Walking through the Game of Thrones prop room in Belfast is like browsing the aisles of a Pier One in Westeros. There’s all sorts of exotic furniture, decorations, knick nacks and the occasional dismembered head (no weapons — those are kept in the armory). Near the center of the room, sealed in a crate like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders…there is a dragon.
Well, it’s a model dragon, the latest version that was created for season three. The model is used as a placeholder for actors to work against on the set, then a computer-generated dragon is inserted during the show’s post-production process. The first thing you notice is the dragon’s size. The creature no longer looks like an exotic bird that Daenerys Targaryen (Emila Clarke) can put on her shoulder. It’s now like a medium-sized dog. Only if you were to put this thing on a leash and walk it around a park, other pet owners would run screaming (you only get a slight sense of its increased fearsomeness in the current trailer, which shows a dragon flying from behind).
Over on the Thrones set, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss sit at wooden table that’s lavishly adorned for King Joffrey’s dinner feast. They compare the dragons’ growth to the way a baby crocodile or rottweiler can start off cute, then turn into a monster. “This is an interesting time for the dragons,” Benioff says. “When they were born they were adorable. Last season, as you say, they were still kind of cute. But now they’re turning into proper flying dragons. One of the interesting things about the books, and hopefully the show, is that the weapons of mass destruction in this world are living breathing things. And as they get older that presents problems.”
“They’re still cute to Daenerys,” Weiss adds. “They’re her babies. But her babies can burn down a house in a few minutes and they’re getting increasingly terrifying to everyone around her. At some point she will have to reckon with the fact her babies are all grown up.”
In a show filled with visual effects, the dragons represent the show’s greatest challenge since they’re full-CG animals and integral to the story. The other major CG-enabled creatures are the Stark family’s direwolves, which are played by real wolves, then digitally enlarged. Fans will notice fewer changes with the show’s direwolves this year. After growing from pups in the first season to large beasts in season two, producers have opted to keep them at the same size to maintain a greater sense of realism.
“We did some testing and at a certain point they look unreal,” Weiss says. “We reached a nice balance with them. And frankly, no matter how much money you spend on CG wolves — and we’ve seen the best that’s out there, state of the art, and some of it looks great — it still doesn’t look move and feel like a real animal.”
“With dragons, you get some leeway,” Benioff adds. “You can’t say, ‘Well, that doesn’t look like a real dragon.'”
“With a wolf, you have a million years of evolution telling you what they’re supposed to act like,” Weiss says.
Expect some exciting scenes in season three involving both creatures. You’ve noticed that HBO put a dragon on the show’s official marketing poster. There’s probably a good reason for that.
17 DAYS OF THRONES
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.