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Game Of Thrones Set Photos That'll Change The Way You See The Show

Since debuting on HBO in 2011, Game of Thrones has plunged viewers into a fully-formed fantasy universe, one filled with magic, royal intrigue, shocking violence, grand love, and even grander warfare. From the birth of dragons to the Red Wedding and the fall of the Wall, the show has continually managed to blow viewers' minds on a scale never before experienced through the small screen.

Behind the scenes, things are very different, though no less mind-blowing. A peek behind the curtain reveals a number of facts that may surprise even the most diehard fans of the show, from the part special effects play in helping to bring the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond) to life to the true-life relationships of the cast and crew and the often hilarious — and sometimes blurry — line between fantasy and reality that can get mixed up on set.

With that in mind, here's a look at some set photos that will change the way you look at Game of Thrones.

Best of enemies

While it should come as no surprise that the real-life relationships between professional actors rarely mirror the ones they portray, it can still throw fans for a loop to discover bitter onscreen rivals are in fact super-great buds.

Such was the case with Pedro Pascal, who played the fiery, doomed Oberyn (a.k.a. the Red Viper), and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who played his sworn enemy, Gregor Clegane (a.k.a. the Mountain). Their shocking and — shockingly gruesome — duel in season 4 remains one of the most memorable moments of the series, which is why this picture of the two hanging out and soaking in some rays was so surprising to see.

But while the difference between their onscreen and offscreen relationship may cause fans to do a double take, the contrast in their real-life physiques is exactly how they were depicted on the show, with the world's strongest man Björnsson towering over his svelte pal.

Goofing off on set

Just as actors who play enemies are often great friends behind the scenes, so too can fictional friends be real-life enemies. There's a long and infamous history of professional rivalries in showbiz, and with a cast as big as the Game of Thrones ensemble, not everyone can be expected to get along.

However, for the most part, the Game of Thrones cast often appear to be a big happy family offscreen. Among the most cherished relationships we've seen depicted is the one between the young members of House Stark and their family caretaker, the gentle giant Hodor.

Actors Isaac Hempstead Wright (who plays Bran Stark), and the big man himself, Kristian Nairn, can be seen here goofing around with some set props. Their friendship easily translated to the screen, which made the eventual tragedy of their parting (poor, poor Hodor) all the more devastating for viewers.

Seeing (stunt) doubles

Just like in the series, where people can literally change faces, to say nothing of allegiances, not everyone working behind the scenes is necessarily who they appear to be. Anyone who has ever spent time on a set knows the important roles that stand-ins and stunt doubles play. These individuals provide coverage for the actors between — and sometimes even during — filming.

Actress Emilia Clarke's knockout stand-in and stunt double, Rosie Mac, has received a good share of media attention over the course of the show's run, thanks in part to backstage photos like the above, which she often posts on her social media accounts. Here she can be seen hanging out with her fellow professional doppelgängers.

These stand-ins look so similar to the show's famous leads that it's difficult to tell them apart at first glance. This has to have led to some embarrassing confusion from time to time.

Setting the stage

As important as the actors are to bringing the world of Game of Thrones to life, so too are the crew members — from the people operating the camera to the ones setting up the lighting and those supervising the script in order to ensure there aren't any errors in continuity. A story this epic in scope and length entails hundreds of professionals working tirelessly at their craft.

Among the most important of these crew members is Deborah Riley, who serves as the series' lead production designer. One of the reasons the show has caught on with so many people is because so much of it feels real. And it feels real because much of it is real: Many of the grand locales are shot on location, rather than on a stage or studio backlot.

This successful illusion of reality is further cemented by the intricate, but subtle, set decoration, which captures the viewer's attention without being so dazzling as to distract from the drama of the story or the performances of the actors.

World building

Of course, not every locale that appears on Game of Thrones is the real deal. The globe-spanning story often requires huge natural vistas that fill the viewer's entire field of vision.

Location filming isn't always an option, so in order to achieve a believable replication, the effects crew will alternate between real and digital locations, often (as seen in the picture above) through a combination of the two. This type of visual trickery is nothing new in and of itself — Hollywood movies have long used painted backdrops as stand-ins for natural scenery — but the seamless blending of outdoor filming with mobile greenscreens is just one of the modern achievements in the field of CGI.

Given how unforgettable many of these large-scale scenes have proven (think Hardhome or the Battle for the Wall), it's fair to say that the show's special effects team has perfected this kind of digital enhancement.

Raising the dead

The same technology used to build the show's epic sets is also used to perfect the gorier details, especially when it comes to myriad fantastical creatures such as this menacing Wight.

