EW Editor Matt Bean shares his experience at SXSW this year as well as his thoughts on ''Game of Thrones''

By EW Staff
March 21, 2014 at 04:00 AM EDT

“Keep Austin weird.” That’s just the sort of credo we can get behind here at ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, and the handful of us who decamped to the 27th annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin last week had no problem settling in amid the thrum of live music, parties, and premieres spread around town.

Austin is proof that good things happen when you take a bunch of talented people — creative, diverse, passionate — and mix them together. At SXSW, you might end up (as I did) in a showroom full of Game of Thrones props, swapping Twitter tips with Arya Stark (actress Maisie Williams) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) while munching Thrones-themed hors d’oeuvres. And hey, is that the medieval monolith himself DJ’ing on stage? HODOR!!!

Our brisket might not match up, but New York thrives on “different,” and I’d like to think we at EW have embodied a bit of Austin’s mad manifesto. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro,” and last week’s Criminally Underrated issue found us championing all manner of under-the-radar material. Recommendations continue to roll in (see sidebar), and the online coverage laid siege to our servers with record traffic. You voted with your clicks, tweets, and letters — and we heard you.

This issue is another standout, led by EW.com TV news editor James Hibberd’s comprehensive Game of Thrones walk-up. (Did I mention where James calls home? You guessed it: Austin.)

You don’t always have to travel to Westeros (or Croatia, as James did) to encounter a wildling, though. Earlier this week, with the cast gearing up for the season premiere here in New York, I found myself watching as the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and the wildling lieutenant Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) settled into the Casterly Rock of the East Coast. Okay, it was the Mandarin Oriental, a ritzy hotel, but an onlooker could be fooled. As Melisandre twirled about in the atrium with a friend, Giantsbane grabbed a window perch in the lobby bar, contemplating Central Park below. It was as if the 35th floor of the Time Warner Center had become the Wall, the roles reversed. Here, the wildling kept watch, still and calm, as the sun set on Manhattan. Here, the Red Priestess danced and smiled, even. And all around them tourists thumbed their smartphones, none the wiser.

A weird world indeed. But would you have it any other way?