On pitching author George R.R. Martin, who wrote The Song of Ice and Fire book series, the HBO show’s source material
David Benioff (Writer/Creator/Exec Producer) The first thing we said was ”We love your books. We think it could be a great HBO series,” half expecting him to say, ”Well, the [movie] studios are offering a lot more money.” He had always thought the only way to do the show was as a series. So that hurdle was passed, and we’re there for five and a half hours, and at the very end of it he said, ”Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?” It was a test question.
D.B. Weiss (Writer/Creator/Exec Producer) We had talked about it amongst ourselves before, and we had an educated guess. Which turned out to be right. Which is why we’re sitting here.
On the struggles of adapting the 1,000-plus-page books
Weiss One of the biggest challenges for us in staying true to the spirit of George’s books was trying to find ways to dramatize a character that didn’t involve giant information dumps.
Benioff If you have a scene where somebody is telling you a 10-minute story about something that happened to them back in the day… I’m not saying that can’t work, but it better be a pretty damn good story because otherwise it’s a guy flapping his lips for 10 minutes on screen.
Weiss For us, that meant putting two people together who aren’t together in the books and playing them off each other.
Benioff We didn’t tell [George] that.
Weiss He still just watches the episodes. He’ll send us report cards.
On course-correcting the show
Benioff We came in and this is the first series we’ve ever worked on. We made a huge number of mistakes in the original pilot. Certain relationships that we thought were so obvious — we’d read the book 20 times! — were not at all obvious to an audience. The last scene of the pilot is when Jaime Lannister [Nikolaj Coster-Waldau] pushes little Bran [Isaac Hempstead-Wright] out the window. We screened the initial pilot for three of our friends. One of them said, ”Now, those two, are they supposed to be brother and sister?” They didn’t even know that Jaime Lannister and Cersei [Lena Headey] were brother and sister.
Weiss And that’s the whole point of the scene! Like, it literally goes out the window.
Benioff The episodes started coming in for season 1 way under time. We have more flexibility at HBO than most networks have, but we still have to be over 50 minutes, and episodes were starting to come in at 42 minutes. We were 93 minutes short for the entire season. So we had this two-week crunch.
Weiss [We had] to churn out basically a script-and-a-half worth of added material, dispersed throughout the season to make the episodes long enough. It really forced us to explore different character-driven storytelling possibilities.
On the pair’s unconventional writing process
Benioff When we were working on the pilot, we tried for one day to do it sitting in the same room. That didn’t work. We were arguing over every modifier. Once we realized that was a complete fiasco, we just decided to split each episode in two. I would take the first half and [D.B.] would take the second half, or vice versa, and then we’d swap halves after we were finished. That’s the way we’ve done it ever since.
Weiss And we haggle over who gets which half.
Benioff We never write together anymore. We’re just passing things back and forth by email.
On sex and ”sexposition”
Benioff ”Sexposition” refers to a scene where there’s some kind of information dump, but you’re distracted from the exposition by the copious sex on screen. Which I think we get unfairly, sometimes, accused of doing. There are some scenes that are just sex scenes and people are like, ”Oh, there’s another sexposition scene.” There’s no exposition in it! It’s just people having sex!
On which character’s they’d invite to a dinner party
Weiss You have to have Tyrion [Peter Dinklage].
Benioff Melisandre [Carice van Houten] is fun because you never know what she’s gonna do. Something strange is going to come out of some orifice.
Weiss I think Khal Drogo [Jason Momoa] is probably a good guy to have at a dinner party. He’d force the fun.
Benioff We thought there should be a spin-off show, Game of Thrones in Heaven. You have all the dead characters in a sitcom, sitting in a room together.
On Thrones‘ success
Benioff We always believed that there would be a certain core fan base, people who are passionate about the genre. I think what we were surprised by was how many people who don’t normally consider themselves fantasy fans came to the show. We found ourselves at dinner parties talking to 80-year-old women who love the show. I never thought we’d get anyone over the age of 50.
Weiss We do a lot of dinner parties with 80-year-old women.