Of all the places to hear Game of Thrones news, I wouldn’t have thought to listen to UFC Unfiltered with Matt Serra and Jim Norton, but, apparently, Serra considers himself “the biggest geek you could ever find with this stuff,” so here we are. After a quick introduction of the “welterweight” series (Benioff thinks The Walking Dead is actually the biggest show on television) creators, the showrunners got down to answering a few interesting questions.
***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones through Season 6 follow Spoilers***
Norton: Is there anything in the books that kills you that you could not put in?
Benioff: Thinking back to Season 1, there was supposed be this big battle where Tyrion Lannister follows The Mountain into combat [*Book Spoilers* at the link] and … we were really excited for this fight because we were gonna have the camera at Peter Dinklage’s eye level and have him follow this giant Mountain into battle, and just see everything. And, frankly … we just ran out of money and we couldn’t do it, so I guess … that was one of the big battles from the book we had hoped we could get onscreen and we never managed to do it. That one still makes me sad.
Norton: You had to kill off some really, really interesting people, and I understand you have to follow the book. Of all the guys you had to kill off … to stay true to the story, which is the hardest one that you had to get rid of?
Benioff: There’s so many that are hard … one of the first ones is Jason Momoa who played Khal Drogo — and that was something that — he came into it knowing that he was going to die at the end of the first season, so it wasn’t a surprise or anything — but Jason became such a good friend of ours over the course of shooting that year, and has remained a great friend of ours. That was a heartbreaker.
Norton: Joffrey was the most … hatable character I’ve ever seen in a television show.
Serra: Ramsay’s up there, too.
Norton: Ramsay at least was a sociopath; this kid was a brat boy king, and we all know somebody like that. I was amazed that you guys killed him off. Is that just what the story called for? … Because I haven’t read the books.
Weiss: Yeah, it was a big thing in the books … and we stuck pretty close to it.
Norton: And I’ll tell you: as far as battle scenes go, in the ‘Battle‘ — the same director, I believe, as in ‘Hardhome’, Miguel Sapochnik — … that battle … I would put that up against anything in Hollywood: Braveheart, Gladiator; that scene was amazing … I guess getting the money … that’s not a problem anymore, with the way that looked.
Benioff: Yeah, ultimately, that comes down to the time, you know. To shoot a battle like that just takes time, so much time, and time is money, obviously … each one of our shooting days is over $270,000 and that adds up, so we just didn’t have the time in Season 1, but, in a way, I think it’s probably better that we couldn’t do it because it never would have measured up to what we were able to do later, and Miguel has got such a great eye for that stuff, and so much is just in the nitty-gritty, in the details … of Jon Snow getting swallowed up in that body pile and …
Norton: That was very uncomfortable to watch … you have to almost look away.
Benioff: And what we really wanted was a a sense of how random it was. At a certain point, it doesn’t really matter how good a fighter you are, like these arrows are falling down from the sky; you can be the greatest fighter in the world, that’s just luck that one of them doesn’t plunk you in the head, and horses are running over everybody left and right, and it’s really not the best and the bravest … who survive, necessarily — it’s the guys who just happen to be lucky in the moment.
Norton: Do you know … how many seasons are left in us, or, uh …
Weiss: Two more.
Norton: Is it a 15-episode maximum?
Benioff: The two seasons will be a bit shorter. We don’t have a definite episode count, but each season will be a little bit shorter, just ’cause each year takes longer and longer to shoot.
Norton: Do you also have the ending; you know how it’s gonna end?
Norton: And how far ahead of the books — Matt mentioned you being ahead of the books — how far ahead are you, and can he catch up by writing a book right up to where you are and pass you, or is he following your lead now?
Benioff: Well, the books pretty much ended where Jon Snow got stabbed, so we’re pretty far ahead of that …
Weiss: I’d say, this year, we’re 90 percent beyond the books.
