Dan Weiss, David Benioff, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones Events, Interview, News, Season 8

Game of Thrones showrunners explain themselves, internet gets angry

Game of Thrones showrunners explain themselves, internet gets angry
#GameofThrones #ForTheThrone #HBO

Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss made an appearance at the Austin Film Festival this past weekend, discussing their 10 years of work on HBO’s mega-hit. While neither a transcript nor video has yet to emerge, Twitter’s own Needle & Pen live-tweeted out much of what they had to say.

There’s already been a lot of reaction to the thread, and much of it has been pretty negative. Needle & Pen, for example, was not a fan of what they had to say, which you may want to keep in mind when reading some of their tweets.

With that, let’s see what we can see, starting with Benioff and Weiss’ account of how they sold the show to HBO:

Among Game of Thrones fans, the story of how Benioff and Weiss sold the show to A Song of Ice and Fire author is well known. By the time they took the meeting, they were both published authors who had also worked in the movies, but had no experience running a TV show. Martin, in turn, had been approached by several movie studio over the years who wanted to adapt Song for the screen, but he turned them all down because he was never comfortable with the direction they wanted to take the story. Then, in Martin’s words, he sat down with Benioff and Weiss for “a lunch that lasted well past dinner.” By the end of it, their passion and knowledge had convinced him to let them pitch the show to HBO.

I’ve seen some folks on Twitter running with the “con” language, which seems pretty overblown. Benioff and Weiss are being self-deprecating, but obviously there was no “con” here. Martin gave his blessing after talking with Benioff and Weiss extensively, and worked with them through to the end. Then they pitched the program to HBO, a sophisticated TV network, which bought it. We’re well above board here, people.

This next bit also raised some ire:

Some people on Twitter are reading this as an example of how Benioff and Weiss “demeaned” fantasy fans. I don’t see it. It’s hard to remember now, but back when Benioff and Weiss were pitching this show, HBO wasn’t known for fantasy or sci-fi; it was the house that The Sopranos built. There’s nothing the matter with tailoring a pitch for the audience you’re pitching to. If you want executives to fund your concept, it’s pretty smart.

And while there are plenty of mothers and NFL players who love fantasy, I take Weiss’ point about wanting the show to have wide appeal. For years, the cliche about Game of Thrones was that it used sex and violence to trick non-fantasy fans into falling in love with the genre. Speaking personally, while I was already a big fantasy fan by the time I started watching, I found the show’s hands-off approach to that part of the story very refreshing.

And finally, even though the show had fewer fantasy elements than the books, we’re still talking about a series with dragons, ice zombies, fire witches, face-changing assassins and all-seeing time-traveling raven boys. This is fantasy, straight up.

Next, the famous unaired pilot:

Again, stories about the “complete piece of shit” original pilot are well-known. Indeed, a copy of the original episode is something of a holy grail for fans and I hope it ends up on a special Blu-ray feature someday.

HBO believed in the project enough to do extensive reshoots. We don’t know exactly what swayed the network, but I wouldn’t be surprised if business considerations played into it, as Benioff and Weiss theorize. Considering the work involved, it’s a small miracle that any TV show makes it to air, and sometimes something as mundane as advance foreign pre-sales can make the difference between a show that goes or a show that dies.

In any case, the pair went back and produced a better product, learned on the job, and went on to create the most successful series of this generation.

That started with casting, including for the key role of Khal Drogo.

The full text, from SyFy Wire. Quoth Benioff:

It was really hard to find a good Khal Drogo. We had all these auditions and no one was quite right. And then we’re looking at some website that had ‘Fan Casting of Game of Thrones.’ A lot of it was kinda knuckleheaded, but some of it was really smart. And there was one person, or maybe a few people, who said, ‘Oh, it should be this guy Jason Momoa.’ And we’d never heard of Jason before — and I apologize to the Baywatch fans — but I haven’t gotten around to it. But I saw a picture of him, we both did, and I thought, ‘Well, that really does look like Khal Drogo.’

And the rest is Aquaman.

Here’s another well-known anecdote: originally, the episodes Benioff and Weiss wrote for the first season came up short, so they wrote new scenes to fill the time. That resulted in killer scenes that really benefited the story, like this…

…and this:

Naturally, writing more scenes for the characters helped Benioff and Weiss get a better handle on who they were. That seems like a pretty natural development to me, so I’m confused by the wide-eyed blushing emoji from Needle & Pen; where’s the surprise here?

That said, I think this tidbit is interesting when paired with Weiss’ comment below about season 8:

It’s no secret that a lot of fans were less than pleased with the final season of Game of Thrones. If you loved it, love it loud and proud, but I can see where the detractors are coming from. To me, the big problem with season 8 was that it was missing the kind of interstitial, character-driven scenes Benioff and Weiss inserted into season 1. I think having more of those types of scenes — conversations between Daenerys and Grey Worm, Cersei and Missandei, Sansa and Arya, etc — would have helped add weight and shape to the more bombastic sequences, and the conversation about season 8 could have been very different.

Clearly, Benioff and Weiss are capable of writing those sorts of scenes, but if HBO had to prod them into doing it initially — the original pilot reportedly suffered from a lack of clarity, as well — it implies that their instinct is to leave that kind of stuff offscreen. I’m not saying this to condemn the two as lazy or incompetent or disrespectful or frauds — they’re obviously none of those things — but rather to build a grand unified theory of why season 8 underwhelmed.

Anyway, by the time seasons 7 and 8 rolled along, Benioff and Weiss had more than earned the right to do the show the way they wanted to do it, and HBO was long past the point of asking them to change. After all, why mess with sky-high success? It’s my theory that, unchecked, Benioff and Weiss reverted to their “less is more” philosophy of writing, which worked no better at the end than it did at the beginning.

Okay, moving on, we have some talk about Benioff and Weiss learned to write in the voices of the characters:

This comment also got some blowback, with some interpreting it as Benioff and Weiss saying the actors were “making up their own stories/characters,” which I think is a reading so uncharitable it’s basically part of another discussion entirely. Benioff and Weiss are storytellers working in long-form television with actors who are going to be playing the roles for years. Writing with an eye towards how an actor will play a scene makes for a better performance. Collaborating with performers is a good thing. Once again, not seeing a problem here.

Next up, questions about Benioff and Weiss’ writing process:

Over the years, Game of Thrones came under fire for not including woman and people of color in its writer’s room , and considering the many sensitive stories the show told about women and people of color in dire straights, I completely agree that it would have been a good idea to get other perspectives.

That said, showrunners have a right to decide how to run their shows, and Benioff and Weiss are far from the first to take a firmer hand at the wheel. Michael Hirst has written every single episode of Vikings, Julian Fellowes wrote every episode of Downton Abbey (the one-writer rule seems to be pretty common on British TV), Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been the sole creative voices behind South Park for over 20 years, Aaron Sorkin wrote almost all of The West Wing before he departed, and on and on.

I think Game of Thrones would have benefitted from having other voices in the room, but there’s far more than one way to make TV, or film a movie, or write a book.

For a break in exhausting reaction theater, here are some fairly innocuous comments about the show’s action scenes:

And finally, Benioff and Weiss talked about whether they took fan feedback into account when writing the show:

Ignoring the glib way this is phrased, there are multiple schools of thought on whether it’s a good idea to interact with and take advice from your fans. Some creators do it, some don’t. Benioff and Weiss don’t, and that’s okay. I’ve spent this entire post defensively responding to what I feel are some pretty reactionary, borderline bad faith takes on recent comments from Benioff and Weiss. I do not blame them in the LEAST for not listening to Google or Twitter when it comes to how to make their show.

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