TIME

How They Make the Greatest Show on Earth

Game of Thrones nears the end

The battle for Westeros may be won or lost on the back of a lime green mechanical bull.

That’s what it looks like on a January Monday in Belfast, as Game of Thrones films its seventh season here. Certainly no one believes the dragons that have thrilled viewers of HBO’s hit series exist in any real sense. And yet it’s still somewhat surprising to see the British actor Emilia Clarke, who plays exiled Queen Daenerys, straddling the “buck” on a soundstage at Titanic Studios, a film complex named after this city’s other famously massive export.

The machine under Clarke looks like a big pommel horse and moves in sync with a computer animation of what will become a dragon. Clarke doesn’t talk much between takes. Over and over, a wind gun blasts her with just enough force to make me worry about the integrity of her ash blond wig. (Its particular color is the result of 2½ months’ worth of testing and seven prototypes, according to the show’s hair designer.) Over and over, Clarke stares down at a masking-tape mark on the floor the instant episode director Alan Taylor shouts, “Now!” Nearby, several visual-effects supervisors watch on monitors.

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This appears in the July 10, 2017 issue of TIME.

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