“Game of Thrones: The Last Watch” could easily be dismissed as HBO’s way of maximizing its ample investment in the series, a glorified electronic press kit to extend the program’s run by one more week. Yet after many viewers spent the final season bashing the show, the two-hour documentary served a dual purpose, offering a reminder of all the grueling work that went into making it.
Director Jeanie Finlay spent a year chronicling the production, spanning locations from Belfast to Croatia to Spain. While the stars and producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss received a bit of screen time, the project went the extra mile to showcase those who don’t walk red carpets, from background actors — shown noshing on snacks during breaks, under hideous makeup — to construction, the cheerful folks who fed this small army and even those responsible for all that fake snow.
Among the unlikely stars of the documentary were Andrew McClay, an extroverted background actor who choked up when his watch finally ended; and Vladimir Furdik, the stunt coordinator who garnered an unexpected taste of stardom as the villainous Night King, who muttered “Back to normal” when his stretch under that guise finished.
Finlay also spent considerable time presenting the weeks of night shoots — prompting one crew member to mutter that he felt like a vampire — amid inclement weather that pushed the production, and those working on it, to their limits.
The stars did get their moments, from Kit Harington’s tearful farewell on his final day of shooting to Emilia Clarke quietly musing in her makeup chair about what life will be like after the show, which both propelled her into the public consciousness and left a lot of people debating the wisdom of having named a daughter “Daenerys.”
“It’s exciting to think, ‘Who am I without this?'” Clarke said.
Perhaps foremost, “The Last Watch” served as a testament to the massive logistical hurdles that the final season of “Thrones” posed, delivering six episodes with the heft of feature films. Executive producer Bernie Caulfield seemed to sum up the mixed feelings that evoked, which oscillated between nostalgia and somewhat guilty relief as the finish line neared.
The narrative choices that defined the closing run will be debated for some time, with the hoopla surrounding the series stoking smaller controversies — from a battle sequence that many deemed too dark and murky to an errant coffee cup being left in a shot — that will surely fade more quickly.
Beyond giving the foot soldiers in the battle to produce “Game of Thrones” their moments in the spotlight, “The Last Watch” provided a clear sense of the toil that goes into such an enterprise. “That new GoT doc is pretty incredible, one of the best portraits I’ve seen of what a huge production feels like from the POV of all the folks doing the day to day work,” Rian Johnson, the director of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” tweeted on Sunday night.
In that regard, wherever and however the series came up short, the message was that for those in the trenches, it wasn’t for lack of trying.