A View from behind the Camera - GoT analysis
When I watch a movie or a TV show the first time through I watch for pure enjoyment or entertainment. The second or any subsequent viewing I tend to focus on different technical aspects. "Why do I think certain camera angles were chosen, what was the motivation of the actor to make a specific choice, how lighting effects a shot?" are just some of the thoughts running around my head at that point. I was thinking I would start a blog here on my website to articulate those thoughts. Since I have been re-watching the last two seasons of Game of Thrones I will start there. In reality this is an exercise for me in scene analysis.
Let’s start with the reunion scene between Jon and Sansa on Game of Thrones, season 6 episode 4. The first significant shot we get is the overhead camera angle as Sansa, Brienne, and Pod ride through the open gates of Castle Black. A high-angle or overhead shot is utilized mainly, but not always, to show vulnerability for the subjects in the frame. In this case Sansa. She is on the run from the tortures of Ramsay and the life she’s endured thus far and entering Castle Black is her hope that Jon will be there. To be reunited with something or someone who can connect her back to her life, her own identity.
Next we have Sansa dismounting. She is specifically directed to have her back to the stairway and landing that Jon is now at the top of. Jon is ONLY seeing a tall, woman in a cloak with red hair. He does not have a clue who she is until the next establishing shot when Sansa turns. He may even be under the belief she is Ygritte come back to life. Jon takes a step back from the railing and we are afforded a closeup of this reaction. Pure shock and disbelief. If I was directing this moment that would be the note I would have given Kit .Remember at this time Jon doesn’t really know who of his family is dead or alive. It would be safe to assume he believes they are all gone.
The next shot we get is a POV cam over Jon’s shoulder looking down into the courtyard of Castle Black. This puts the audience in Jon’s head as he looks at her. The director has framed Sansa between the shoulders of Edd and Jon. Brienne is focused on Sansa with her hand on her sword, as is Pod. This direction was given for the reason that neither of Sansa’s companions know Jon, by look or by personality, so they are watching what unfolds to make sure Sansa is safe with this stranger now gazing down at her.
The POV now shifts to a wider shot of Jon as he descends the stairs. Every action is slow and deliberate. That would be a specific note from the director to all the actors involved. It would have been easy for the director to say “run to one another” but that would diminish the intensity of emotion being conveyed. Also Jon never looks away from Sansa’s face. He is focused solely on her and her alone. We switch POV briefly to focus on Sansa with a medium closeup. She has a touch of fear in her eyes. She honestly doesn’t know how Jon is going to react. Back to Jon in a long angle shot as he completes his cross from the stairs to stand in front of her. We also switch to his immediate POV as he crosses, putting us directly in his shoes and eyes. The distance between them is no accident and would be a marked place by the director and camera crew. They are simply meant to stand that far apart from each other at the moment in the scene.
There is a deliberate pause in the action once Jon stops in front of her. The director likely wanted to build the tension up as we the audience anticipate what might occur to these two characters who have not seen each other since season 1. Also it’s important to remember that Sophie and Kit have NEVER had scenes together until right now. There is a full five seconds before we get the below action. Five seconds may not seem like much but in the theatrical/cinematic world it translates to a lifetime. The amount of time would again be a clear and precise directorial choice. The note to K and S would have been something like ‘take a few beats before you embrace”
The next shot we have is the embrace itself. The type of action is telling as well. It could have been directed as a hug with Jon wrapping her in his arms with her head on his chest or shoulder, despite her taller height it can be done blocking-wise. It could have been a quick perfunctory action. But it’s not. Sansa vaults herself into Jon’s arms knowing that he will catch her. Then the embrace becomes a full bodied meshing of the two of them. We get alternating close-ups of Sansa and Jon’s faces so we can see the emotion that overcomes both of them.
It is also important to note that Brienne has been given the note to leave her hand on the hilt of her sword. The shot is wide enough and angled just enough so that the audience can see that, as well as her head drop when they embrace. She is giving them a moment of privacy in a crowded world. Once again this is a deliberate direction note. Brienne is protector and guardian of Sansa. Until she is sure that Jon is willing to acknowledge Sansa, Brienne is at the ready. Her character demands it.
Finally we need to note the placement of Jon’s hand on Sansa’s back as well as both actor’s reactions to the hug. Neither open their eyes. This would have been purposeful as well. It would convey that the characters are lost in the comfort and familiarity of each other for a moment. The pain of their pasts can drift away for a bit and they can revel in their connection. Jon’s hand rests between the shoulder blades and he moves it up and down in a comforting manner, all the while hugging her as tight as possible. Again this would be a specific note from the director. “Hold each other as if you will never let go again”
The entire scene leaves the audience with the feeling of She is his home and He is hers. It also only occupies one minute of total screen time from Sansa’s entrance through the gates to the crossfade to the next scene. Every camera angle would be precise to tell the story the director wanted in this brief but powerful scene.