'The Leftovers' showrunner: 'We live in a clickbait-y media culture that exists to pick things apart'
While interviewing Damon Lindelof for season 2 of his HBO drama The Leftovers as part of EW’s upcoming Fall Preview mega-issue, he repeatedly referenced another show: Game of Thrones. So we asked the Lost and Prometheus writer-producer who famously quit Twitter last year his opinion of Thrones’ most recent fifth season—which generated fan and media controversy amid some daring storytelling moves.
In response, Lindelof delivered impassioned, impromptu take on the fantasy series—and reactive online fandom culture. Lindelof has a unique history with the series—as he points out below, he was once indirectly knocked by Thrones author George R.R. Martin for the ending of Lost (Martin later regretted that his comment received so much attention). Here’s Lindelof (note: contains season 5 GoT spoilers):
I love Game of Thrones. I read the first three books, and I was just finishing Book 3 when the show premiered. And right around the time that Ned died in season one I felt that rush of book reader’s superiority— “I knew that it was going to happen and nobody else did.” But it was also intermingled with jealousy for the people who did experience it first onscreen. That’s where I stopped reading the books. Book 4 was already out, and 5 was on the verge of coming out, and I was like, “I would love to get to a place in this show where I am genuinely surprised.”
I know there’s discourse now on the Web as to the deviances from the books, but all the Theon stuff was beyond Book 3 for me. So [in season 5 I was] experiencing the show completely and totally cold—and I was surprised. I was very surprised by a number of things that happened this season. As someone who makes television, I watch that show and I do not know how they do it. I just don’t understand, on a sheer logistical level, of how they’re able to produce that qualitative of a product in the amount of time they have with so many different locations and so many different parts.
Are there storylines that I am more invested in than others? Of course. That’s always going to be the case when six or seven different things are happening at any one time. But as a storyteller, if you can make one, let alone two, excellent hours of television a season if you’re doing eight or 10 episodes—an excellent episode by all accounts—I think what people don’t realize is that in order to produce those excellent episodes, there have to be episodes that set that up. There also have to be episodes that begin to—although this is never a storyteller’s intent—make [the viewer] go, “I don’t know, I don’t know about this…” That makes those excellent episodes all the more special. And when I was watching [episode 8] “Hardhome” this season, I was just like, “That’s one of the most excellent hours of television I’ve ever seen.” It’s excellent for different reasons than “The Suitcase” episode of Mad Men is excellent, but it’s just amazing. I just sat there with my mouth hanging open. I’m literally watching five minutes of silence—that whole moment where Jon Snow is going off into the water and looking at The Night’s King and he’s doing his “Come at me, bro” moment. And I was just like: “There’s nothing better on television, right now, than this.” You only need to demonstrate excellence once a season for me to view the entire season as excellent, or the entire show as excellent. And Game of Thrones is able to do it at any one time.
I don’t watch television to find things to gripe about, and I think we live in a clickbait-y media culture that exists to pick things apart. I love-watch Game of Thrones, so I’m immensely forgiving of things that perhaps are not the strongest attributes of the show. And despite the fact that George R. R. Martin has flamed the Lost finale, there is a schadenfreude aspect of me saying, “Well, I kind of hope Game of Thrones sucks at the end, too, so they’ll know it feels to have somebody say that to you.” But I don’t think the Lost finale sucks. And I want Game of Thrones to end awesome, because I’m a huge fan, and I have every reason to believe that it is going to end awesomely.
But when you are in the zeitgeist, and when you are loved, there’s this part of it—people threaten to stop watching, people say “it’s not as good as it used to be,” people say, “If you kill this character, I will stop watching the show.” One of the things that people fell in love with about Thrones was its willingness to kill anyone—but you can’t kill Jon Snow, you know? You can kill anyone—but you can’t kill Tyrion. And you can’t kill Dany. As long as you don’t kill those three. And it’s like: “But I thought you loved the show because we killed Ned Stark! He was the un-killable character!” So we have to be willing to do that.
… And I see people pushing against Thrones where it’s like, literally from week to week, someone will say, “This is the most excellent show, this season is firing on all cylinders, it’s never been better.” And then because of one story move—Stannis burns his daughter—suddenly [the reaction is] like, “I cannot watch this show anymore. I’m quitting you, Game of Thrones.” And I’m thinking: “No, you’re not. Don’t be an ass.” That’s like my 8-year-old saying, “We’re not best friends anymore.” When I see a blogger—thank God I’m not on Twitter anymore, because I get into all sorts of trouble—or a critic, or a recapper say, “I’m done with your show,” if I were running that show I would call them up and say, “You are not allowed to watch my show anymore. I’m going to f–king alert everybody in your life to watch you. I’m going to hire a private eye to tap your media consumption, and you better not ever watch it again. Are you sure you want to do this?”
It’s like you get in a fight with someone you love, you storm out of the room, and you say this is over. And then an hour later, you’re apologizing for being an asshole … Thus concludes my soapbox.
The Leftovers premieres Sunday, Oct. 4. Full trailer.
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