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What Game Of Thrones Looked Like Before Adding Special Effects

It's hard to believe it's been as long as it has since HBO aired the intensely divisive final season of their fantasy epic, Game of Thrones. While the series' devoted fanbase remains deeply split on the narrative merits of the series' eight-season run, there's little question that it always managed to deliver the goods when it came to pure spectacle.

As the show — based on a beloved, yet frustratingly unfinished series of books from fantasy guru George R.R. Martin — is set amid sprawling medieval-styled lands and populated with fantastical beings like giants, dragons, mammoth ice spiders, and frozen zombies, watching its landscapes and denizens brought to life on screen was always going to be a big part of the fun. Not surprisingly, the Game of Thrones creative team was forced to utilize virtually every option available to them in their big bag of special effects in order to get the job done. 

Though fans of Martin's Game of Thrones novels remain a bit bummed they never got to see those ice spiders on screen, the series' special effects team did manage to manifest most of the writer's wondrous creations at one point or another. In doing so, they also managed to set the minds and imaginations of GoT fans the world over ablaze with no end of cinematically rapturous imagery. Here's what those Game of Thrones images looked like before adding special effects. 

Life beyond the wall on Game of Thrones wasn't so different from the modern world

As impressive as Game of Thrones' run was, it was obviously not without its ups and downs. While opinions tend to very about which seasons of the series were most successful, many would agree season 5 of Game of  Thrones was a little more miss than hit. One of the season's true hits, however, came late in the slate of episodes, and remains one of the most impressive moments in the entirety of the show's 73-episode history. That hit came in season 5's eighth episode, "Hardhome," and found Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and a brave band of followers traveling well north of The Wall in hopes of warning the inhabitants of the titular town of the army of White Walkers headed their way. It also found Jon and company hopelessly facing off against the undead horde in one of Game of Thrones most memorable battles. That battle unfolded within Hardhome, itself, which you can plainly see was not so far removed from the comforts of the modern world before the computers went to work.  

Tormund's wall climb wasn't quite as perilous it looked on Game of Thrones

Speaking of Game of Thrones' famed Wall, the mammoth, icy creation was quite frequently used in service of bringing some serious spectacle to the show, both as home to The Night's Watch's Castle Black and as the only barrier between Westeros and the scary things that lingered in the snowbound world beyond. Of course, for most in Westeros, those scary things included the mostly human Wildlings and Free Folk who, with Jon Snow by their side, set out to climb the vast structure and seek refuge in Westeros in the series' third season. The thrilling climb became one of the purest action scenes in GoT's history to that point, though the clear use of green screen to create the icy perils awaiting any climber who fell certainly takes some of the tension out of scene. 

Dany's dragons aren't quite as fearsome sans special effects on Game of Thrones

While much was made of Game of Thrones essentially writing the Stark family's beloved Dire Wolves out of the show for budgetary reasons, they clearly had no problem pumping loads of cash into creating the dragons that accompanied Emilia Clarke's queen Daenerys Targareyen from the end of season 1 on. Given how prominently Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion featured in the show's narrative as the seasons came and went, series producers hardly had any choice in doing all they could to bring the beasts to life. They did so largely through the use of CGI, of course, and genuinely did so to spectacular effect, as the dragons were frequently the most impressive, often terrifying creations in the series. That being said, they really weren't all that scary before all that CGI work, as evinced by the little green ball standing for Drogon in this scene. 

Game of Thrones used a mix of practical and digital effects to create wights

While Dany's dragons were undoubtedly the most spectacular special effects creation on Game of Thrones, they were frequently given a run for their money in the scary department by the series' depiction of the monster beyond the wall, the White Walkers and their wights. Presented as a mix of dead and undead beings forged in ice and controlled-slash-resurrected by the nefarious Night King, the vile, zombie-like beings were only barely glimpsed in the first couple of seasons of Game of Thrones. Like many of the show's most dangerous creations, they were viewed more frequently as the series went on, eventually taking center stage for the final season's spectacular "The Long Night" episode. As depicted in these before and after pictures, you can see the show's special effects whizzes utilized a savvy mix of practical and digital effects to bring the grotesque beings to frightful life.

Dany's Drogon rides on Game of Thrones took a ton of behind-the-scenes work

As mentioned, when it comes to spectacle on Game of Thrones, one of the areas in which the special effects team truly outdid themselves was in their depiction of Dany's dragons. Most impressive, perhaps, was how they developed the creatures from adorable little fire-breathing gnats to fiery beasts of the sky feared by all but their equally fearsome human Momma. That Mommy-dragon relationship proved vital to the show throughout its run, particularly as the dragons grew and Daenerys began riding them. We can only imagine that, even from the early days of the show, Game of Thrones' special effects gurus were simultaneously dreading and welcoming the challenge of depicting Dany's dragon rides in a realistic manner. We have to say, though, that when the fateful first ride came, the team's use of green screen, CGI, and that giant mechanical bull-dragon contraption made it one of the most magical moments in television history – and those dragon rides only got more intricate, and more impressive from there.