Over on Vanity Fair this week, they’ve posted one of the most exhaustive, epic interviews of Game of Thrones‘ showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff that you’re ever likely to read. It’s a massive longread covering the series from its inception until now, as well as the long history between Weiss, Benioff, and even George R.R. Martin. If you don’t have time a full half hour to read it now, bookmark it and check back this weekend, because it’s must-read for any Game of Thrones fan.
Here, however, are some of the highlights:
Weiss and Benioff talked extensively about the original, failed plot for the series, which was directed by Tom McCarthy (the Station Agents director and Scotty Templeton on The Wire) but was never aired because it was basically a $10 million disaster. It was so bad, in fact, that certain basic information necessary to understand the series never came across, like for instance the fact that Jamie and Cersei were brother and sister. One of the other many problems with the pilot was that all the costumes looked shiny and new, which didn’t exactly fit the era.
Still, despite the expensive disaster, HBO didn’t pull the plug, greenlighting the series for 10 episodes and basically asking Weiss and Benioff to shoot the pilot along with the other episodes. Part of the reason that HBO stuck with it is because they knew that the series would not only play well in America, but that it would be a huge hit internationally.
David Benioff: The thing, I think, that saved us, actually, was, well… the sense that internationally the show might work in a way that a lot of American TV shows don’t, because it’s not about Americans. It’s not set in America, and so there was a sense that there was going to be more of an appetite for this overseas, which turned out to be true, because people from anywhere can relate to it. There are certain things about, say, The Sopranos where, if you happen to be from the states, you’re just going to pick up on some inside jokes that someone in Portugal might not get as readily. But there’s nothing about Westeros that’s got anything to do with U.S. politics.
Dan Weiss: Fantasy is sort of a blank slate that everybody can project their own culture onto. Everybody can read it in their own way.
In talking about the series’ brand of humor, they also revealed that there’s a strong connection between Game of Thrones and Monty Python:
Dan Weiss: You’re very aware of the fact that at any given moment in the show you are probably no more than fifteen degrees away from Monty Python. All you really need to do is turn it and take it there. And it’s so tempting sometimes, because it was another formative influence for me, and it would be really funny to steer it into Monty Python.
David Benioff: To the point where we shot the pilot in the castle where they shot Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Of course, they also touched upon their relationship with George R.R. Martin, and how they convinced him to let them make the series. It began with a lunch conversation, and ended with a question about Jon Snow’s mother:
David Benioff: Yeah. I mean, he—he asked us at the very end of this lunch—George worked here in television, he worked on two different shows, so he had a healthy skepticism of Hollywood and of us, you know, before he met us, and probably even after he met us. And at the very end of that lunch, he said, “Who’s Jon Snow’s real mother?”And it was very much like a test question. It wasn’t like, “Ha-ha!” He asked it and stared at us.
Is it the woman Ned Stark meets when he’s off on the campaign? Did you know the answer?
David Benioff: It hasn’t been revealed yet, in either the TV series or in the books.
Dan Weiss: Basically, it was like: “Guess. I want your guess to be intelligent and I want it to be based in the facts of the world.” Maybe if we had gotten it wrong but had a really good reason for thinking what we thought, it would have been O.K. But it needed to be a good guess.
Did you make a guess?
David Benioff: Yeah, we made a guess. After a nerve-racking silence.
Did you both have the same guess?
Dan Weiss: We had already discussed it. We’d had like a two-hour conversation about it.
So you had nerded out on it already.
Dan Weiss: Luckily, it was pretty well-trammeled territory for us, at that point.
Was the answer satisfactory to him?
David Benioff: It was satisfactory. He gave us his blessing to take it to HBO and pitch it there and see what happened.
Naturally, they also talked about the problem that will likely arise when the series, which they insist will end after seven or eight seasons, passes George R.R. Martin’s progress in the novels:
David Benioff: Well, it’s a little complicated, because we have the five books, but then we don’t have anything beyond that, because he’s still working. It’s sort of an unusual position in terms of adaptation because, you know, we’re catching up. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. And we’ve talked to George. The lucky part is that George works with us and he’s a producer on the show. Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with him and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up, and where exactly that would be. As you were saying before, if you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we sat just down with him and literally went through every character and said, “So what’s the destination for Daenerys? And Arya?”
Did you feel like he knew? Or was he figuring it out?
Dan Weiss: In some case he had very definite ideas, and in other cases he had left those story lines more open, for the time being.
I guess it’s conceivable you could pass him.
David Benioff: Yup.
They both laugh. Maybe a little too hard.
The interview goes into more detail about George R.R. Martin’s progress, and the pressure from his readers to hurry it the f**k up. The distinct impression I took away from the interview, in fact, was not if the series would pass George R.R. Martin by, but when.
Source: Vanity Fair