We talk to Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd about covering Game of Thrones

For years now, James Hibberd has been Entertainment Weekly’s Westeros war correspondent,” one of the few people apart from the cast and crew members to have access to the behind-the-scenes secrets of Game of Thrones. Just lately, Hibberd published a wonderful article about his experiences on the set of Game of Thrones season 8, including interviews with the stars and insights into what promises to be the biggest TV event of 2019 ever. “It makes the Battle of the Bastards look like a theme park,” Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister) said of one scene. Go on…

But of course Dinklage doesn’t go on, because then he would be breaking HBO’s prohibition on spoilers and the network would flay him living. Or rather, he might have said more, but Hibberd doesn’t tell us because the only reason he has access to the set in the first place is because he’s established a level of trust with the people who work on it. “There are no restrictions placed on me from HBO or the producers,” Hibberd told us over the phone. “It’s more that I place restrictions on myself being mindful to what I would want to know if I were reading that story.”

I think the vast majority of readers don’t want to know [spoilers], and so I’m trying to write a story that gives you insight into the final season and gives you insight into the production process and gives you a sense of what’s exciting about it but without hitting a line where you’re like, ‘Darn it, I really didn’t want to know that.’

Hibberd is probably more responsible with this information than we would be, but then again, that’s why he’s talking to Peter Dinklage on set and we’re not. But even Hibberd has a limit. “And then of course after the show airs, then all bets are off, and I can’t wait to talk about all this,” he said. Amen.

Hibberd has been covering Game of Thrones since the beginning, when he talked to showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss about the Game of Thrones pilot. According to Hibberd, networks don’t typically hold interviews with showrunners that early in a show’s life cycle, so even back then, there was clearly excitement about this project. “They described the series as Sopranos with swords,” Hibberd remembers. Obviously, that sounded awesome, so he went out and inhaled George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books.

And when I got to the point where Ned Stark was killed, I was so floored, and I realized that something like this has never been done before in television, and then when I got to the Red Wedding I was floored once again, and I realized two things: There’s no way they can actually make this into a show. It seemed absolutely ridiculous and impossible for a television show to try and capture these books. But if they somehow did, it would be utterly fantastic and change television. So pretty early on, I was obsessed with the show, and I was lucky enough during season 2 to go visit the set and I remember finding out something that they didn’t want out there and I kept it to myself because I don’t really like spoilers myself, and I think that sort of created the trust between us and that continues to this day.

It’s good to hear that Hibberd is a fan. “There’s nothing like it on the air now,” he continued. “Not to quote HBO, but it’s really not TV. It’s also really not a film, either. It’s its own really ambitious piece of hundreds of people that work so hard all year round always trying to top themselves. And it’s kind of inspiring to be around and inspiring to cover.”

We’re fully on board with Game of Thrones being a unique beast; nothing else could have rocked the world of TV like it has. But these days, we’re also wondering: with so many shows on the horizon that take inspiration from Game of Thrones — from Amazon’s Lord of the Rings show to an upcoming Wheel of Time show to HBO’s own Game of Thrones prequel — can the success of this show be replicated, or is it more of a one-time lightning-in-a-bottle thing? Said Hibberd:

It’s really hard to know. I tend to lean toward lightning-in-a-bottle…As we’ve seen with other shows like with Lost or The Sopranos, when something really hits really well…it’s very hard to kind of hit that same note again, with as much impact. So I think I’m like the fans on this one, in that you’re sort of skeptical yet hopeful. Because wouldn’t it be great to have another show or two or five that were as impactful as this one?

Here’s hoping.

SAN DIEGO – JULY 23: Actor Andy Whitfield and Hollywood Report’s James Hibberd attend Starz Entertainment’s “Sparticus” Panel during Comic-Con 2010 at San Diego Convention Center on July 23, 2010 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images for Starz Entertainment)

But we won’t have to worry about that for a while yet. The final six episodes of Game of Thrones are still ahead of us, and they promise to be spectacular. In fact, in his article, Hibberd revealed that, back when they were filming season 3, Benioff and Weiss thought the only way to finish Game of Thrones properly would be to do it as a series of movies, since TV budgets were too small for what they had in mind.

I sat on the quotes for six years until now because it suddenly became relevant, not just because, ‘Here’s an anecdote about the final season that you didn’t know,’ but I think it provides some really interesting context for the final season, that it’s something that was so spectacular and difficult to do that they used to think that it was impossible to do without the resources of a feature film and they really thought that was the only possible way to make it work. Yet through HBO stepping up, and also — I suspect, even more so — due to their own success, they were eventually able to get everything they needed.

After Hibberd’s article, I’m more excited for the final season of the show than ever before, which I suppose was the point. Thanks for talking to us, James Hibberd, and keep up the good work! You know we’ll be reading.

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