10 Hardcore Facts About HBO's Oz

HBO
HBO

When HBO was looking to expand its programming to include hour-long dramas in the late 1990s, the network was intrigued by writer/producer Tom Fontana’s pitch about a maximum security prison and a specific area, dubbed Emerald City, where prisoners could have more leeway in the hopes it would allow for their rehabilitation. Fontana came up with the idea following his work on Homicide: Life on the Street, where murderers were sent away: He wanted to explore what happened next.

Before The Sopranos or The Wire, television’s golden age arguably began on HBO on July 12, 1997, when the premium network premiered Fontana's prison drama Oz. As HBO’s first attempt at an hour-long dramatic series, it laid the groundwork for the dozens of risk-taking, novel, and novelistic shows to follow. On the series' 20th anniversary, check out some facts on the cast, the gore, and the alternate series finale idea that was never filmed.

1. THAT’S THE SERIES CREATOR GETTING TATTOOED IN THE INTRO.

A former playwright, Fontana got his big break in television with the 1980s NBC hospital drama St. Elsewhere. In an impressive display of commitment to Oz—especially since he didn’t know if the show would even last beyond a season—Fontana volunteered his arm to get an “Oz” tattoo for the opening credits montage. The tattoo artist kept retracing his needle work so the crew could get the best take. Eventually, the artist stopped, saying that he “can’t let this guy bleed anymore.”

2. THE GREEK CHORUS MONOLOGUES WERE A NECESSITY.

Viewers who tuned in to Oz were in for a shock—the show featured the kind of graphic violence and casual nudity you’d find in an actual prison. But they were also sometimes puzzled by Fontana’s narrative habit of putting one of the prisoners, Augustus Hill (Harold Perrineau), in front of the camera for fourth-wall-breaking soliloquies. Fontana said he chose this approach because “in prison, guys aren’t that forthcoming about what they think and what they feel because that leaves them open and vulnerable to attack ... so my thought was just to let someone articulate what all this craziness meant.”

3. IT WAS FILMED IN A CRACKER FACTORY.


Max Aguillera-Hellweg - © HBO

To house the sprawling, 60,000-square foot prison set, HBO commandeered an abandoned National Biscuit Company (a.k.a. Nabisco) factory in Manhattan. (The building had been the first to mass-produce Oreo cookies for the company.) The space was obtained after Fontana couldn’t find any empty prisons in which to shoot.

4. PLAYING A NEO-NAZI MADE J.K. SIMMONS DEPRESSED.

Oz is probably best remembered for its sprawling ensemble cast, with actors like Chris Meloni, J.K. Simmons, and Perrineau all going on to successful careers; others, like Ernie Hudson and Rita Moreno, were already well-established. At the time, Simmons appeared to be having particular trouble inhabiting the repugnant skin of Vern Schillinger, the head of the prison’s Aryan population. Simmons referred to Schillinger in the third person and told The New York Times in 1999 that he became “depressed” as a result of the role. In an interview with NPR, Simmons also shared that fans would occasionally stop him in the street to let him know they endorsed Schillinger’s viewpoints.

5. REAL EX-CONS WORKED ON THE SHOW.

For realism’s sake, Fontana instructed his casting director to hire ex-cons as extras whenever he could. Not all of them were relegated to the margins: Chuck Zito, who had a recurring role as Italian mafia heavy Chucky Pancamo, was a then-member of the Hells Angels and had served six years in prison for various offenses. More notably, he received press coverage for allegedly knocking out Jean-Claude Van Damme at a strip club in 1998.

6. FONTANA DIDN’T WANT TO KILL SIMON ADEBESI.


HBO

From the first episode, Fontana made sure viewers didn’t grow too fond of any single character: One of the ostensible leads of the show, Dino Ortolani (Jon Seda), was murdered at the conclusion of the pilot episode, and the series picked prisoners off with regularity from that point on. But Fontana wasn’t trigger-happy when it came to killing off Simon Adebisi, the scheming, toothpick-munching inmate with a tiny hat sitting precipitously on the side of his head, who was played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. “I didn't want to kill that character, but it was a necessity due to the actor's wanting to move on,” Fontana told CNN in 2003, “rather than me saying, 'This is the end of the story.'”

