It's been said that "Game of Thrones" has serious villain problem this season. Joffrey Baratheon, though despicable, was the young, nefarious king you loved to hate. And when the masterful, yet apathetic, Tywin Lannister was on screen, you fought the urge to blink. They were villains, yes, but they were charismatic and fun to watch. This season's primary wicked wrongdoer, Ramsay Bolton, however, lacks that presence.
So, for seven episodes we were left wondering whether or not "Game of Thrones" would ever produce a villain as delightfully iniquitous as Joffrey, as sagely evil as Tywin. Then, a remarkable thing happened: we met the Night's King.
"Hardhome," the eighth episode of the season, was a game-changer for many reasons. The show has never felt as monumental or as daring than in those final 20 minutes. But the formal introduction of the Night's King -- who we met briefly in season four -- was truly incredible. Here was a villain, the ultimate villain, tbh, who doesn't say a damn word yet makes his presence known.
MTV News caught up with the Night's King himself, Richard Brake, and the prosthetics designer on "Game of Thrones," Barrie Gower, to chat about how they designed the show's fascinating new Big Bad, the detailed prosthetics work that was involved and the Night's King's meme-worthy swagger.
"We designed his look a couple of years ago and the original sort of brief is that he is part of the White Walker family and is seen as their sort of leader -- his character is the Night's King," Gower told MTV News. "We had to distinguish him from the rest of the White Walkers. The show’s creators were after a look that gave him quite a regal sort of presence. So, one of the avenues we were sort of exploring -- he didn’t necessarily have long flowing locks of white hair -- but he had almost a crown. Maybe the crown is incorporated into his head. We were talking about a crown of thorns and such, but maybe he has horns, which kind of grow from his skull and kind of give this crown impression -- these sort of translucent icy looking, horns growing from his skull."
"It's actually molded off of my face -- way back a few years ago we did a cast of me, and they basically created prosthetics to go onto my face, my arms as well and pretty much down to my chest," Brake said. "It seems like you just pop a mask on, but it's incredibly much more detailed."
Gower, who is responsible for the prosthetics elements of the show, started working on "Game of Thrones" during its fourth season. In order to design the overall look for the Night's King, he and his team took photos of Brake and created their designs on top of his image.
"We did a Photoshop design, which we presented to the guys, and then we did a couple of tests where we basically took a live cast of Richard and we sculpted the makeup with modeling clay -- it’s quite a long procedure -- and then we separated all the pieces and made molds, translucent, silicon makeup, which consisted of 13 appliances in total," Gower said. "Then we did a couple of tests and did a few adjustments here and there, mostly with color, as to the hue, the tone of the makeup, how blue it was or how grey it was, and how translucent it was. We wanted to achieve this look which kind of had this kind of icy quality to it."
The original design for the Night's King included a prosthetic chest piece, which matched the veiny look of his face and arms. "He originally had an appliance that pretty much went half down his chest, and we created this artwork with these veins," said Gower.
However, that changed upon seeing the costuming for the character. "When we got there that day, we saw he had this sort of polo neck collar on, so you didn’t see part of the work. Sometimes it’s quite nice when that sort of stuff happens, because that shaves off an hour of application time as well," he said. "We were pretty pleased with the end result of the Night's King. He ended up being close to his design."
The show created its incredible army of wights using a mix of both visual and practical effects. However, most of the Night's King's appearance was achieved using prosthetics and makeup. In addition to adding a more striking finish to his eyes, the VFX team added a digital layer of ice over the Night's King face to give him that icy glow.
"With all the white walkers, we’re kind of changing the look of the eyes practically when we actually shoot it there on the day, but then the effects department alters the eyes in post-production," Gower said. "They give them that blue-glowy hue to them, which we can’t really achieve with contact lenses. Then with the Night's King there's a couple shots when he's on the jetty sort of walking along, where they've added this sort of icy layer over the top of him to create this -- it’s something incredibly difficult to achieve practically, prosthetics are cast in a translucent rubber, which can only give you so much of that icy quality, so visual effects help augment it a little bit further to give it more dimension."
Every White Walker on set was also fitted for colored contacts, which they'd apply right before shooting began.
"I’ve not worn contacts before I’ve started this and luckily avoided them with everything I’ve done previous," Brake said. "The contacts -- and this also had to be designed first, and I had to do fittings and all that -- are as big as they can put into a human eye. They’re like dinner plates, massive. Those go in pretty much last -- we leave those until the very end. And I can usually keep them in for four hours and then that's when they come out for a bit. By the end of the day my eyes are just screaming at me, 'Please... please get me out of here.' They are unbelievable."
Funny enough, Brake had slightly better vision when he was wearing the contacts. Although, his line of sight was relatively small. "When I went to do this, I have to go to the optometrist first obviously, and then they checked my eyes out and make the design," he said. "And they discovered -- I’m like 50 now so my vision is slightly [makes noise indicating his vision is less than perfect]. So they're like we’ll put them so you can see better. Literally, they’re better, but all I have a pin hole that I can see through. So I’ve got a pinhole that’s magnified."
