In the brutal world of Westeros, there are plenty of terrifying figures leaving a bloody trail of destruction in their path. Ramsay Bolton. Tywin Lannister. The Hound. The list goes on.
But none quite compare to one man, who has single-handedly been responsible for the majority of the most horrible Game of Thrones deaths of the last few years – Emmy award-winning stunt co-ordinator Rowley Imran.
“It’s my responsibility to kill everyone,” Rowley says by way of cheery introduction when we meet. Accompanied by series weaponsmaster Tommy Dunne, he’s here today to teach me and a few other journalists some tricks from the Game of Thrones playbook (an experience soon open to the public via ballot) – and assuming I survived the experience, pass on some details about the smash-hit fantasy’s biggest action sequences.
Soon Rowley and Tommy have me practicising a swordplay routine against a very patient stuntman, where I learn that there’s only five sword attacks and defences in any clash (“we have to put a bit of a spin on it”) and that it’s much easier to learn moves and deal out “heroic” kills than it is to react convincingly to your opponent’s blows. Given how readily my blade awaited every attack, onlookers must have assumed I had the Sight.
Still, following several embarrassing missteps that saw me walk into a few beheading blows and accidentally tear my opponent’s Targaryen T-shirt (I was in the colours of House Tyrell, so it was a grave insult against an ally) I was sort of getting into the (sword) swing of it. And after a bit of time learning archery with Tommy (where I kept “nocking” too early, drawing too late and then holding the bow like a wally after firing for too long, apparently) I was interested in how the real actors stood up to similar challenges.
“Kit [Harington], Iain Glen, Nikolaj [Coster-Waldau], Kristofer [Hivju] and Maisie would be for me the stand-out performers,” Rowley said after some thought, with the respective Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane and Arya Stark actors apparently impressing both men over their years on the show.
But it quickly became clear that the one-on-one actor-driven fights and stunts weren’t Rowley and Tommy’s real passion – rather, they were keen on the massive showstopper stunts that have come to the forefront in the series’ more recent years.
I learn archery from Game of Thrones weapons master Tommy Dunne, right
“For us we’ve done a lot of fire stuff, particularly Daznak’s pit in season five,” Rowley said, referring to the scenes where Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys is rescued from enemies by the flames of her dragon Drogon.
“We set fire to 20 guys in one day, and we used a 45-ft flamethrower that was on a motion-control crane. So we could do motion control of the dragon.”
“I think that set a record didn’t it?” suggested Tommy.
“Yeah, I think that was pretty much the most people set on fire in one day, definitely on TV if not on film,” agreed Martin.
But even these feats paled into comparison with season six’s epic battle between the forces of Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), named the Battle of the Bastards in the show and affectionately nicknamed ‘Bob’ by the stunt team.
“My background’s horses originally, so I’ve been involved as a performer in pretty much all the large horse battles over the last 20 years,” Rowley said. “We really wanted to shoot a horse battle that the films that come after us would be referencing. And we hopefully have achieved that.
Game of Thrones stunt co-ordinator Rowley Imran
“What was really good about Battle of the Bastards was that unlike a film, where you mostly burn most of your time doing main unit, cast and the action can get a backseat and become a few days of second unit, we had a very very clear plan,” he went on.
“We had a plan each day of what we’d shoot, we’d spent five days establishing, 15 days shooting the battle then five days shooting the Winterfell segment at the end. And we stuck to that plan.
“It’s extremely rare to make a plan and really stick to it, regardless of what the weather does. But Game of Thrones does not stop when it starts raining. If it’s raining, we shoot. If it’s sunny, we shoot. Whatever happens, we shoot.”
Though there is one exception – when it seems that there could be danger afoot.
“Health and safety for us is not a grey area,” Rowley says.
“It’s very clear – we endeavour to shoot a sequence that is very dynamic, exciting, looks really dangerous, but it’s never our intention to hurt anyone in the process. And we never do anything recklessly where we go ‘Awww, there’s a 50/50 chance this will go OK.’
Rowley, Mike and their team
“It doesn’t work like that. It’s 99%. When you’ve got horses, and you’ve got swords, and you’ve got 500 extras and 17 cast all fighting, you do have little tiny nicks and bumps, and hands get knocked by the sword.
“But we don’t have any big accidents, because we really spend an awful lot of time making sure that everyone knows what’s going to happen next. The secret to safety is communication.”
A final push for our own little communication about the stunts we can expect in the next series are met with an icy wall of silence that would put Castle Black to shame –“I think you might have to wait until season seven comes out for any answers on season seven,” we’re told – but as we leave the training area, I feel oddly jubilant and carefree.
I just crossed swords with the biggest killers in Game of Thrones, and I lived to tell the tale. Suck on that, Joffrey.
Want to be trained as a Night’s Watchman? check out jointhenightswatch.com and catch up on every episode of Seasons 1-6 of Game of Thrones exclusively on Sky Box Sets and NOW TV