Bryan Cogman. Actor. Writer. Husband. Soon-to-be father. Newt-fancier. A modern day renaissance man.

..."/> Bryan Cogman. Actor. Writer. Husband. Soon-to-be father. Newt-fancier. A modern day renaissance man.


Interview with Bryan Cogman


Bryan Cogman. Actor. Writer. Husband. Soon-to-be father. Newt-fancier. A modern day renaissance man.

A member of the writing team for the first season of Game of Thrones, Bryan Cogman (or “B-Cogs”, as I like to call him) wrote the recently aired episode, Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things. Not only that but he had a hand in outlining the first season. Plus he held the unofficial title of this show’s “keeper of the mythos.” AND he was tasked with blogging about the production for the Making Game of Thrones site. Like I said, a modern day renaissance man.

But how did this Julliard-trained actor end up working behind-the-lens on an HBO show? And what exactly does a “keeper of the mythos” do? And what was it like writing an episode of Thrones? Read on as we talk about his start on the project, his work on the first season, and then go inside episode four and get his thoughts on the writing process!

Winter is Coming: First off, congrats on a second season! Are you looking forward to spending 6 more months in Belfast (or wherever you officially end up filming)?

Bryan Cogman: I love Belfast, love my Belfast friends, and love the Belfast crew, so yes… very happy to be going back. Looking forward to some fish and chips and a proper pint of Guinness. As of now, I don’t know if I’ll be venturing out to the secondary locations, but I hope I get to visit them at least. They’re scouting some very exciting places.

WiC: Cool! So, tell us a little about yourself and your background. How did you get into television and film?

BC: Well, I wanted to be an entertainer of some kind since before I can remember. I’ve been acting since I was a little kid, but I suppose I’ve been writing since then too. My first adaptation of a literary work was my definitive film version of LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD in 1984, when I was five. Some might describe my performance as the Wolf as too “big” for film, but I believe it holds up. Anyway, I’ve always loved TV, film, theatre… did plays in high school, trained as an actor at Juilliard in New York, and worked as a professional actor for years, mainly on the stage. My wife Mandy (also an actor) and I moved from New York to LA about five years ago and I started shifting more of my attention to writing around that time.

WiC: How did you find out about Game of Thrones? Had you heard of the books before working on the show?

BC: No, I hadn’t heard of the books. My wife was David’s nanny. I was working on a pilot script of my own and David offered to read it when I was finished with it. I had only known him for a few months, and figured he was just being nice, but I had nothing to lose, so when I was done with it I gave it to him. He emailed me that night saying I could really write and very generously offered to help if I wanted to pursue it further. So, in addition to giving me some notes on the script, he helped me get an assistant job at NBC which eventually led to a writer’s assistant job on a series called “My Own Worst Enemy.”

Now, while all this was going on, I was devouring the books. David had mentioned he had written this pilot (with Dan) that he hoped would be greenlit by HBO and it was based on a series of novels, so I started reading them. And I’ve never had more fun reading anything in my life. In the back of my mind, I thought I would love to have the chance to be writer’s assistant if the show was picked up. I even wrote a spec script to show David and Dan — it was based on the final chapters of Book 2. Reading it now, it’s laughably bad. Anyway, the day “My Own Worst Enemy” was canceled was the day the “Thrones” pilot was greenlit. Thankfully, I never had to show D&D my spec script because I was offered the assistant job right away.

WiC: So as writer’s assistant, what did you do? Also I believe you were listed as script coordinator for the full season, how was that different?

BC: Well, it’s rather complicated. I was hired as their assistant and I did the script coordinator duties on the pilot as well. But when we went to series, someone else took over as script coordinator and my position morphed into a sort of dramaturg/research guy, plus I was writing for the show. I was being called script editor, but for various boring reasons I can’t be credited that way on the show… so short answer: I’m not sure I have a credit for season one apart from my episode, which is fine.

For season two, I will be Story Editor.

WiC: Ok. Now as we mentioned, you were the writer for episode four. How was the process of adapting George’s words to TV? Was it less or more difficult than writing your own stuff?

