Game of Thrones showrunners discuss writing season 8


Game of Thrones season 7 will be here in mere days. That’ll last for seven glorious weeks, after which we’ll have to face the grim reality that not only do we have a while to go before season 8, but that it’ll be the last time we wait for a new season of the show.

That’s something showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have been planning for for a long time, as they told TIME. George R.R. Martin gave them the basic shape of the story’s endgame sometime between seasons 2 and 3, as Benioff recalls.

"He had some great stuff that he could share with us, like [Hodor’s death], but a lot of it, he wasn’t sure yet, because he was writing, and he discovers things by writing. For us as TV writer-producers, we have to be architects. Everything has to be planned out really far in advance. And for us, we can’t say we’re going to stop and figure things out for a couple years. We know we have to have a season every year, pretty much. We knew we were barreling towards an ending, because we knew from the start the show would run seven or eight years."

Weiss added that “a lot of the pieces” for the endgame have been in place for years, but that the planning ramped up during the outlining process for season 7, since they planned seasons 7 and 8 somewhat in tandem. “We had ninety percent of this crucial chunk of the story for the final season, and we were mainly talking to George to see how our notion of where things ended up jibed with his notion.”

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Note that this doesn’t mean that the final seasons of Game of Thrones are going to line up with the final seasons of A Song of Ice and Fire. As Benioff points out, “[i]t’s already too late for that…We’ve passed George and that’s something that George always worried about — the show catching up and ultimately passing him — but the good thing about us diverging at this point is that George’s books will still be a surprise for readers who have seen the show.”

"Certain things that we learned from George way back in that meeting in Santa Fe are going to happen on the show, but certain things won’t. And there’s certain things where George didn’t know what was going to happen, so we’re going to find them out for the first time too, along with millions of readers when we read those books. Some people wish we would wait until the books were finished to finish the show, but George works on his own schedule, which is the way any good writer should do it. He shouldn’t be beholden to a TV schedule to finish his novels, that would be completely artificial and would not serve him well. But we do have these actors and they’re getting older, and we have to finish."

As Weiss says, having “a 35-year-old Arya Stark wandering the countryside somehow doesn’t quite feel the same,” and noted that, from the beginning, it was important to them “work as a show,” cognizant of the knowledge that books “have a different carrying capacity for information than television does.”

"We have, almost certainly, the largest cast that has ever been in television, in terms of the sheer number of recurring characters you have that stay in the story for long periods of time. And it’s a fraction of the characters that exist in George’s books. We’re right up at the outward bound of what’s feasible in a television show, that still makes sense to people and still allows for enough emotional connection and investment in these characters."

That’s not to say they didn’t try remaining completely faithful to the books, but even in the early going, it was difficult, as when they tried to fit the actors playing Tyrion and Daenerys with specially colored contact lenses so they would more closely resemble their book counterparts. “The reality of it is that a character who’s in the show as much as Peter [Dinklage] is in the show, to be wearing colored contact lenses every day you shoot is a nightmare,” Benioff said. “I think by the time Emilia [Clarke] came along we were off that idea. But in the initial pilot we see what acting with purple contacts can do to somebody and how much time they spend focusing on the fact that their eyes don’t feel right.”

Still, there’s one scene from season 1 I wish they could have fit in. Remember the Battle of the Green Fork, where Tyrion was smacked on the head right as the battle began and woke up after it was finished? Benioff reveals that the original plans for that were far more elaborate:

"In the first season, there was a battle that we would have loved to have had where Tyrion was going to be behind the Mountain and you would only see the battle from Tyrion’s perspective with the Mountain blocking eighty percent of his field of vision for most of the fight. It would have been great — Alan Taylor had a shooting plan for it that would have made for a great sequence. And at the end of the day we got to those days were coming up and we said those are three shooting days we can’t afford. So we and Alan sat down together and figured out a different way to approach that battle. It was a tough choice but we’ve learned how to be very economical about the shots that we’re getting and the way we’re shooting sequences."

Alan Taylor is directing Episode 6 of season 7, incidentally, so it’s never too late to come back and try something…

Benioff and Weiss also responded to TIME’s suggestion that part of the reason for the show’s success is because its themes of political upheaval resonate in a time when there’s a lot of unrest around the world, to which Benioff said, basically, “Nah.”

"I remember when Lord of the Rings was out and people were saying it was so timely because of the Iraq War and all of these issues. The thing that drew us to George’s books and makes them so relevant whether the time they were written or now is that it’s about people, and power, and the pursuit of power, and how that affects those without power. All those questions really don’t have much to do with current events — or they have a lot to do with current events, but they don’t have much to do with what’s happening that day."

Or, to put it in Weiss’ words, “There’s a reason you can still read Thucydides and it still makes sense to you thousands of years later. Because people fundamentally haven’t changed that much in the past couple thousand years…[T]rying to map [the story] onto anything specific always felt like it was going to flatten it out. If you’re going to do that, it’s going to force you into a schematic that excludes other possibilities that might make the show better and more interesting.”

Not that you care, but that’s always been my reading of the show, too — that it resonates because it deals with stuff that’s been resonating for thousands of years and is still resonating today, rather than being an allegory for anything happening right at this moment.

Finally, Benioff and Weiss addressed the ever-present albatross around their necks: spoilers, which they freely admit they can’t prevent. “We’re probably the most careful of any show out there, or equally, but there’s just too many people have access to things,” Benioff said. “For instance, when Jon Snow was killed, a couple of days before it aired, the images started appearing online…That was really disappointing. And it turned out it was from one of the overseas HBO affiliates, they do dubbing or subtitling and some young person had been in there with a camera. It’s really hard to prevent something like that from happening.”

"That being said, the first few seasons, which were quite faithful to the books, you had millions of people out there who knew that Ned Stark was going to get beheaded, who knew that the Red Wedding was going to happen and the Starks were going to get massacred. And as far as I could tell, it didn’t ruin the show for people…The way it is now, if you want to find things out — and there’s some stuff online that’s completely bogus, which is kind of cool, not that we spread disinformation but some people are out there talking about complete bullshit. And so, first of all, I don’t think anyone out there other than people who work on the show knows what’s actually going to happen, but also, if you want to avoid these kind of spoilers you can. You can avoid going to the sites that talk about them and if you really are desperate to find out maybe you’re going to glean some information ahead of time."

We don’t recommend not going to the sites that talk about the show, though. That would be crazy.

Next: Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman discusses Sam's season 7 adventures in Oldtown

Head here to read the full interview, which is quite detailed. Not long now.