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The Truth About Filming Cersei Lannister's Walk Of Shame On Game Of Thrones

When you think about Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)'s story on Game of Thrones, one big sequence probably comes to mind. As it turns out, the shoot was just as grueling as the scene itself.

In James Hibberd's new oral history, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, the Entertainment Weekly editor at large provides some of the biggest behind-the-scenes secrets of the entire series, including the real story behind Cersei's "walk of shame."

At the end of Thrones' fifth season, as punishment for her various crimes — including adultery with her twin brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) — Cersei, the queen mother of the realm, has her hair shorn and is forced to strip naked for a long, painful walk through King's Landing as she faces her subjects. Behind her, a nun in the Faith Militant walks behind her with a bell, repeating one word over and over again: "Shame." Ultimately, this humiliating display leaves Cersei broken and battered, as well as determined to seek revenge upon the Faith and its leader, the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce).

As Hibberd details, this sequence, which was shot on location in the walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, was just as difficult to shoot as it was to watch. Here's the real story behind Cersei Lannister's famous Walk of Shame on Game of Thrones.

The idea behind Cersei's Walk of Shame has deep roots in real history

The Walk of Shame may seem incredibly cruel and outlandish, but as Hibberd points out, it's rooted in real history that author George R.R. Martin adapted for his fifth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance with Dragons. "Martin's usage was based off the punishment of King Edward IV's mistress Jane Shore in the fifteenth century," Hibberd wrote. "After Edward's death in 1483, the king's brother took the throne and charged Shore with conspiracy, accusing her of 'sorcery' and 'witchcraft.' Shore was forced to endure a penance walk through London wearing only a thin white undergarment while the crowd 'shamed' her."

Martin explained why he used this particular punishment for Cersei, since he knew it would cut to the heart of the character: "It was a punishment directed at women to break their pride, and Cersei is defined by her pride."

Showrunner David Benioff knew just how important this sequence would be, and knew it had to be as intense as possible. "They're trying to shame her," Benioff said." They're trying to humiliate her as much as they possibly can. It's supposed to be like a scene from a nightmare. And the nightmare is you're walking naked in front of a city of people. It's a common anxiety dream to be naked in front of people. I don't think it's as common that you're in your pajamas in front of people. It's much more horrific if they've just completely dehumanized you and taken off all your clothes and you have nothing to hide behind.

Cersei's Walk of Shame faced some huge hurdles during the filming process

However, before shooting could even begin, the show faced two big obstacles. First, the city of Dubrovnik, which represented King's Landing for seven of the show's eight seasons, was unhappy that a naked woman would be filmed against their extremely recognizable backdrop. "During the planning phase, a Dubrovnik church tried to block the Walk of Shame from filming, citing a city policy against 'public displays of sexuality,'" Hibberd wrote. "Producers still managed to get permission but had to switch a key scene to a different location within [Dubrovnik's] Old Town." After adjusting plans to appease a real-life religious institution to display a scene engineered by a fictional one, there was another issue: Headey didn't want to appear nude.

Headey asked to be partly clothed, but since Cersei is nude in the books, producers insisted it remain faithful. "I chose not to be naked for many reasons," Headey recalled. "[After the episode aired] some people thought I was less of an actress because I didn't get my t*ts out. That was really a bit shocking. I've done nudity. I'm not averse to it. But I'm a very emotional actor, and I get really driven by that. In order to do my job, I allow myself to be very vulnerable. I don't know any other way to do my job. Things really affect me."

As Headey explained, she didn't think she would be able to play Cersei effectively and appear nude: "The thought of being naked for three days and trying to contain her in the way she would be... I think I would feel very angry. I didn't want to be angry. I don't think Cersei would be angry. I film every year and I have kids and it was just too much on top of that."

Cersei's Walk of Shame had some huge hurdles during the filming process

Ultimately, producers came up with a solution. Though Headey would perform the walk herself, a nude body double would walk next to her, and Headey's head would later be superimposed onto the double's body using CGI.

After auditioning plenty of candidates, producers found a performer who embodied Headey perfectly: Rebecca Van Cleave, a newcomer to the industry. "Rebecca is a great actress, and she was aware of what it was," Headey said. "It was a long process trying to find somebody who got what it means to physically be there."

When it came time to film, the two actresses charted Cersei's exact path through Dubrovnik's Old Town. "I wanted to make Lena and Rebecca feel like a team," said director David Nutter. "So the day before shooting we went to the location and walked through it, so they had a great tag team as to what they were doing."

Headey has nothing but compliments for the actress who made the scene possible; as she told Hibberd, "It was as helpful for her as she was for me. She was very cool and brave. It takes a lot to walk through the crowd naked for three days with the crowd braying at you. I didn't phone it in; I was there for three days with Rebecca."

Cersei's Walk of Shame was an incredible feat to film

When filming began, the Game of Thrones crew went to great lengths to protect both actresses, according to executive producer Bernadette Caulfield. "We covered most of [the view lines] with umbrellas," Caulfield said. "That was our biggest challenge. We wanted to protect [Van Cleave], and we wanted to make sure just everybody behaved and was respectful of the situation, and we didn't want to offend anybody. We left very little exposed, so to speak."

Even so, it was a daunting task, as Van Cleave remembered: "The first time I took off the robe there was all this anticipation building up to it. But it's such an emotional experience for Cersei, you almost check out of the fact that you're nude. You're so in touch with the scene and what you're going for."

In the moment, with extras screaming obscenities and throwing objects at both actresses, it was quite difficult to maintain composure, but easy to feel what Cersei would really be feeling. "It's not hard when people are screaming at you and you look like sh** and you're being f**king humiliated [to express] how that would feel," Headey admitted." I did what I thought she would do emotionally. And wonderful Rebecca was able to contain herself and be naked. She found it very difficult, obviously. It's not a natural thing to do."

"Some of those shots we got, some of those close-ups, Lena had to go to a dark place to get the right emotion," Benioff recalled. "It's incredibly compelling, yet you almost want to turn away because you're looking at someone who's suffering."

The Walk of Shame was intensely difficult, but ultimately worth it

There's no denying that Cersei's horrifying Walk of Shame wasn't an intense and tough filming process, but in the end, everyone involved agreed that it was worth the final product. "What was really impressive about what David Nutter did with the scene is you feel what it would be like for this to happen to you," Benioff said. "Obviously you, the viewer, are not standing in the street being pelted with sh** and tomatoes and eggs and everything else, but he's letting you feel it. A lot of the shots are first person. You feel quite viscerally the horror of that moment. And once you've been inside a character's skin, it's very hard to loathe them."

As Van Cleave put it, the process was daunting, but also strangely fulfilling: "It was one of the scariest, most wonderful experiences I could have imagined. I never in a million years would have thought I would be in Dubrovnik surrounded by hundreds of crew members and extras throwing food, but it was an amazing and gratifying experience. It helped me; I feel stronger than ever now."

In the end, the sequence was also a testament to Cersei's sheer force of will. "The thing about Cersei is that she's never going to be fully broken," Headey said. "There's something in her that's vengeful and angry and survivalist. You can break every bone in her body, but if there's one left, she will fix it." Cersei later takes her revenge, but there's no denying that her Walk of Shame is a huge turning point for her character.

Cersei's Walk of Shame, as well as the rest of Game of Thrones, is streaming on HBO Max now.