Taking their cue from other hit series such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones' special effects maestros have given us some of the most unique monsters in recent memory: zombies, giants, direwolves, and of course, the fearsome White Walkers.

The combination of makeup effects and digital enhancement allows them to fill in little details — such as missing body parts — that would have previously proven improbable, if not outright impossible. They also allow for the show's actors to engage with a physical being, imbuing the action with a sense of verisimilitude.

Watching the finished version, you'd probably be hard-pressed to separate the practical from the digital, which is why it's often so surprising to look at it this kind of work in its unfinished form.

Hours in Makeup

Of course, for as advanced as CGI has become, there's nothing quite like old-school practical effects. The Children of the Forest — the ancient race of faerie-like spirits who set the battle between humans and White Walkers into motion — have a truly startling look that comes as the result of painstaking makeup work.

The process to turn an actor into one of these strange mythical beings is a long one, often clocking in at over five hours at a time. It requires an almost superhuman attention to detail from the makeup artists, as well as great patience on the part of the actor.

While fans of the show have never been shy with praise when it comes to the makeup effects, they may still find themselves shocked at how challenging the process truly is. Factor in the amount of characters whose require this and even more credit should be given to the makeup artists.

Imagined Dragons

Then again, not everything can be done with practical effects. One of the questions fans of the books asked when the series was first announced (and throughout its first season, which, in comparison to later years, had a much smaller visual scope), was how such an epic story could be realistically adapted. This was especially concerning, since television was not, at that time, known for grand spectacle. Foremost among their concerns was the show's ability to bring Daenerys Targaryen's dragons — so integral to the plot over the course of the story — believably to life.

While these concerns were well-founded, it turned out the showrunners knew exactly what they were doing; as a result, they have given us arguably the definitive screen dragons of the modern era. For these fantastical creatures, practical effects just weren't practical. Onset photos of Emilia Clarke interacting with lumpy puppets may strike you as silly on their own, but they should also inspire true appreciation when compared against the finished product.

The world beyond Westeros

For all that goes into making the world of Game of Thrones seem real — be it practical effects and locations, or digital SFX — it's worth remembering that humdrum reality is always going on just beyond everything you see.

As this picture, taken during filming of the final episode of season 7, shows, GoT's cast spend their time between takes like the rest of us do during our downtime: chatting, laughing, looking at their cellphones. While no one should expect them to stay in character when the cameras stop rolling (it's not as though Daniel Day-Lewis is part of the cast), there's still something kind of dizzying about seeing actors Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey dressed in full costume, scrolling through pictures on an iPhone.

Where's the Lord of Light When You Need Him?

Equally dizzying is seeing these actors on location, battling against the elements. Such is the case with this picture posted by Carice van Houten, who plays the sinister witch Melisandre, in which she can be seen trying to keep herself warm between takes.

On the show, Melisandre is utterly unflappable. She is able to stoically weather (no pun intended) her surroundings no matter how harsh the conditions thanks to the power she's achieved through her practice of the dark arts. In real life, van Houten is as susceptible to the cold as the rest of us mere mortals. "Red Woman Reality" indeed.

This good-humored picture should serve as a reminder that being a successful actor isn't always as glamorous as it's made out to be.

Happy birthday, dear Kingslayer

Just because the actors have to leave their comfort zones every once in a while, it doesn't mean they can't make the best of it. As seen here, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (who plays the morally ambiguous Jamie Lannister) found time to celebrate his birthday while tied to a stake and covered in mud and grime.

This picture is a further testament to the lively and familial atmosphere fostered on the Game of Thrones set, as well as the ability of the cast to alternate between real-life joys and intense fictional woes.

Given the nature of the scene during which this picture was taken, it does make us wonder: how often were dark and disturbing moments within the show filmed in between happy celebrations like this? Was anyone celebrating an engagement while they were shooting the Red, Purple, or Black Wedding? If so, it sure must have been awkward.

A happy reunion...or a potential resurrection?

One thing that should come as no surprise to fans of the show by now is the close bond between the cast. Considering how many characters have been killed off within the story, they've probably gotten used to saying goodbye to one another — which is why it's cool to see cast members from earlier seasons, such as Jason Momoa (who played the late, great Khal Drago) hanging out with his former coworkers.

According to Momoa's Instagram account, he met up with his Game of Thrones buds in Belfast, during filming for the final season. His pictures literally changed the way fans thought of the show, in that they sparked lots of speculation that the once-and-future Aquaman would be returning to the series in some capacity (Dream sequence? Resurrection? Wight?) for its last episodes.

Regardless of whether this turns out to be the case, or if Momoa really was just hanging out with old friends, it's another peek behind the scenes that has Game of Thrones fans looking at the show in a new light.