For the first several seasons of Game of Thrones, everything between George R.R. Martin showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff seemed to be peachy. Martin consulted on the series, was involved in the casting, and he even wrote a few of the key episodes. Game of Thrones was an HBO juggernaut, and everyone was getting rich off a series that both critics and audiences adored. It was a fantasy paradise.
In fact, before last season when Benioff and Weiss came under fire for casting Pedro Pascal as the Red Viper, Martin even defended the showrunners against whitewashing accusations, though he did note that when and if the show “introduces the Sand Snakes, I expect we will see the same diversity as in the books, ranging from Tyene (blond and blue-eyed) to Sarella (light brown skin, as her mother was a Summer Islander).”
Of course, when it came to casting those two characters, Benioff and Weiss opted against a blond and blue-eyed Tyene and didn’t bother to cast a Sarella Sand at all.
Indeed, as the series began to catch up with George R.R. Martin’s progress on the novels (he’s completed five of seven installments in the A Song of Ice and Fire series), you could begin to see fractures forming in his relationship with the showrunners. He hasn’t outright dissed Benioff and Weiss, but you certainly get the feeling that he has disagreed with many of their choices.
Recall, in fact, the sex scene last season between Jamie and Cersei next to the corpse of their dead son, Joffrey, which many criticized as rape-y. Martin was diplomatic, but it was clear that he didn’t agree with the choice as he struggled to explain the decision, noting “that’s just my surmise; we never discussed this scene, to the best of my recollection.” Martin clearly wanted to establish that it wasn’t his decision and separate himself from it.
More recently, Martin actually went on record to say that he wished that several book characters cut from the series had not been removed by Benioff and Weiss, including one character book readers very much expected to show up in the last season finale.
“[The character] does have a role in the books,” Martin said. “Whether it’s sufficient or interesting enough… I think it is, or I wouldn’t have put her in.” The implication there, of course, is that he thought it was a mistake for Weiss and Benioff to exclude her.
Additionally, last month Martin’s book editor — who may or may not have been speaking for the author — harshly criticized the show for veering away from Martin’s original storyline, noting in a now-deleted tweet, “HBO’s #GameOfThronesSeason5 has gone completely rogue now,” before tweeting the following:
Did Martin agree with her assessment? Who knows, but he certainly didn’t publicly admonish her for speaking out against the series.
Several weeks ago, Martin also didn’t express a lot of enthusiasm for the fact that Benioff and Weiss chose to add in a scene that was not in the books in which Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark.
“David and Dan and Bryan and HBO are trying to make the best television series that they can,” Martin went on. “And over here I am trying to write the best novels that I can. And yes, more and more, they differ. Two roads diverging in the dark of the woods, I suppose.”
Make of that “I suppose” what you will, but I read into a sign of exasperation and maybe even some frustration with the way the series has diverged from the novels.
Then, after this week’s controversial episode in which a young girl, Shireen, is burned alive by her father, Stannis Baratheon (in another scene not yet in the books), Martin didn’t even want to defend the scene or offer a justification on behalf of the showrunners, asking his readers instead to stop pestering him.
Meanwhile, other wars are breaking out on other fronts, centered around the last few episodes of GAME OF THRONES. It is not my intention to get involved in those, nor to allow them to take over my blog and website, so please stop emailing me about them, or posting off-topic comments here on my Not A Blog. Wage those battles on Westeros, or Tower of the Hand, or Boiled Leather, or Winter Is Coming, or Watchers on the Walls. Anyplace that isn’t here, actually.
He also added, “I cannot control what anyone else says or does, or make them stop saying or doing it, be it on the fan-ish or professional fronts,” suggesting that he has no control over what the showrunners do. The subtext there seems to be, “I can’t answer your questions. HBO is doing something completely different than I am. What do you want from me? Please go away and leave me alone.”
The brutal scene that actually provoked Martin into asking his readers to stop pestering him actually came from Martin himself, according to Weiss and Benioff. In the first of many of these instances to come, the series ultimately spoiled the book, which couldn’t have made Martin particularly happy. In fact, he responded to the suggestion that Weiss and Benioff outed the book spoiler, saying, “If I start to comment on what might or might not happen in scenes that I have not written yet, I will be ‘spoiling’ my own books.”
But the disagreements between Martin and the showrunners run more deep than simply the changes the series has made from the source material. Before the fifth season revved up, there was a lot of disagreement between how long Martin wanted the series to run, and Weiss and Benioff’s desires to see end Game of Thrones after seven seasons.
Asked how many seasons the series should go, Martin responded, “We will have a seventh, eighth or ninth, no one knows,” despite the fact that Weiss and Benioff have been adamant about ending it after seven seasons.
I certainly hope that we get to tell the entire story. Because whatever happens with the show I’m going to finish the books, it will be seven books. But each of these books are 1500 pages long and they each have enough material in them for several seasons. I have two more books, the one I’m writing right now, ‘The Winds Of Winter,’ and after that the last book, ‘The Dream of Spring,’ so those will be the two final books. But we’re talking 3000 pages of material. How many seasons that translates too? That’s up to D.B. And David.”
David Benioff, however, seems less interested in telling Martin’s entire story and far more interested in telling the story that he and Weiss have in mind:
We know what the end is, and we’re barreling toward it. So the idea that we’re going to try and stretch it out by an extra couple years just because we’re all having a good time doing it and people are making money off it just feels like it would be a betrayal.
Meanwhile, on that front, HBO seems to be siding with Martin’s desires, as HBO programming president Michael Lombardo suggested a couple of months ago. “We started this journey with David and Dan. It’s their vision. Would I love the show to go 10 years as both a fan and a network executive? Absolutely.”
Basically, what we have here now is a marriage between showrunners and the author of the source material that seems to be faltering. What was once a supportive, encouraging relationship has devolved. The showrunners are no longer consulting Martin. Martin is no longer writing episodes for the show. The author is also done with trying to defend the decisions of Weiss and Benioff, and it seems that he’d much rather his story — his entire story — be filmed than their story, which will be coming to an end long before Martin finishes his novel series.
It’s a quiet, passive-aggressive battle now, but as Weiss and Benioff continue to spoil Martin’s upcoming novels and trod all over his storylines, don’t expect it to remain as peacefully behind the scenes as it has been until now. Winter is Coming, and the relationship between Martin and the showrunners is growing increasingly chilly.