Before an episode of Game of Thrones is even filmed, storyboard artists like Will Simpson sketch out scenes from the script to help directors see how best to convey the action in visual form. Simpson has been working on the hit HBO series — which kicks off its eighth and final season April 14 — since the beginning. Even before the pilot episode, he was recruited to create early concept art for things like the many weapons of Westeros, Cersei’s royal carriages, and the initial versions of the White Walkers.
Every season since, Simpson has received all episode scripts shortly into the production process. He goes over them, and then meets with directors who want specific scenes storyboarded so they can start visualizing. Simpson helped Neil Marshall figure out the famous battle of season 2’s “Blackwater,” and worked with Miguel Sapochnik to diagram the fight with the wights in season 5’s “Hardhome,” as well as a host of others. Season 6’s “The Door,” directed by Jack Bender, posed a distinct challenge because the whole climactic sequence had to build up to Hodor (Kristian Nairn) holding that door shut against the Night King’s army.
“When you read the scripts, you realize the importance of certain moments,” Simpson tells EW. “You want a character to go out well. I’m getting myself invested in the characters. I want to feel it in the drawings, so that when a director looks at it, it helps with the next step.”
The sequence plays out like a series of last stands, as the direwolf Summer, the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow), and the Children of the Forest all sacrifice themselves to buy Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) time to escape the horde of wights. Each death is more horrific than the last, building up to Hodor’s tragic finale.
“I wanted to concentrate on him holding the door, being up against it, and also the fact that he wasn’t gonna get away. I didn’t want it to look like he could escape,” Simpson says. “The way I drew him is with his back to the door, and then the hands come through to grab him. We’ve seen that kind of thing in horror movies, but it was so important at this point.”
He continues, “The fact they have to get further away while he’s doing that, and Bran has gone in his head to get him to that point, and then Bran has to come out of his head to move on, and Hodor’s gonna be left there, is so awful. And yet that’s always been his destiny. In the past, when he’s been living a happy life as a big guy saying ‘Hodor,’ we didn’t know that’s the future hitting the past until that moment.”
Check out some of Simpson’s storyboards for “The Door” exclusively below, and watch the video above for a side-by-side comparison with the finished scene.
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