When HBO talked David Benioff and Dan Weiss out of making Game of Thrones movies

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: D. B. Weiss and David Benioff attend the 2019 International Emmy Awards Gala on November 25, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: D. B. Weiss and David Benioff attend the 2019 International Emmy Awards Gala on November 25, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images) /

Game of Thrones ended back in 2019. At the time, debate raged among fans over the ending, which saw Daenerys Targaryen torch King’s Landing only to die at the hands of Jon Snow.

It was shocking, to say the least, but a lot of things on this show had been shocking. What about the eighth and final season in particular upset so much of the fandom?

Opinion remains divided, although an answer a lot of fans will give you is that the final season was “rushed.” And apparently executives at HBO were a little concerned, too, as set out in the pages of James Andrew Miller’s book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers. After talking to high-powered people about Game of Thrones, Miller sets out how the ending nearly took a very different shape.

Game of Thrones showrunners wanted to end the series with a pair of movies

According to Miller’s book, HBO programming president Michael Lombardo wasn’t surprised when Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss told him that seasons 7 and 8 would be their last. After all, making the show had been “an exhausting, unrelenting odyssey.”

However, Lombardo was surprised when Benioff and Weiss told him they intended the final two seasons to be shorter than the ones that had come before. And he was completely bowled over when they told him they wanted to end the series with a pair of theatrical features.

“Lombardo was aghast,” Miller writes. “He didn’t understand why the paying HBO subscribers who’d been faithful to Thrones for eight glorious years would be asked to forsake their living rooms for a movie theater (or two) to witness the finale. And how could any grand finale, one episode or two, or thirty-two for that matter, not take place at HBO, where the series was born, and had been devotedly supported, ever since?”

HBO execs knew fans would complain that the ending to Game of Thrones was “too hurried”

Lombardo asked the guys to think about it and then broke the news then-HBO CEO Richard Plepler. Both of them wanted more episodes so as to “maximize financial benefits to HBO and simultaneously give fans a swan song worthy of this most favored offspring.” So they were hoping that Benioff and Weiss would change their minds. They did…but not all the way.

Two days after that meeting, Benioff and Weiss returned to Lombardo and said they would drop the idea of doing movies. But they were also going to stick with the shorter final seasons. “Key HBO executives already knew at that point that they’d be in for a strong dose of criticism one way or another,” Miller writes. “They had no doubt that many observers would be likely to complain that the final season was ‘too hurried’ and that what could have been the ending to end all endings would instead be a truncated semi-event.”

And those fears more or less came to pass. We don’t know all the details, but what it sounds like is that Benioff and Weiss proposed the idea of two shortened seasons plus two movies, and then ended up deciding to just do two shortened seasons. So did they cram the content that was going to make up those movies into the already shortened seasons? It does indeed seem like a formula for a “rushed” ending.

Could Game of Thrones have ended any differently?

We’ll give the last word to Game of Thrones producer Carolyn Strauss, who provides another perspective. “The guys knew where they wanted to end up story-wise,” she said. “I know there was a lot of controversy about the ending, but the truth is, given the amount of time it took to produce those last six episodes, I don’t know how else it could have been done. I don’t think there was actually a physical way we could have done more episodes without creating another season. It took a year and a half to make that last season. You didn’t want to let so much time though between the seventh and eighth season.”

"Dan and David earned the last word. The guys had delivered on the show for a number of years, the most successful show that HBO ever did. HBO always tries to go with the creators’ instincts. And clearly in this instance, the guys had earned the right to land the plane however they wanted."

Tinderbox is available wherever books are sold.

Next. How to “fix” Game of Thrones season 8. dark

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