Press Tour: ‘Game of Thrones’ ready for its HBO closeup

Senior Television Writer
01.07.11 15 Comments


“Fantasy and science fiction fans are very intense,” said George R.R. Martin early in the press tour session for “Game of Thrones,” the adaptation of his popular “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of fantasy novels. “I think part of it is the fact that there is relatively little of it out there. Television is full of lawyer shows and medical shows and situation comedies. Fantasy is something that has largely been restircted to books for a long time. The readers of those books, who have their favorite series, are really hungry to see some good fantasy brought to television.”

David Benioff, one of the two writers in charge of bringing “Game of Thrones” to the screen, suggested Martin was selling himself short: “It’s not just the genre, but it’s George’s books that are being brought to television.”

Passion for the “Fire and Ice” books – and for this TV version of it, which is set to debut April 17 – has definitely run high. It’s been more than 5 years since Martin published the fourth in what’s supposed to be a seven-book series, and he said that he’d like to be more hands-on with the series, “but on the other hand, I still have books to finish, and the books are 1500 pages long and take me years to finish, and I have a mob waiting outside my door with pitchforks, and they’re angry about Book 5.”

Benioff and partner DB Weiss have their own pressure to deal with, though they seem confident they know what they’re doing. When a critic asked if they’d already selected a hiding place in case the fans judge the show to be lacking, Benioff said, “I think we got it right, so I’m not worried about it.”

In fact, Benioff seemed most troubled by a sound byte he gave years ago, very early in the show’s development process, where he suggested Martin’s books were “‘The Sopranos’ meets Middle Earth.” He felt it seemed glib, but the idea behind it was that HBO shows take on familiar genres and then explode them: cops with “The Wire,” cowboys with “Deadwood,” mobsters with “The Sopranos,” etc.

“At HBO,” he explained, “you could actually lavish attention on the characters, and with the darkness it requires.

“George’s characters,” Benioff noted, “don’t feel like they come from a fantasy series. They feel like human beings. I think there’s a hunger for that, not just onscreen, but in the books.”

A few other “Game of Thrones” notes:

First, Fienberg participated in roundtable interviews with Martin, Benioff and Weiss earlier today, where they went more in-depth into certain subjects than they could during the press conference. His account of that will hopefully post later this week. In the meantime, he posted a bunch of new photos.

Second, HBO screened 15 minutes of footage from the first episode for the critics, rather than a full pilot, because the effects aren’t done yet. As someone who hasn’t read the books, and who doesn’t like to see scenes from a pilot out of context, I decided against watching the footage and will wait for a completed episode. Fienberg and others who watched the clip reel seemed pleased. (UPDATE: Here are Fienberg’s initial impressions.)

Third, the last time I posted something on “Game of Thrones,” I wondered if it would be a good idea for me to read the books first. I ultimately decided against it. If I’d read them already (as I had with “The Walking Dead”), no biggie. But the show should be able to stand on its own, and I don’t want my reviews to be colored by things I know from several hundred pages (or more) away. So assuming I like the show enough to do regular episode reviews, they’re going to be written from the perspective who knows this stuff only from what’s on the screen.

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