With the latest Marvel movie opening this Friday, celebrated TV director Alan Taylor moves from Game of Thrones and Mad Men to the gleaming halls of Asgard. It’s a huge step for his career, a fairly logical one given how cinematic his TV output could be.
Taylor has directed episodes for 24 television series, from Oz and The Sopranos, to Lost and Mad Men and Game of Thrones. If there was a prestige drama on television from the late-‘90s onward, it’s a good bet that Taylor put his directorial talents to at least one episode. Now that he’s been snapped up by the movies – and in particular by the big ol’ Marvel/Avengers machine – it’s reasonable to wonder just what is it about this TV director (they say with dripping disdain) that qualifies him to play in one of Hollywood’s biggest, most expensive sandboxes?
These seven episodes, representing merely a fraction of Taylor’s work, may well just make that case for him.
The West Wing: Season 1, Episode 16, “20 Hours in L.A.”
Taylor’s style of action-oriented drama doesn’t seem to mesh all that well with Aaron Sorkin’s talk-bonanzas, no matter how fast the characters are walking while they’re doing it. This particular episode was a rare one for the show, as it took the entire cast out of Washington D.C. and onto a California fundraising excursion. It’s far from the most memorable or consequential West Wing episode, but it does stand out among the crowd.
Sex and the City: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Post-It Always Sticks Twice”
The rare comedy on Taylor’s resume, but Sex and the City kept Taylor in the employ on HBO, and this particular episode continued the trend of directing only the most dramatic turning-point episodes of his respective series. This, of course, was the episode where Berger (Ron Livingston) broke up with Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) via a Post-It note, which is basically the Manhattan equivalent of using wildfire against the Baratheons in Game of Thrones.
Deadwood: Season 2, Episode 4 “Requiem for a Gleet”
If Taylor’s TV career could be characterized by one unifying theme, it would be making the episodic nature of “just one hour amid a whole season of them” feel like something epic. That’s on display no more spectacularly (and excruciatingly) than in “Requiem for a Gleet,” an hour that sees lead character Al Swearengen (Ian McShane) undergo what horrifyingly passed for “treatment” of kidney stones back in awful, lawless frontier times. And all the while, there’s treachery and deal-making and world-building happening all throughout the township that Swearengen would normally be lording over. There’s a palpable sense of exhaustion by episode’s end, not to mention vicarious trauma to spare., and Taylor does his best to make sure we’re all feeling it.
The Sopranos: Season 6, Episode 18, “Kennedy and Heidi”
Another uncommonly action-oriented episode on a series that was always less spectacle-heavy than its reputation would suggest. But the final-season demise of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) was shocking and brutal, and a visceral turning point for Tony (James Gandolfini).
Mad Men: Season 1, Episode 1, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
The Mad Men pilot was an instant sensation among critics, who then proceeded to evangelize the show to anyone who would listen. Taylor’s direction was an integral part of setting the tone for the entire series, from its wide-eyed but knowing view of the nostalgia of the era, to the impeccable period detail, to the seductive ad pitches.
Rubicon: Season 1, Episode 9, “No Honesty in Men”
That’s fine if nobody else remembers Rubicon. I am more than happy to carry the banner for this one-season-and-done AMC series all by myself. Taylor’s one directorial effort was on a mid-season episode that nonetheless featured a kind of mini-arc all to itself, involving the conspiracy minded Will (James Badge Dale) and his across-the-alley neighbor Andy (Annie Parisse), who begin a relationship and find themselves vulnerable to outside sources. Taylor’s TV episodes do often have a sense of mini-movies in the middle of longer arcs.
Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 9, “Baelor”*
Certainly, the cinematic nature of Game of Thrones was a necessary stepping stone for Taylor on his road to blockbuster filmmaking. From the sprawling casts to the fantasy realm to the major, franchise-changing twists of narrative, “Baelor” really stepped up the GoT plot, executing major characters and traumatizing its audience for the first, but by no means the last time.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that Taylor directed the "Blackwater" episode of Game of Thrones. While Taylor has a co-executive producer credit on that episode, it was of course directed by Neil Marshall.