BC: We had mapped out the whole season beforehand, so I had the basic beats of what would happen in my episode. Actually, when I was given the assignment, I thought it was just an exercise. We were in post production on the pilot and I didn’t have a whole lot to do and I thought they were just trying to keep me busy. So I had a lot of fun with it. I wouldn’t say it was more or less difficult than my own projects… it’s a different muscle. Then, lo and behold, I turned it in and was informed I was writing Episode Four! Couldn’t believe it. In my wildest imagination, I didn’t think I’d get a writing assignment on the show that fast.

WiC: Can you elaborate a bit on the process of adapting the book to screen for your episode? You say you were given the basic beats of the story, from there was it just a matter of picking and choosing which parts of the book to keep and which to cut? How did you arrive at that decision?

BG: D&D (with some help from yours truly) mapped out the first season in basic rough beats, then David and Dan wrote a more detailed outline. I used that outline to begin work on my script, and of course, went back to the book. I can’t speak to how the guys worked, but when I wrote this script, my first pass was very very close to the book… too close in fact: it would have been impossible to shoot! It was a great lesson. But I did restore a couple of scenes from the book that hadn’t made it into the outline (the small council scene was one), cut a few bits, shuffled stuff around, etc. There are a number of reasons things are cut or changed… sometimes it has to do with something as simple as scheduling, sometimes it’s a creative reason… it varies, but no decision is ever made lightly. Over the course of the year, we rewrote constantly, all the way through production. The Theon/Tyrion scene, for instance, was written and shot well after we’d completed work on most of the episode. D&D, as showrunners and head writers, took a number of passes at it too and are responsible for a number of scenes.

WiC: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in adapting the books to TV?

BC: There were many, but one that comes to mind is how you deal with the dense, rich mythology of George’s world. Finding a way to weave the mythology into the scripts in a dynamic way without resorting to dry exposition-filled dialogue. In a book, you can go into every detail of Robert’s Rebellion, for instance… but the challenge in adapting it for TV was to pick and choose what mythological or “backstory” information was important to reveal and when it was best to reveal it.

WiC: It’s interesting that you mention that because I noticed that your episode seemed to include a good bit of lore, including mentions of minor houses and characters (ie Thoros of Myr) that only fans of the books would recognize. Did you include them on purpose, as a “nod to the fans” so to speak? Or was it just a byproduct of being so immersed in the books and the lore that it naturally ended up in your script?

BC: Yeah, there is a lot of lore in there, isn’t there? I’m a “ASOIAF” geek, plain and simple. There’s a danger of going to far with that, though, so I hope we achieved a good balance.

WiC: I think it did. Also, your script incorporated a number of new scenes, not seen in the book. Did you write these primarily for backstory purposes or for character development or a little of both?

BC: Definitely both. Ep 4 was one of the first we shot, so as the season was coming together, we realized we needed some additional scenes to highlight certain characters, make their arcs clearer, etc. The Tyrion/Theon scene is a good example. We realized as the season was taking shape that Theon’s backstory needed to be serviced a bit more and we needed to establish him in a stronger way in the early episodes. So D&D asked me write a scene for Theon and Tyrion. That was a lot of fun, as they’re probably my two favorite characters in the series. My favorite of the new scenes is one I didn’t write, though: Doreah/Viserys. But I’m happy it’s in my episode!

WiC: One of my favorite exchanges from your episode was the one between Jory and Jaime, especially this part:

JORY: Theon, he’s a good lad.
JAIME: I doubt it.

On paper, it may not look like much, but when acted out superbly by Jamie Sives and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau it is fantastic.

BC: Yeah, I like that scene. I love the idea that the honest northman doesn’t sense Theon’s potential duplicity but the Lannister does.

WiC: Were there any other lines or moments like this that you thought came out much better than you had imagined when writing?

BC: Well, one of my favorite scenes in the episode is the Pycelle/Ned scene, where Ned is investigating Jon Arryn’s death. In the hands of lesser actors, that scene could have been kinda dull — it’s chock full of exposition — but Sean and (especially) Julian infused it with so much humor and tension… I love watching them work. And I’m very fond of Kit and John Bradley as Jon and Sam. John’s take on Sam is superb, I think.

WiC: Agree with you about John Bradley. He makes Sam almost as funny as his Twitter feed! Did you have a favorite character to write?

