March 30, 2012 at 03:15 PM EDT

The wait for Game of Thrones season two is nearly over. Get ready for Sunday’s premiere with EW’s in-depth interview with writer-producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners behind HBO’s acclaimed fantasy series. Without revealing any major spoilers, find out which characters get more screen time this year, how the producers pulled off shooting dragons, battles, magic and direwolves, some of the changes from George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” book series, preliminary plans for a third season (yes, Book 3 will be split), and more.

What are some of the biggest challenges of season 2?

Weiss: It’s a bigger fish to fry. It needs to be real battles and dragons and direwolves. And we’ve got all these characters that you’ve hopefully have fallen in love with that we need to keep vibrant. We’ve got all these new people who hopefully will be equally compelling. The way George has dealt with that challenge is to start making the books longer. We will have that luxury if we’re lucky enough to be allowed to continue making the series. But in terms of each season, we got 10 episodes, and that’s literally all that’s conceivable to [produce] of this particular show.

Benioff: You know, what was scary during the first season is you’re doing all this work and you have no idea if it’s just gonna sink into the ocean without a trace. At least knowing that there’s a fan base out there that’s waiting for these shows … that helped a lot.

So it’s more visually grand this time?

Weiss: Yeah. Most shows, once you’ve got the office or the apartment building that it’s set in, you’ve got it.  You have that asset where the vast bulk of your principle action is going to take place. For us, we just keep adding new locations.

Like Iceland. How was that?

Benioff: The whole reason we’re going there, of course, is to better portray North of the Wall. We were actually facing the unsatisfying, extravagant, expensive possibility of snowing up a field in the middle of Ireland and having people walk into green screens. Or we could go to the most beautiful scene on earth and stick people on a the middle of a glacier. It’s just so much more exciting than shooting with a green screen.

Weiss: Our general approach with everything is if there’s something real that we can build on and use effects to turn into our world, that’s always better. It’s always going to be better to start with a real foundation, whether it’s a castle or a canyon encampment, or whatever. In Iceland, there’s not a damn thing you need to do. It looks like no other place on earth.

I heard there was a blizzard? Is that accurate?

Benioff: There was a blizzard. There was a shot where Samwell’s talking to Jon and he looks normal. You cut to Jon, then you cut back to Samwell and he looks like Father Time — like with the snow and the ice just frozen onto his face in just a matter of seconds. It’s really hard to do continuity. [But the actors] never complained once.

Weiss: I knew it was gonna be pretty rough [on Kit Harington] and there’s no shelter out there for six, eight hours in very cold conditions. And I went up to talk to Kit on his first day of shooting and asked, “How you doing?” He said, “I’ve never ever had a day of shooting that I loved as much as this.”

How’s the tone of the scripts evolved this season?

Weiss: There is more humor. It’s about letting light shine in through this dark world. It’s about preserving a sense that there will be people on the show who end up going through the fire and they’re coming out stronger and better.

More sex, less sex, than season 2?

Weiss: It seems about the same. There’s not a checklist. You just have to do what feels right to you and not worry too much about it. [You don’t] start counting how many breasts per episode or how many full‑frontal male nudity shots. There are always going to be people who think there’s too much. There will be some who want to see less. One of the benefits of HBO that we can give a more well‑rounded representation of life. And that sex is a part of it and darkness is a part of it, and so is the humor.

Does anybody have a nude scene in season 2 that didn’t have one in season 1?

Weiss: I will say the answer is yes. I can’t say who.

You also got a bigger budget this time around. Was that tough to get?

Benioff: We went in asking for more money, a considerable sum, in order to shoot the battle scenes. We didn’t get everything we wanted. But [the conversation with HBO wasn’t about] ‘Will this attract more viewers? Is this something that’s gonna pump ratings?’ It was all about why this story needs this big battle. And so it was really a long conversation about how the second season builds towards [a battle sequence].

About that big battle sequence [which I’m playing coy with here for those who haven’t read the book]. Can you give a sense of what that was like to shoot?

Benioff: It was pretty much a month straight of night shoots, which is just tough for anybody unless you’re a vampire. It’s Belfast nights, which means it’s cold and it’s usually wet. There was an incredible amount of mud. It’s tough for the crew, but then when you see it on screen and see how good it looks, you see the way the weather affects people. You see the wind blowing their hair and the rain coming down. None of that’s faked.

Is this season better than season one?

NEXT: Wrangling magic, wolves, dragons, Robb, Jaime and more

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