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How They Really Filmed This Brutal Death Scene On Game Of Thrones Season 1

Game of Thrones staged some pretty memorable deaths throughout its run, but this season one death turned out to be a pretty big technical challenge.

According to James Hibberd's recent oral history of the hit HBO show, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, the season one episode "A Golden Crown," which concludes with the brutal execution of Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd), was pretty tough to shoot for all involved, between the intense performances it required and its inherent practical difficulties.

During the scene in question, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Viserys' sister, finally comes into her own after adjusting to an arranged marriage with brutal Dothraki warrior Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Before long, Daenerys, happily married to Drogo, is pregnant with his child, and Viserys, who is anxious to reclaim Westeros' Iron Throne for himself, grows resentful of his sister. However, when he threatens her in front of her formidable husband, he faces a terrible fate as Drogo melts down a pot of gold, killing the Targaryen royal in the most vicious way possible. Here's how Game of Thrones pulled off this brutal death scene during the show's first season.

The Game of Thrones cast and crew were all nervous about Viserys' death scene

As Hibberd notes, "Viserys' death was largely created using practical effects instead of CGI. Actor Harry Lloyd was outfitted with hidden pipes that pushed bubbling steam through tiny holes in his wig."

The episode's director, Daniel Minahan, admitted it was a difficult process. "It wasn't easy to figure out how to pour molten gold over someone's head," Minahan said. "And it was a very expensive wig. We were only going to be [able to] to do one take of it."

During the scene, Lloyd had to play it as if Viserys was incredibly intoxicated, which was quite a challenge: "I was really worried about the drunkenness looking ridiculous. The night before I was watching YouTube videos of drunks, and I wandered down the hotel corridor trying to stumble right. When it came time to shoot I was outside the tent in the freezing cold in Belfast with a hot toddy — tea and honey — and I had a little whiskey from the hotel and put some in there. The vulnerability in the scene came naturally, because it was f**king scary."

Minahan also noted that one of the actors was terrified to shoot the scene, much to his surprise. "What surprised me was how nervous Jason Momoa was, because he was so unflappable and fearless," Minahan recalled. "Before we shot, Jason caught my eye and held up his hand — it was shaking." Momoa agreed: "I was really nervous. I didn't want to mess it up."

Viserys' dramatic death on Game of Thrones was difficult to film

When the time came to shoot Viserys' horrifying death, there were some serious technical considerations. According to Minahan, "Drogo's gold jewelry was made of wax. We threw it in the cauldron, and it began to melt. Then we switched out the cauldron with this bubbling viscous fluid. Then Jason said to Harry, 'Are you ready? I'm going to do it.'"

As Momoa recalled, he was fully present for the entirety of the scene. "There are moments in acting where you're really free and out of your head and you're really into a character," Momoa told Hibberd. "You don't have any anxiety about anything and you're listening and feeling and kind of in a zone. That moment was 100 percent this. I remember reaching out and holding Emilia's belly and having my back to Harry, then saying a word where [the Dothraki] grab him and I'm just trying to be cool and calm and collected. Drogo's no-nonsense. He's done this a thousand times."

Lloyd even went to far as to ask a doctor for advice on how to realistically react during this pivotal scene: "I remember talking to a doctor about it beforehand. He said Viserys is dying from the gold piercing his brain and it would be like a single scream. Then on the day of shooting I was told to scream and make it a bit more demented. It felt like a f**king rush."

When in the moment, Momoa, as it turns out, got really into it; as he remembered, "As I'm pouring it over his head I got very excited. I just started watching him. I think Drogo would enjoy watching people's reactions — like watching him scream with the gold going over his mouth. Then I started to smell him because of the smoke coming up. It was so f**ked up. I remember walking away from that going, 'There's some ancestral sh** here.' Because I just really enjoyed myself. Ultimately, it was a success — as Minahan pointed out, "...It all worked in one take."

"A Golden Crown," along with the rest of Game of Thrones, is available to stream on HBO Max now.