This story about the prosthetic makeup designs of HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and “The Last of Us” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
Barrie and Sarah Gower give off the impression of a delightful couple you would love to have a pleasant afternoon tea with, but they’re also responsible for some of the most nightmare-inducing creations television has seen in recent years. Through their prosthetic makeup design house BGFX Ltd., they have globetrotted while coming up with makeup for such shows as “Stranger Things” (where they created Vecna, the fourth season skeletal horror that dominated the Netflix series’ social media) and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” (where they made up the Night King, among many other formidable figures).
Barrie has four Emmys and nine nominations, while Sarah has one Emmy and five noms. This year, they are nominated twice in the same Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup category, both for shows that reunite them with people they’ve worked with previously: “The Last of Us,” featuring co-creator Craig Mazin, for whom they worked on “Chernobyl”; and “House of the Dragon,” the long-awaited “Thrones” prequel series, which features some familiar faces.
“We met on a production in Budapest on a film that wasn’t very good, if I’m honest,” Sarah said with a laugh. “I was in visual effects at that point and Barrie was in prosthetics. The crew would say the best thing that came out of that whole production is the fact that we met.”
Barrie smiled and affirmed, “I was self-employed as a freelancer and spent 10 years working on the ‘Harry Potter’ films and for various other prosthetics designers. We got offered ‘Game of Thrones’ — the third season hadn’t quite aired yet, and that was our biggest project together as a couple. Every year we finished ‘Thrones,’ we were like, ‘Well, it can’t get any bigger than this.’”
And yet it did keep escalating, as the duo was offered steamrollers “House of the Dragon” and “The Last of Us,” both HBO series that would air three months apart in the channel’s coveted 9 p.m. Sunday time slot. The shows required them to work on different continents, often at the same time (“Dragon” shoots in the U.K., “Last of Us” in Canada). Both required more haunting figures to scare the bejesus out of viewers: the former with its deteriorating King Viserys (played by Paddy Considine) and shock decapitations, and the latter with its shivery “Clickers,” the mushroom-looking zombies with an appearance pitched somewhere between “Night of the Living Dead” and Safeway’s produce department.
“After a couple of months of concept work with (‘Last of Us’ game designer) Naughty Dog, we started doing all our pre-prep, testing various stages of the Infected makeup,” Barrie said. “I think we had about five different stages in total, from very subtle, raised three-dimensional vein prosthetics to more tumorous growths. It started to get more extensive by the fifth stage of infection, seeing the Clicker characters with this sort of full plumage and fungal shapes breaking at the head.”
For “Dragon,” the idea of age-up makeup and decapitated noggins in their nominated episode proved just too irresistible. “Whenever we get scripts, Barrie goes through and picks the makeup and characters he really wants to do,” Sarah said. “That’s how I think we make it work. The advantage we have as a couple is that productions hire Barrie for his artistry and not for his spreadsheets, so he’s able to sculpt for key cast and key makeups. And then I keep the rest of everything ticking along.” Barrie added, “Sarah is incredibly good at organizing and very good with facts and figures and logistics.”
While they say you should not take work home as a couple, the Gowers are more than delighted to do so. It’s not uncommon to see them working with their creations at the homestead, even with a 12-year-old daughter in tow — she does not seem to mind the carnage.
“We’re married, we see each other every single minute of the day. And I think it’s testament to a really good partnership that we haven’t killed each other yet,” Barrie said, laughing.
“To get to hang out with our teams and make cool stuff and to be recognized with awards is the icing on the cake,” Sarah said, then turning to Barrie. “But we’re just having fun, really, aren’t we? This is us having fun.”
Read more from the Down to the Wire: Drama and Limited Series issue here.