Faking It: Confessions Of A Game Of Thrones Animal Trainer

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Welcome to Faking It, our monthly guide to the magic of filmmaking. What exactly are two actors doing when they're "having sex" on camera? How do they "do drugs"? What are those phony cigarettes really made of? Join us as we explore the not-so-glamorous underground of faking sex, drugs, violence, and more.
Information is traveling at light speed on this season of Game of Thrones, where news that used to take weeks and months to get from King's Landing to Winterfell is now arriving in what seems like mere minutes. What, exactly, are they feeding the ravens?
Julie Tottman, an animal trainer for Gary Gero's Birds & Animals Unlimited, has worked on some of the show's most memorable episodes, including season 6's "The Battle of the Bastards," "The Winds of Winter," and season 7's epic scorcher, "The Spoils of War." Her other credits include several Harry Potter films, The Dark Knight, and 102 Dalmatians, which she describes as a "dream come true." "I had to play with puppies for six months," she added. "It was actually fantastic."
Now, about those ravens.
"Ravens [eat] meat mix or insect mix," she said. "It really just depends; some ravens get cat food." Usually, trainers will find out what any given animal's favorite treat is and train them with the runner-up, saving the real pièce de resistance for when the cameras start rolling.
So, how does one get this dream job? Tottman was actually considering a future as a dog dresser when a friend's father asked her to stop by the film set he was working on as an art director. She brought the dogs, and left a changed woman. "I just really loved it, and decided, 'Oh my gosh, this is a career,'" she said. We're lucky she did.
Close your eyes and picture Jon Snow without Ghost; Ramsay Bolton houndless; Harry Potter sans Hedwig. Not great, right? Take away their animal companions, and all you're left with is a bunch of man-boys trying real hard to look cool. And where would the Dothraki be without their horses?
Of course, training these animals to perform stunts that range from quizzically cocking their head to carrying a horde of screaming, leather-clad stuntmen across a battlefield, requires a tremendous amount of time, and effort. I asked Tottman how she makes the impossible happen.
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