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Behind Samwell Tarly's revolting/hilarious bedpan montage on Game of Thrones

'We were going for maximum horribleness and also believability,' says director

'We were going for maximum horribleness and also believability,' says director

Game of Thrones Samwell Tarly, played by John Bradley, scrapes bedpans in the Citadel. (HBO)

By Jesse Kinos-Goodin

Game of Thrones returned last week with a Season 6 premiere that needed to do a lot of heavy lifting. By and large it was an expository episode, tasked with cycling between every crucial character and making sure they were all where they needed to be so that the show, which only has two short seasons left, can end up where it needs to be.

As such, there were a lot of scenes worth exploring further, from Arya Stark exacting bloody revenge on the Freys in the cold open to Daenerys returning to her homestead to, well, that Ed Sheeran cameo. There was so much going on that it was almost possible to overlook one of the funniest scenes in the show's run. We say almost, because it was also one of the filthiest.

Samwell Tarly, played by John Bradley, is toiling away at the Citadel, trapped in a prosaic routine of cleaning bedpans, stacking books and serving soup. As time passes, the routine only grows more disgusting, especially as it becomes difficult to differentiate between the bed pans and the soup bowls. Samwell's face says it all, really.

Below, Jeremy Podeswa, the director of that episode, walks us through the scene for a digital exclusive. 

There was a lot going on in this episode, including, possibly, one of the most humorous scenes of the series: Samwell's soup bowl/bedpan montage at the Citadel. What were your thoughts when you first saw that?

I love a montage so when I read that in the script I thought it was a really fun opportunity to do something interesting. The humour is suggested in the script but just reading it you wouldn't think it would be quite that funny. I didn't imagine it was going to be that funny until we started shooting, and just seeing John [Bradley]'s performance and how we were shooting things it was clear that they could potentially be cut together for comic effect.

How long did it take to shoot?

All in all it was over the course of three weeks, not shooting straight but over the course, adding a bit here and there. The first time I saw it put together by the editor, he did an extended version of it, which was probably eight minutes long — much longer than it is in the show — but it was very, very funny.

In the end it was quite an elaborate sequence. It required building a lot of different sets because we are seeing parts of the Citadel that have never been shown before, including the infirmary and parts of the library, the mess hall and the privy. It was fun to play with a narrative idea, that Sam is really there to attain knowledge and instead he's been given all these horrible jobs and is doing everything but what he wants to be doing. It's the pain of the everyman, who has a horrible job or doesn't get to live up to their potential.

The soup is soup ... the extras were eating it so it was definitely something edible. The stuff that's in the chamber pots, however, not edible.- Jeremy Podeswa

Speaking of, I read an interview with John where it took 50 to 60 hours of shooting. It sounded quite strenuous.

I guess if you add it all together it was quite a lot. I don't know if it was 50-60 hours but it was a lot of scrubbing for him and a lot of putting books away, a lot of ladling soup, a lot of other things. So the drudgery of it, he's a pretty good sport and I think he had a good sense of how it was going to come together.

Can you speak on the composition of the contents of the soup versus the contents of the latrine.

Well the soup is soup, and it was designed to be a kind of gruel-type soup, but the extras were eating it so it was definitely something edible. The stuff that's in the chamber pots, however, not edible.

I read it was fruit cake?

Well, greater minds than mine are working on the constituency of these things so I can't tell you what's in them, only that I had a little part to play in what the final look should be. We were going for maximum horribleness and also believability.

There is a point where everything just begins to look the same.

As we were cutting it together, it became clear that yeah, there is a very direct line from ingesting this soup and then, well, getting rid of it. So we played with that, as the monotony of his routine is this weird horrible cycle, there is also this weird horrible cycle of consuming and releasing, if you will. It's the chain of life really.

Can you talk about what you used for the sound effects, which also seem quite similar and play such a huge role in the delivery.

The sounds aren't similar but they are used in a similar fashion in that they are musical. That was something we wanted to created, there is no music going through this scene, it's really scored by the rhythmic quality of these sounds, whether it's a scrape of the bedpan, the sloshing of soup or spilling out of waste from bedpan, the squeaking of the trolley wheel. We'd just describe it on paper as "squeak, splish, splosh;" it's the rhythm we create through the visual and the sounds that gives it the comic effect. That was very conscious.

Was the process as taxing on you as it was on John?

It was fun. Every time we're in a new location it was an opportunity to play with something interesting. The one thing that gets a little lost in all of this is just how beautiful the images are. There is almost a churrasqueira lighting going on, so you have these classical compositions and this Renaissance lighting, but what's happening is it's all drudgery and things that are a bit icky. There is play between classicism and being iconoclastic at the same time.

Podeswa also talked to q guest host Ali Hassan about coming up as an indie director in Canada and what it takes to put together such an elaborate show. You can listen to that here.​

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