Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 9.
Of all the shows currently produced for television, Game of Thrones most closely resembles a giant tentpole scale film. The show features some epic special effects, not just for dragons and action scenes, but also to highlight the breathtaking environments of George R.R. Martin's fictional world of Westeros. And then there's the other thing Thrones is known for - grisly character deaths.
Following the long lasting tradition of his co-stars, Ramsay Bolton (played by Iwan Rheon) met his maker in the penultimate chapter of the most recent season of Thrones. It was a fitting and satisfying end for one of the series' most brutal villains. Fed to his own attack dogs, the scene plays fairly disturbing in its current form, but it was close to being even more unsettling.
Via Variety, Image Engine visual effects supervisor Mat Krentz explained that the scene originally used more intense 3D Visual Effect to depict Ramsay's jaw being torn asunder by his dog. "They shot the scene with multiple takes. They did a pass of the dog on green screen, then Ramsay on green screen, and then we also had a background plate, which we put together." Ultimately they decided the shot was too grisly to use, even for Game of Thrones. They pulled the effect back for the 2D composite we ended up getting.
Imagine Engine worked on many of the sixth season's 72 deaths (as evidenced in the video above). They personally delivered 22 sword kills, 14 slit throats, 1 pike impalement... and 1 death by dogs. Compositing Lead, Edwin Holdsworth, explained the difficulty in nailing some of Throne's grislier details:
"Some shots were really specific, like someone getting their head smashed directly against a wall. To get the look right for that we filmed real meat being smashed. We used the same technique for shots where one character has their hand pulled apart. The best way to match the level of gore needed was to pull some meat apart and use that in the comp. It all felt more realistic that way!"
This blend of practical and computer visual effects is often the deciding factor in how authentic a VFX scene will feel in a movie or show. It's also just one more example of the attention to detail that makes Thrones such a standout experience.
Game of Thrones will return to HBO for Season 7 in the summer of 2017.