The End of an Era: Rob Ball’s Beautiful Deaths series for Game of Thrones

We bend the knee to the king of Game of Thrones illustrations: Robert Ball.

Beautiful Death, Season Eight Episode Three

After eight seasons and seventy-four images, Rob’s weekly illustrations feel as central to Game of Thrones as the Iron Throne. Entitled, Beautiful Deaths, his series of posters honors the monumental and frequent deaths of every episode. It is through these deaths that we can follow the life of the show as is made evident in the gallery of Beautiful Death images presented below.

For Rob Ball’s final Beautiful Death image, HBO flew out to his studio in London to capture a few of Rob’s final moments working on Beautiful Deaths. Take a look below!

Reflecting on Beautiful Deaths with Rob Ball:

7.3

You have said that you do this for the fans as a fan—what has been your favorite reaction to Beautiful Deaths from another fan? The reaction to the illustrations has been overwhelmingly positive, and has grown from season to season. I’ve become pals with some of the fan accounts along the way. I got a message from a tattoo artist once, who wanted permission to recreate the image from Season 7, Episode 3 (the golden hand and the rose). I appreciated the courtesy of the request and the tattoo – on a very committed fan’s shoulder – was amazing. Rather them than me. The character of the illustrations has changed with fans reactions as people seemed to like to spot references and details, the images became more complicated and more and more oblique.

Of all the posters you created, which was your favorite to make? I really enjoyed Ramsay Bolton’s Beautiful Death – Season 6, Episode 9 – it’s actually one of the images that wanders the furthest away from what actually happened. I’ve depicted Sansa as an angel of death standing on Ramsay’s bones with his dogs stood perfectly still, flanking her. I looked at religious imagery and statues for her pose, I thought it was important that after all she had been through, that Sansa was the main figure, Ramsay was a footnote in his own story. Of course, she doesn’t literally break Ramsay’s arrow, or stand on his bones, or even enter his cell, but it felt right to me.

6.9

What did you think of the finale? How did you decide on the final image? It was like a big fat piece of cake at the end of a seven course banquet, to stretch the metaphor. It had some beautiful moments – I keep thinking back to Drogon shaking off the snow under which he was slumbering – and saved one of the best jokes – Sam Tarley nearly inventing democracy – until the end. Small moments like Arya continuing to call Jon her ‘brother’. It ultimately ended with what Game of Thrones does best, characters around a table, negotiating, outmaneuvering and bickering.

I always felt the last episode would dwell on the Iron Throne, as it’s been the motor driving the plot forward for seven seasons, and I was hoping I would get to draw it. I avoided representing it in any of the previous images, and luckily my instinct paid off. The final image is a combination of a few immediate thoughts. I wanted to show Daenery’s wider story arc, that her path to the throne has been one of bloodshed – as has every major character’s – and that ultimately the idea of her sitting on the Throne was illusory. I wanted to show that the ultimate villain is the Iron Throne, so I wanted to make it look as gothic as possible – lots of black! – and then I picked up Daenery’s line about the Throne being made from a thousand swords. Now I didn’t manage to draw a thousand, but implied the multitude of swords that had been lay at her feet, in allegiance, over the course of her journey.

Final Beautiful Death Poster, 8.6

How has your creative process evolved in your four years making these images? I got more confident to go with my gut instinct. When I started it was really about representing each death in an oblique way, but as the stories became richer and more detailed I started to try and reflect the mood of the whole episode, or at least how I felt about each episode at the time so there’s more tonal variety in the later seasons – quiet images followed by visceral images etc.

4.2

If you could bring one dead character back to life, who would it be?Joffrey. What an amazing character, and as portrayed by Jack Gleeson one of the all-time bad guys.

Which character do you relate the most to from Game of Thrones? I have a lot of Brienne’s characteristics. A bit stiff, a bit awkward, a bit unsure, dogged, overly formal and I try to do the right thing. But without any of her bravery, idealism and sword skills, unfortunately.

How much direction were you given for each image? I was told at the start of each week the subject to focus on – in the case of multiple deaths or ‘fake’ deaths this was important – and the line of dialogue. Everything else was up to me. As the project went on, I had the trust of the client to really do what I felt was right and had pretty much free reign, down to choosing the quotes for the last season.

Describe this project in three words: Fan. Bloody. Tastic.

Can I just say, finally, thanks to HBO, 360i and – most importantly – the fans who have responded to the images over the years. What an honour it’s been! – Rob

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Rob’s work for Beautiful Deaths led him to illustrate additional merchandise for HBO, including a set of limited edition enamel pins and the season box set DVD covers.

Check out the Beautiful Deaths official website here.