BC: Aside from the aforementioned Tyrion and Theon… I’d say the Stark kids. Don’t know why… maybe because I’m so fond of them in real life.

WiC: What was your favorite scene to write in your episode?

BC: The tourney scene was a challenge — I hadn’t written many action sequences before that, so it was fun to do. And the opening scenes with Tyrion…

WiC: Any scenes with Tyrion are automatically awesome. Did any scenes of yours end up on the cutting room floor?

BC: Yeah, a few. There was a Catelyn/Rodrik scene that delved into the Littlefinger backstory, but it was never shot. It never really worked because, in theory, Rodrik knows the story of Littlefinger/Brandon/Cat so there was no real way to motivate Cat telling him about it. The guys found a clever way of getting that story out in a later episode. There was an exchange between Arya and Sansa at the tourney that I quite liked, but it was changed just before filming. Ah, well. I can’t complain.

WiC: Were you on set for the filming of your episode? If so, did you end up making any on set changes to the script?

BC: Yeah, I was on set for most of Season One. Once we were filming multiple units I couldn’t be everywhere all the time — so I missed all the Gendry stuff. But, yeah, changes happen all the time… it’s a constantly evolving thing… but at that point, it’s pretty much out of my hands.

WiC: So not only did you write episode four, but you were also ‘lore master’ on the show. What did that all entail? Were you working closely with all aspects of the production: artists, designers, etc.?

BC: Well, I dare not call myself “lore master”, but when I took the job as an assistant on the pilot I wanted to be as helpful as I could, so I just kept reading the books, all four of them, over and over. I also adapted “The Hedge Knight”, just as an exercise for myself. Anyway, as we started prepping the pilot and members of the production team starting coming on, I thought it might be helpful to have a few documents that broke down the mythology in a user-friendly way. I think the first one I wrote was a brief history of Robert’s Rebellion. It took off from there and I wrote a whole bunch. And I made myself available to all the directors, designers, actors, etc… to answer any questions they might have.

WiC: Nice. I would love to get a look at that Hedge Knight spec script…

As “keeper of the mythos,” how often did you have to step in and correct aspects of the lore so they more closely matched books? Do any prominent instances where you had to make a correction spring to mind?

BC: Well, it doesn’t really work that way. I was on set as much as possible and in a lot of the production meetings and would chime in with mythological background as necessary, but keep in mind, this is an adaptation. Several mythological details had to be altered, changed or cut for any number of reasons. I certainly didn’t have the authority to say “Hey! The color on that tunic is wrong! CUT!” My role was to provide the mythological background and resources to help the artisans do their jobs. In any case, I don’t remember any one time where there was a huge error that I swooped in to correct. Everyone on the production worked very hard to honor the books.

WiC: Ah ok. Yeah, I guess you can’t just interrupt filming to make corrections. Although that’s probably why the word “maester” keeps being pronounced differently. ;)

Now, you mentioned that you will be Story Editor for season two. What are your responsibilities as Story Editor? And will you be writing an episode in season two?

BC: It’s a writing staff position, so I’ll have more active involvement in the adaptation of “CoK”. And I’ll pretty much continue as the “mythos guy” on set. I’ll be in Belfast for the duration of production. And I will be writing an episode. Not sure I can reveal which one yet, but there’s a lot of great stuff in it.

WiC: Great! What has it been like having so much fan attention on this production from the very beginning? Has it been more of a positive or negative thing?

BC: It’s been incredible, truthfully, and a testament to the power of George’s story. We’ve been in continual awe at the interest in the show and delighted by the support of the fans and I hope that you guys enjoy our interpretation.

WiC: Any way we could get you to work in an “Always Support the Bottom” or House Gatewatch reference into your episode in season two?

BC: Ha! That would be an interesting challenge… hmmm… I think I have an idea where one of them could go, in fact. Tune in next season to find out!

WiC: Awesome! Can’t wait!

Thanks to Bryan for the interview! It was great to get an inside look at the writing process. And to hear a bit more about how the first season was developed. Be sure to follow Bryan on Twitter @BryanCogman. Also you can check out his acting talents in the latest episode of the web series Tiny Apartment. We wish him luck on season two!