In the final season of Game of Thrones, at least one thing is completely different. The show’s opening credits have been remade with brand-new locations, designs, and an improved sense of scale. While the original title sequence swooped and spun over locations across the show’s enormous fantasy world, this one dives inside, showing not just the exteriors but also interior spaces. “This season is a lot more intimate and grounded,” credits creator Kirk Shintani tells Vulture. “Narratively, they are doing a lot more than just flying from location to location. There’s a lot more story to it.”
Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff first approached Elastic, the company behind the show’s title sequence, about the idea of remaking it from scratch several years ago. “Around June of 2017, Dan and David and Greg [Spence, a Game of Thrones producer] came by and said, ‘We want to change everything. Brand new. Let’s do it all over again,’” Shintani says. “We’ve been dying to give this thing a facelift, because we’ve been looking at the same thing for almost nine years.”
Much of the original concept is the same, following the central idea that Shintani, Angus Wall, and others at Elastic developed for GoT’s first season. Wall has worked on the show’s credits from the very beginning — so early, in fact, that he was involved in planning for the infamous original pilot, which involved interstitial map graphics cut in between scenes to show where characters were located. The “down-and-dirty little travel sections,” as Wall describes them, were “horribly interruptive,” which is why they were nixed. But they demonstrated the need for the show’s opening credits to help orient viewers around Game of Thrones’ large map of Westeros and other lands, which became a fundamental idea for what the sequence would become.
Beyond that, Wall helped drive the decision to build the map inside an astrolabe, with the landscape built inside an inverted sphere. The earliest concept for the title sequence came from Weiss and Benioff’s idea of a raven flying from Winterfell to King’s Landing, but the decision to put the map inside a sphere meant that they didn’t have to answer the question of what’s above the horizon (“There’s no horizon when you’re inside a sphere,” Wall explains), and it helped inform the dizzying camera movements from one location to the next. With the map drawn inside a sphere, he says, “Literally you look up and you see the world around you.”
All of those ideas are still in place for the new credits, but the opportunity to remake everything for the final season meant that Wall, Shintani, and the other Elastic animators could add complex interior spaces while also fixing issues that had bothered them since the beginning of the series. “The scale of the original title sequence was always a bit ambiguous,” Wall said, admitting that it was “a little bit fudged.” “It made everybody really crazy. Every season, we would always bemoan the fact that we just really wanted to retexture and re-skin all of the shapes.” For the season-eight credits, they used a human-size figure when designing all of the shapes and textures to eliminate any fudging.
To the casual viewer, though, the biggest difference is surely the view into interior spaces. It was Weiss and Benioff’s idea to move inside the buildings, and as Shintani says, “The biggest thing for them was to start at the Wall.” From there, the new credits move southward before finally arriving in Kings Landing, with the Iron Throne unfurling at the end of the Red Keep. “The show has been inexorably moving towards the Iron Throne,” Wall says. “Being able to go inside allowed us to actually end the title sequence at the throne.”
Figuring out how to animate the experience of entering those spaces while still maintaining the sequence’s clockwork style was tricky, though. For one, each space had to be immediately recognizable even as it was being built, which required careful decisions about what to show from the outside. The spaces also had to be lit, which is one thing for a throne room where light can come from windows, but a different problem for, say, the dragon skull chamber under Kings Landing or the crypts beneath Winterfell. “The crypt is almost completely lit from torchlight,” Wall points out.
The astrolabe surrounding the map has been updated for season eight as well. While Shintani says that diehard fans have “picked out pretty much everything” in the credits, he’s surprised that the astrolabe seems to get less attention. In the first seven seasons, he says the astrolabe’s bands showed images of events “leading up to season one,” but people “haven’t necessarily tried to figure out exactly what the pre-history was.”
In season eight, the astrolabe has three added bands, which feature images not just of that Westerosi pre-history, but also images that “reflect more of what viewers have seen in seasons one through seven.” “There are depictions of seminal events on those,” Wall says.
That doesn’t mean the title sequence creators know any more about the show’s ending than you do, though. Weiss and Benioff gave Elastic a list of places to focus on when developing the new interior animations, and what Shintani described as “just enough” information to help shape the final season’s credits. They don’t know much beyond that.
“Honestly, I’d be a little bummed out if I knew what was going to happen before it happened,” Shintani says. Wall agrees with that sentiment, and he’s glad they don’t get all of the information ahead of time. “Frankly,” he says, “It wouldn’t help very much making each season’s title sequence.”