7. ADEWALE AKINNUOYE-AGBAJE EXPOSED HIMSELF AT RANDOM.

Like many of the performers on Oz, Akinnuoye-Agbaje was expected to be comfortable with frontal male nudity—both his own and that of his castmates. According to Fontana, the actor didn’t appear to have many inhibitions about it. “If in a scene it said, ‘Adebisi takes out his penis,’ he would go, ‘I don’t take out my penis in this scene. There’s no reason for me to do that,’” Fontana told The Toast in 2015. “And I’d say ok, Adewale, don’t take out your penis. I don’t care. The next scene he’d take out the penis. It wasn’t scripted for that, but suddenly there was the penis.”

8. IT PREDICTED SPECIAL MUSICAL EPISODES.

Remember the musical episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer? Or Scrubs? Oz did it first. With a cast taken in large part from the New York theater scene, the series was able to assemble an impressive all-song-and-dance episode in 2002. The highlight: Nazi Schillinger (Simmons) and nemesis Tobias Beecher (Lee Tergesen) in a duet.

9. THERE WAS A DIFFERENT ENDING PLANNED.

After six seasons, Oz ended in 2003 with the surviving cast members being—spoiler alert—evacuated from Oswald State following a chemical attack. But Fontana originally wanted to do something else. He recalled reading about a prison town that once flooded, forcing inmates to work side-by-side with citizens to build sandbag barriers to protect the entire community. It was deemed too expensive to shoot.

10. FONTANA WOULDN’T LET HIS MOM WATCH THE SHOW.

Despite her expressed desire to see her son’s work, Fontana told the press he was adamant that his then-75-year-old mother not watch Oz. “She said, 'I know a lot about what goes on in the world,’” Fontana said in 1997. “I said, 'You don't know about this.' This isn't a place I want my 75-year-old mother to go."

All 73 Game of Thrones Episodes Ranked, According to IMDb Users

Kit Harington in "The Battle of the Bastards" episode of Game of Thrones
Kit Harington in "The Battle of the Bastards" episode of Game of Thrones
HBO

Next time you're in the middle of a large gathering of Game of Thrones fans, try this little experiment: Ask them to rattle of their five favorite episodes of the series, in order of preference. While you'll likely hear some of the same titles—"The Rains of Castamere" and "Battle of the Bastards" are practically givens—the order in which each person's favorite episodes rank will surely vary, as entertainment is a subjective thing.

Though it may be impossible to create a definitive ranking of the best Game of Thrones episodes, you can find a general consensus—just like IMDb has. And according to the online movie database's users, "The Rains of Castamere" (a.k.a. The Red Wedding episode), "Hardhome," "Battle of the Bastards," and "The Winds of Winter" each score a near-perfect 9.9 out of 10.

At the bottom of the list for these same users? "The Iron Throne," the series finale that has audiences divided and only managed to score a 4.6 rating on the site so far (though that's according to more than 100,000 people—and growing).

Where does your favorite episode rank? Check out IMDb's ranking of all 73 episodes of the series below to find out.

