, we see a green screen covering the back-drop of this battle scene. The special effects department's strategy of mixing reality with computer animation is clear here.
While the most important part of the scene - the White Walkers - are the real deal, the snowy, dark backdrop needed some enhancing. While much of the show is shot on location, studios still help in instances where a natural environment isn't quite enough.
12 The crowded palace
While we've clearly addressed Game of Thrones' use of computer animation, it's worth pointing out that a decent amount of the show is very real. While this isn't a picture of some epic battle scene or fantastical monster, here we get an idea of the more realistic side of the Game of Thrones set.
We see here Margaery Tyrell, played by Natalie Dormer, sitting with other ladies of the palace. From the intricate details of the background, to the flawless costuming and hair, we are really transported to Westeros in this behind-the-scenes photo.
11 Care-Free Drogo
Is that Khal Drogo smiling? This is definitely a sight for sore eyes, seeing as how most fans still haven't gotten over the death of their favorite Dothraki warlord and chief. His problematic love story with Daenerys aside, fans still hated to see him go.
Drogo, played by Jason Momoa, is known for his impeccable body, signature Dothraki hairstyle, and of course, his terrifying scowl.
You'll be hard pressed to find Khal Drogo cracking a smile in the show, but here Momoa looks pleasant and even cuddly.
He's definitely not worried about his character's impending doom.
10 The Mountain Is The Real Deal
It turns out the Mountain actually is that massive in real life. Not only that, but he's just as strong and terrifying too.
Just this past year, Hafthor Bjornsson who plays Gregor Clegane on Game of Thrones, was officially crowned the world's strongest man.
Bjornsson also won Europe's Strongest Man and the Strongman Classic (Arnold Scwarzenegger's competition), making him the first man to do so in the same year.
Bjornsson measures in at a whopping 6'9" and 397 lbs, so it looks like they really did get the best Mountain for the job!
9 Assassination of Balon Greyjoy
Sometimes it can be hard to pick out exactly what behind the scenes moment we're witnessing, but this one is obvious. This scene appears in an episode where Euron Greyjoy ends his brother Balon in order to take control of the Salt Throne.
When this scene aired, you may remember the setting as being incredibly dark and somber, with a blue hue and mountain fog taking over the entire screen. They also appear to be towering over a cliff, but as this picture shows, the bridge isn't in the mountains at all.
8 Long Shooting Hours
It likely comes as no surprise that there's plenty of down time on the Game of Thrones sets. With a massive set, along with all of the details that come along with a big budget production, the cast and crew had to endure their share of bad weather and long hours.
Infamously, the Battle of the Bastards took a grueling 55 days to shoot.
Assistant director Jonathan Quinlan posted on Instagram thanking the cast and crew for their incredible dedication. The working conditions everyone had to endure make Game of Thrones that much more impressive.
7 Lannisters In Love
They're the family everyone loves to hate, or hates to love - either way the Lannisters are big players in Westeros. They have always been at the center of the drama, and have also been the cause of many violent events in Game of Thrones - most notably pushing Bran from the tower in season 1.
From left to right we have Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Lena Heady (Cersei), and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie). They may be at odds in the show, but on set it's nothing but love.
6 "Unleash The Wight"
As we got a glimpse of before, the Wights are usually a mixture of makeup, prosthetics, costuming, and of course, trusty CGI. In the Game of Thrones YouTube series called The Game Revealed, we get an even more detailed look at how they brought Wights to life. In this episode, they focused specifically on Jon Snow's kidnapped Wight.
Apparently rendering one Wight up close and personal was "way more complicated than 10,000 Wights," according to director Jeremy Podeswa.
Another fun fact: when the Wight gets split in half, it was actually done on set - no CGI required!
5 Green Screen Battles
While an impressive amount of Game of Thrones shooting locations are just as epic and realistic in real life, even mother nature can use some help from a green screen.
Here we see Kit Harrington (Jon Snow) and Kristofer Hivju (Tormund) looking pretty chilled to the bone. Green screen or not, this cast and crew suffered through some serious elements to make the battle scenes happen.
While it likely helped the cast stay in their characters, it was clearly a challenge. It's easy to forget from the comfort of our couches that this show is the real deal!
4 It Takes A Village
It's no question that the Game of Thrones sets are massive in scale. From the production budget, to the number of cast and crew members, it takes more than one person to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Even just glancing at this behind the scenes shot of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamies Lannister) shows just how many crew members are working in the background at any given time.
Sure, some of them appear to be hanging out too, but every person is there for a reason. With a production of this size, everything needs to go as smoothly as possible.
3 The Real Winterfell
In this perfectly caught candid moment, we're transported back to Game of Thrones season 1 in Winterfell. Oh, the simpler times. Ned, Robb, and Catelyn Stark are all still alive and well. Jon Snow is less worried about the impending doom of the world and more worried about being a good role model to Bran.
Fans will remember this moment specifically because of Ned and Catelyn's positioning.
Eventually Sansa and Jon will literally and figuratively take their places as the over-watchers of Winterfell.
Note how realistic the town of Winterfell is, too.
2 Brienne Gets A Touch Up
Yes, even incredible warriors like Brienne of Tarth - played by Gwendolyn Christie - need touch ups too. In a show where characters are often dirty and disheveled, a lot of attention is still paid to the dirty details.
Sometimes people will spend half an hour on their make up trying to get the "natural" look. Just in the same way, a lot of time and care is put into making the Game of Thrones characters look just the right amount of rugged.
Even Brienne needs her costume tucked in and her hair placed just so.
Every detail matters on the Game of Thrones set!
1 Hanging With David
There are plenty of pictures of the Game of Thrones cast hanging out on set, but here we get a look at another very important person you may not recognize.
David Benioff (left) is the co-creator and showrunner of Game of Thrones. You can thank him, along with co-creator D.B. Weiss, for bringing George R. R. Martin's epic novels to life.
Here Benioff is relaxing with Peter Dinklage (Tyrion), Conleth Hill (Varys), and Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm). It looks like there's some room on those rocks - can we come hang out too?
What is your favorite Game of Thrones behind-the-scenes moment? Let us know in the comments!