Brake spent five days on set to film his "Hardhome" scenes. Each day started at "roughly 2 a.m.," and it took Gower and his team of prosthetic artists -- only "three or four" worked on Brake at any given time, but there were 50 artists in total -- five hours to apply the prosthetic appliances to Brake's head, arms and hands.
"A bald cap goes on first, then I'm painted completely white initially. I feel like I'm living art work -- I just sit there while there's a team working on me at any given time spray painting, with a very intricate spray gun, all this design on my face," Brake told MTV News. "Then they attach these prosthetics, which are at least half-a-dozen pieces if not more. Those have to be really carefully attached to my face, my arms, as well, and my chest. Then they go back over that again with paint -- it’s incredible what they do just to create that look. That takes about five hours, and it takes about two hours to take off. So I have a work day, before I even start work."
"In 'Hardhome,' we’d have new prosthetics every day," said Gower, "Because they all have fine blending prosthetic edges -- the forehead piece will overlap onto the cheek pieces, and it all blends. But when you go to take it off at the end of the day, it’s glued on with a kind of medical adhesive and you can’t tear it off -- it would take Richard’s skin with it -- so we use a mineral oil and remove it all with a brush."
There are 13 overlapping prosthetic appliances for the Night's King in total, and a new set is applied every day on set.
"Once you take everything off, everything is destroyed, so you start the following day with a brand new fresh set of appliances," Gower said. "A lot of labor and time to produce these rubber bits and pieces. And we pre-artwork everything as well. Once you’ve cast these rubber things from a mold, it’s just clear or just one tone and we have to go in and airbrush and paint all these pieces."
"We airbrushed really bold veins and this kind of network of vines all over his head -- very bold: black and dark blue," he added. "Then we stuck these clear pieces over the top, so all these patterns could show through the appliances. Then we used the 13 overlapping appliances, which we glued over his head and we had some rubber pieces on his hands and upper arms as well as around his shoulders and those were the only exposed bits we have on his body, the rest he’s kind of covered with a sort of armor and costume."
Very astute "Game of Thrones" fans may have noticed a minor difference in the Night's King's design from season four to season five: his nails.
"When we did season four, his character had to pick up a baby that had been left on this plinth of ice," Gower explained. "We glued these sort of old extended fingernails on him and every time he went to pick up this baby, they went pinking off left, right, and center. We super glued them to his nails, but what when we did they went pinging all over the place. When we got to season five, we’re going to have to sort this out. So we made these flexible nails that looked rigid to the eye, but as soon as you came in contact with anything, because these guys were riding horses back in season five, so they were holding reins and they were in contact with weapons, we needed something flexible, so we went to flexible urethane nails."
The Night's King's look was completed with a grimy set of fake teeth, which were molded onto Brake's own teeth.
"So obviously, I can’t eat anything with them, because they’re all painted," Brake said. "And then I’ve got fingernails, which are about two inches long. Then the costume isn’t the most particularly comfortable costume. I can’t even go to the bathroom on my own. For me, half of getting ready is making sure I’m really in good shape, that I’m really ready, because it is so intense. I have to watch my diet, if I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of shooting, they’d have to shut production down -- 500 extras, sitting, waiting for me to come out of the porta-potty."
"Miguel [Sapochnik], the director, was great, and one of his big things that he really made me think about what was the Night’s King’s reaction to Jon Snow. Basically, what he’s witnessing everything, and obviously Jon Snow kills one of his soldiers, probably one of his better ones, in that fight with his Valerian steel sword," Brake said. "I’m looking down at that, and then obviously, at the end I have this intrigue with Jon’s character that Miguel definitely put in."
"We kept working those walks and talking about it and a lot of that too came from me thinking about who this guy is in this whole intense story that’s been going on for five seasons now," he added. "He has a kind of darkness that he may represent. Obviously, the Night’s King is clearly a symbol of something very unpleasant in our psyche and he even raises wights from the dead, which is probably everybody’s worst fear, being actually used after we’re dead."
The Night's King, for viewers and Jon Snow alike, is an enigma, and his haunting presence onscreen made quite an impression on fans of the series. For Brake, it was all about capturing that the character's stillness.
"I’ve played a lot of these characters that aren’t particularly pleasant and pretty powerful bad people, and one thing I’ve discovered is that there’s a real stillness to these guys. And even in the case of someone who isn’t even human -- there’s a kind of stillness that is really powerful and it’s kind of like where there is light and there is dark, and I think it really hit me right before we started filming that that’s what I am. And I just went to some kind of very dark, still place."
As for the Night's King infamous message to Jon Snow at the end of episode, in many ways, the memes were spot-on.
"I think it is a challenge to Jon, and I kind of look at what I can do and you know a mixture of things of different things, that come really after him to see what Jon can really do, with killing one of his White Walkers and is obviously maxed out by raising an army of how many thousands of dead. I lost one army over the cliff and you killed a bunch more, but there’s a bunch more so come and stop me."