Spoiler alert: Characters are going to die in the final season of Game of Thrones. This shocking news was delivered without warning by HBO Senior Vice President of Drama Francesca Orsi at the INTV Conference in Jerusalem. Speaking on a panel aptly title “The Best of HBO,” Orsi talked about being present at the table read for the final six episodes.
[It] was a really powerful moment in our lives and our careers. None of the cast had received the scripts prior, and one by one they started to fall down to their deaths. By the end, the last few words on the final script, the tears just started falling down. Then there was applause that lasted 15 minutes.
The bit about everyone crying tracks with what cast members Sophie Turner and Kit Harington said about that same table read, although they left out the bit about the deaths. We hope Orsi doesn’t mean that everyone dies — that’d be depressing even by Thrones standards.
But while the end of Game of Thrones brought tears to the eyes of its stars, HBO executives are upbeat about their plans for multiple prequel shows (or “successor shows,” as the network calls them). “When we were in Belfast in October, Casey said ‘it feels like corporate malfeasance’ to not continue it,” said Orsi, “which is why it’s spawned 3, 4, 5 Game of Thrones spinoffs.” (There are a total of five in development.)
But making a follow-up to Game of Thrones presents a “conundrum” for the network when it comes to budget. Game of Thrones is a wildly expensive show — dragons are not cheap — but when it started, the budget was much smaller than what it is now. “We can’t obviously start with the budget of season 8,” Orsi mused, “but would it be a Game of Thrones season three budget?” Season 8 has a reported budget of around $90 million, while season 3 cost around $50 million.
HBO programming president Casey Bloys chimed in on the issue, as well. “As a show goes on they get more expensive and as shows get more ambitious they will get more expensive,” he said. “More money doesn’t always equal better, but in some cases the scope of ideas do require it.”
The executives ruminated about the changing landscape of TV in general, something that Thrones has been a big part of. Bloys, for one, thinks Game of Thrones would have a harder time getting made nowadays. “If that were today, the [Song of Ice and Fire] books would probably come in packaged with a director and we’d be held ransom for a full season order or probably two seasons, and the problem with that is to get it right we really did have to go through the development process.”
As it stands, HBO has carved a niche for itself in the high-end drama field, with Bloys saying the network is in the “curation business,” while competitors like Netflix are in the “volume business.” To hear him tell it, many creators prefer HBO’s model, because they know their work is going to get more attention.
The more crowded the marketplace becomes, when your brand is curated content, that means something not only to a subscriber but to a creator, going to a place where you know you’re going to be taken care of and maybe fussed over and really involved in marketing. That curation is more valuable now than it was five years ago as we doubled the amount of scripted series, knowing you’re going to a place where you’re going to have a proper launch and attention paid to your show is more valuable as we get deeper into this world.
Orsi was less diplomatic, and took some clear swipes at the competition:
I don’t want to out some of the partners and producers that we work with, but lately a couple of the prestige pieces that have come through our door, they’re passionately saying they want to set it up with HBO and HBO alone because at Amazon they don’t get some of the benefits in marketing, or on ‘Picnic At Hanging Rock,’ they can’t travel the cast to the premiere. Amazon is not paying for the travel, which is somewhat of a disgrace and Amazon needs to know that. [And producers like Luca Guadagnino and Michael Haneke] don’t want to get lost at Netflix.
Finally, fellow HBO drama chief David Levine brought things back down with a tamer endorsement of HBO’s model. “If David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] had five shows with us, Game of Thrones wouldn’t be Game of Thrones,” he said. And who would want that? Not us.