One Of Game Of Thrones' Most Intense Battle Scenes Was Entirely Improvised

The final two seasons of the hit HBO fantasy series "Game of Thrones" left fans pretty divided, with some who still loved the show in all its weird glory and others who felt as if many of the characters were let down by the series' writing. While the quality of those later seasons is the source of much contention, one thing is tough to argue: the battles of the final two seasons are pretty darn great. Sure, they're no Battle of the Blackwater or Battle of the Bastards ("Game of Thrones" had some great battle names, didn't it?) but there are some monumentally cool moments in some of those later battles, especially the Battle of the Frozen Lake in the season 7 episode "Beyond the Wall." According to one of the show's directors, some of those moments were actually improvised right there on the spot. One of the most intense moments in the whole battle, in which fan favorite Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) nearly bites the big one, was something decided on set that wasn't in the original script, and it's one of the most memorable parts of the whole episode. (The other most memorable part, in which Tormund flirts with Gwendoline Christie's Brienne of Tarth and she is not amused, was also improvised!)

In an interview with Vulture, director Alan Taylor shared the behind-the-scenes secrets of "Beyond the Wall," and he revealed that Tormund's near-death experience was the result of some rather smart last-minute creativity.

A bit of improv

Most of the battles in "Game of Thrones" are between massive armies, but the battle out on the ice in "Beyond the Wall" is a bit different because it's an army of White Walkers and Wights attacking a bunch of individuals. It's chaos, and eventually dragons show up to make it even more chaotic, but the most riveting part for many fans comes when Tormund nearly dies and it appears, for a moment, that he's really gone. Taylor explained that there were only seven characters to focus on but they were all important to the audience, so they decided to make the battle more of a "matter of intimacy" instead of scale. Tormund's near-death makes the stakes feel so much higher, and then it serves as a perfect one-two punch when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is in much worse peril. Taylor told Vulture:

"When Tormund almost gets killed on the island, that wasn't in the script. That was something we fabricated because we wanted to use the fact that the audience cares about these characters and is sort of expecting somebody to die. I did a calculation thing: 'Well, it's believable Tormund could die here. [Laughs.] No one thinks Jon Snow is going to die in the penultimate episode of season 7.' So we didn't go into that a lot. He had some wonderful action, but we didn't put him in peril the way we did Tormund on the island. Even when Jon falls into the ice, I think you sort of think he's coming back again."

Jon Snow miraculously survives, perhaps because of the fan theory that he's the true Azor Ahai reborn or perhaps because it just didn't make sense to kill him off twice, but it's scary anyways.

You can't kill Tormund

Tormund is one of the few comic relief characters in "Game of Thrones," and fans would have been devastated if he had been killed off. He's tertiary enough for it to feel totally within the realm of possibility, however, so it was a smart move on Taylor's part because the fake-out feels so totally believable. It would have been foolish to actually kill him off, however, as Hivju makes the character truly lovable even when he's being obnoxious. "Game of Thrones" can be pretty bleak, so taking out one of the few really funny characters would be a serious mistake. 

So far the backlash against the end of "Game of Thrones" hasn't hit its spin-off prequel series, "House of the Dragon," but only time will tell if the series falters and fans jump to declare that they knew it would fall apart all along. For now, though, fans can say the same thing that Arya (Maisie Williams) says to death: "Not today."