  1. “The Rains of Castamere,” Season 3, Episode 9 // 9.9
  2. “Hardhome,” Season 5, Episode 8 // 9.9
  3. “Battle of the Bastards,” Season 6, Episode 9 // 9.9
  4. “The Winds of Winter,” Season 6, Episode 10 // 9.9
  5. “The Spoils of War,” Season 7, Episode 4 // 9.8
  6. “Blackwater,” Season 2, Episode 9 // 9.7
  7. “The Children,” Season 4, Episode 10 // 9.7
  8. “The Laws of Gods and Men,” Season 4, Episode 6 // 9.7
  9. “The Mountain and the Viper,” Season 4, Episode 8 // 9.7
  10. “The Lion and the Rose,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 9.7
  11. “The Door,” Season 6, Episode 5 // 9.7
  12. “Baelor,” Season 1, Episode 9 // 9.6
  13. “And Now His Watch Is Ended,” Season 3, Episode 4 // 9.6
  14. “The Watchers on the Wall,” Season 4, Episode 9 // 9.6
  15. “Fire and Blood,” Season 1, Episode 10 // 9.5
  16. “The Dance of Dragons,” Season 5, Episode 9 // 9.5
  17. “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Season 7, Episode 7 // 9.5
  18. “Valar Morghulis,” Season 2, Episode 10 // 9.4
  19. “Home,” Season 6, Episode 2 // 9.4
  20. “You Win or You Die,” Season 1, Episode 8 // 9.3
  21. “The Queen’s Justice,” Season 7, Episode 3 // 9.3
  22. “A Golden Crown,” Season 1, Episode 6 // 9.2
  23. “Mhysa,” Season 3, Episode 10 // 9.2
  24. “Mockingbird,” Season 4, Episode 7 // 9.2
  25. “Book of the Stranger,” Season 6, Episode 4 // 9.2
  26. “Winter is Coming,” Season 1, Episode 1 // 9.1
  27. “The Wolf and the Lion,” Season 1, Episode 5 // 9.1
  28. “The Pointy End,” Season 1, Episode 8 // 9.1
  29. “The Old Gods and the New,” Season 2, Episode 6 // 9.1
  30. “Kissed by Fire,” Season 3, Episode 5 // 9.1
  31. “Second Songs,” Season 3, Episode 8 // 9.1
  32. “Two Swords,” Season 4, Episode 1 // 9.1
  33. “The Gift,” Season 5, Episode 7 // 9.1
  34. “Mother’s Mercy,” Season 5, Episode 10 // 9.1
  35. “Beyond the Wall,” Season 7, Episode 6 // 9.1
  36. “A Man Without Honor,” Season 2, Episode 7 // 9.0
  37. “Stormborn,” Season 7, Episode 2 // 9.0
  38. “The North Remembers,” Season 2, Episode 1 // 8.9
  39. “What Is Dead May Never Die,” Season 2, Episode 3 // 8.9
  40. “Garden of Bones,” Season 2, Episode 4 // 8.9
  41. “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Season 2, Episode 5 // 8.9
  42. “The Prince of Winterfell,” Season 2, Episode 8 // 8.9
  43. “The Climb,” Season 3, Episode 6 // 8.9
  44. “Valar Dohaeris,” Season 3, Episode 1 // 8.9
  45. “Walk of Punishment,” Season 3, Episode 3 // 8.9
  46. “Breaker of Chains,” Season 4, Episode 3 // 8.9
  47. “Oathkeeper,” Season 4, Episode 4 // 8.9
  48. “Eastwatch,” Season 7, Episode 5 // 8.9
  49. “The Kingsroad,” Season 1, Episode 2 // 8.8
  50. “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” Season 1, Episode 4 // 8.8
  51. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” Season 3, Episode 7 // 8.8
  52. “First of His Name,” Season 5, Episode 5 // 8.8
  53. “Sons of the Harpy,” Season 5, Episode 4 // 8.8
  54. “Oathbreaker,” Season 6, Episode 3 // 8.8
  55. “Lord Snow,” Season 1, Episode 3 // 8.7
  56. “Dark Wings, Dark Words,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 8.7
  57. “Kill the Boy,” Season 5, Episode 5 // 8.7
  58. “The Broken Man,” Season 6, Episode 7 // 8.7
  59. “Dragonstone,” Season 7, Episode 1 // 8.7
  60. “The Night Lands,” Season 2, Episode 2 // 8.6
  61. “The Wars to Come,” Season 5, Episode 1 // 8.6
  62. “The House of Black and White,” Season 5, Episode 2 // 8.6
  63. “High Sparrow,” Season 5, Episode 3 // 8.6
  64. “The Red Woman,” Season 6, Episode 1 // 8.6
  65. “Blood of My Blood,” Season 6, Episode 6 // 8.5
  66. “No One,” Season 6, Episode 8 // 8.5
  67. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” Season 8, Episode 2 // 8.2
  68. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Season 5, Episode 6 // 8.1
  69. “Winterfell,” Season 8, Episode 1 // 7.9
  70. “The Long Night,” Season 8, Episode 3 // 7.8
  71. “The Bells,” Season 8, Episode 5 // 6.5
  72. “The Last of the Starks,” Season 8, Episode 4 // 5.9
  73. “The Iron Throne,” Season 8, Episode 6 // 4.6

