While the special effects and camerawork on Game of Thrones enhances the show's epic battles, the HBO show heavily relies on a team of stunt doubles and stunt performers to portray some of its most memorable fight scenes. Even in the most intense battles, safety remains a priority for the production team, and you can bet that they have it down to a science. Rowly Irlam has acted as the show's stunt coordinator since Season 5, and in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, he revealed that the Game of Thrones stunt team has a safe word to make sure that nobody gets hurt — and it's totally random. "Our safe word was always ‘banana,'" Irlam said.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any scene throughout Game of Thrones' when anyone actually says the word "banana" as part of the scene — in fact, you might never hear it considering that tropical fruits definitely don't grow anywhere near Winterfell. That's probably why "banana" became the safe word in the first place, and it might make you look at the expertly-choreographed fight scenes in a new way.
Irlam explaining the purpose of the safe word to EW, saying, “When we’re doing these battles and people are screaming and crying and dying, you might not know if anyone’s in trouble." He continued, "So If someone started shouting ‘banana!’ at the top of their voice, you’d know they’re in trouble." Hopefully while you're doing your re-watch of all of the first seven seasons of GoT — in preparation for Season 8's premiere on April 14 — you won't hear any faint screams of "Banana" in the background that somehow slipped by the sound editors.
In one HBO featurette featuring Irlam, the stunt coordinator explained that he uses wires and buried mats to make dynamic fight scenes as safe as possible. "It's really controlled. It's a real process," Irlam said. In the scenes in which people catch on fire, the stunt doubles practice falling to the ground where, once the shot ends, a team that they call "safety guys" runs up to extinguish all of the flames. Irlam continued, "We only burn them for 15 seconds cause that ensures that we're not going to have any significant heat transfer." Of course, the stunt doubles also wear layers of heat-protectant clothing underneath their costumes.
Even with all of the many safety precautions that the stunt team on Game of Thrones takes, the fear of something going wrong still plays an important factor in the madness. In the HBO featurette, Irlam said, "With all stunt work it's about harnessing that stress and channeling that kind of energy. Fear is really good. Fear will keep you safe."
While the team of stunt actors who set themselves on fire and fill up the massive battle scenes like Season 6’s Battle of the Bastards has a crucial role in making Game of Thrones so gripping to watch, the cast members you're familiar with get to perform some of the action themselves too. "Sometimes you have to hold them back a little," Irlam told EW, naming the actors who play Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and Jorah (Iain Glen) as some of the actors willing to take on physical stunts.
In some instances in Game of Thrones, it's impossible to figure out whether a fight scene involves a main actor from the show or their stunt double — in 2017 Vanity Fair broke down that amazing sword training scene starring Maisie Williams and Gwendoline Christie to figure out which actor was doing which stunts — but no matter who's doing the fighting, you can be sure that a lot of thought has gone into the scene. It's pretty bananas how incredible these stunts are.