Norton: I don’t know if it’s taboo … is there room for, like, a prequel type thing? I mean, there’s a million ways you can go with this … Robert’s rebellion, you could put it through Rhaegar’s eyes — Rhaegar Targaryen’s eyes — … there’s a million different scenarios … have you thought about any of that, or is it too early?
Benioff & Weiss: Definitely not.
Weiss: Definitely not taboo … this is such a 24-hour-a-day job that we don’t — we think about thinking about it — but then once we start thinking about it, we realize we have other things, things that are immediately pressing, that we need to be thinking about today. But, yeah. One of the great things about what George did, he didn’t just build a story, he built a world. Like you said, it’s so many characters, it’s just such a rich kind of detailed history behind it, that there are a lot of different ways you could go with it. We just haven’t had time to really think through the details of it; we’re still focused on actually just getting the show made.
Norton: I’ve heard that there’s some type of collaboration [with George R. R. Martin] so that you’re not that crazy far off base, or are you totally independent of each other?
Benioff: We know some of the things he’s doing. I mean, for instance, when we met with him in … Santa Fe … we sat down with him and kind of grilled him about everything, things he was planning, and one of the really exciting things he told us was about the origin of Hodor’s name … and so that was what triggered the scene this past season of Hodor, and we know some of his distant plans, but the one thing George always says is that there are two kinds of writers. There’s gardeners and architects: architects are the ones who plan out everything beforehand; they kind of create the … blueprints for the show … the story they’re trying to tell, and the gardeners are the ones who plant the seeds, and they kind of discover it as they go. They plant the seeds and they watch what blooms, and he’s a gardener, you know, he doesn’t necessarily know everything that’s going to happen until he writes it, so … which is great and that’s why his books are so good. Unfortunately for us, as TV writers and producers, we kind of have to be architects, you know, because we have to write all the episodes before we shoot the season, so we can plan out the entire season. And … for us, we know where we’re going, we know where the final season’s gonna end, and we could write the final episode right now if we had to, so …
Norton: I noticed at the end of this season, there were a lot of people killed off, but there was no one who we really cared about, or who really hurt us to see go, and that to me is kind of what Game of Thrones was known for …
… Was that the fact that it’s harder when you’re in the television world — like Dexter — I heard that the writers wanted to kill off Dexter, but Showtime wouldn’t allow them to. Or, at the end of the first season of Homeland, they wanted to kill off Brody, and the network said no. So, did the network oppose any particular deaths that you guys might have wanted to do?
Benioff: No, absolutely not.
Weiss: One of the great things about working with HBO is they don’t operate that way … I’m sure on some level they’d love to see the show carry on beyond the seasons that we’ve got planned, but when … they trust people they work with, we tell them that the story ends here and there is no real story beyond that end point, like, they, they stick with it … we told them in the beginning we wanna hire Sean Bean to play this role … and we want him to die in the ninth episode, and that was, you know, that was built into the DNA of the show. So, that people live or die, it’s really all kind of down to the dictates of what’s gonna make the best story; there’s nothing, there’s no ulterior motives or forced play in that.
Norton: Let me ask you — my producer wants to know — Gendry … I know he left on the boat four seasons ago and no one has seen him since … can you refresh my memory and tell me what happened to him?
Benioff: Gendry is the blacksmith’s kid … that Arya traveled up North with … he’s the one who Ned came to see in Season 1 because he realized Gendry was Robert’s illegitimate son … the one who realized that Arya was a girl and they became friends … he rowed away from the island at the end, when Davos kind of sets him free …
Weiss: He’s still rowing.
Beniff: … he’s still rowing, it’s a long …[Weiss says something intelligible … ‘back to Florida’]
Serra: So when do you guys come back on the air? Is it April?
Weiss: It’ll probably be later. We don’t have an air date yet, but next year will probably be a little bit later because we’re starting a bit later because, you know, at the end of this season, winter — winter is here — that means that, uh, sunny weather doesn’t really serve our purposes anymore, so we kind of pushed everything down the line so we could get some grim, grey weather, even in the sunnier places that we shoot.