6 Things You Might Have Missed in 'The Iron Throne,' Game of Thrones's Series Finale

Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Gwendoline Christie in "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale
Helen Sloan, HBO

No matter how you feel about "The Iron Throne," Game of Thrones's series finale, it goes without saying that many fans of the show are in a state of mourning right now. One of the greatest shows in television history has come to an end. And while the ending, unsurprisingly, didn't please everyone, we're still sad to see the series go.

You can, of course, re-watch Game of Thrones at any time—and a repeat viewing of the finale might be a good idea. Emotions were running high during the final episode, which means that you might have missed a few small-but-important details.

1. The Opening Sequence Tweak that Signified the End of the Lannisters' Reign

Game of Thrones's opening credits are regularly tweaked to illustrate changes within the Seven Kingdoms. So it would make sense that the finale’s opening credits contained a few adjustments to account for the destruction of King’s Landing in "The Bells." One change that might have gone unnoticed by many was that above the Iron Throne, the lion head representing House Lannister was absent, signaling that Cersei Lannister was no longer the queen.

2. Daenerys's Depiction as the Angel of Death

Many fans on social media were quick to point out how beautiful the shot of Drogon flying up behind Daenerys was toward the beginning of the episode, which momentarily made it look as if the Mother of Dragons had her own wings. But it also made her look like an angel of death, with the dark lighting and considering the darker tone of the scene. This, of course, seemed to foreshadow her death, which came shortly thereafter at the hands of Jon Snow.

3. An Obvious Nod to The Lord of the Rings

There are multiple references to The Lord of the Rings throughout Game of Thrones, but the finale saw one major parallel between the two fantasy franchises. As Vanity Fair predicted, Game of Thrones's Iron Throne basically became the ring from The Lord of the Rings. And unfortunately, that brings up a comparison between Daenerys and Gollum.

“Like Tolkien’s Ring of Power, the Iron Throne seems to corrupt and breaks all who touch it and all that would possess it. You win the game of thrones, or you die. Daenerys may want the throne the most, and, arguably, has done the most to get it,” Vanity Fair wrote.

Ultimately, the final episode showed the Iron Throne being destroyed—just as the ring was in The Lord of the Rings—and Daenerys was brought down with it. While it’s difficult to see similarities between Dany and a character like Gollum, they did meet very similar fates.

4. Brienne’s Callback to Season 4

Although Brienne of Tarth had her heart broken by Jaime Lannister, she still took it upon herself to fill out his history in the White Book during the finale. We saw the pair discuss this “duty of the Lord Commander” back in season 4, as Vanity Fair pointed out. In the scene, Jaime told Brienne that there was “still plenty of room” on his page. So after his death, Brienne, now the head of the Kingsguard, respectfully recorded all of Jaime’s heroic acts, concluding with how he “died protecting his queen.”

5. Tormund's Prediction of Jon’s Fate

As a fan on Reddit had theorized earlier in the season, it seems Tormund knew that Jon would be back at Castle Black after the battle at King’s Landing. During their farewell at Winterfell, the wildling was not convinced the two would never see each other again. After embracing, Tormund told Jon, “You got the north in you, the real north.” Some thought the conversation hinted at Jon’s fate in the finale, and they were spot-on.

6. The Series' Final Scene Mirroring the Series' First Scene

While countless events have happened between the show’s pilot and its finale—events that changed Westeros forever—the final moments of "The Iron Throne" were almost identical to the opening scene in Game of Thrones's pilot episode. As the finale saw Jon going back up north with the wildlings, we get a scene of them traveling beyond the wall. This is similar to how the series started, which showed a few members of the Night’s Watch treading into the same unknown territory.

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