Season One of HBO’s Game of Thrones has come and gone and left a dedicated following of slightly shell-shocked fans in its wake. There’s little romance to this fantasy about warring families, political intrigue and the bloody struggle for power, and with a narrative dominated by grim realism we ought to be prepared for the worst, but even so the brutal turn of events is often refreshingly confronting and shocking. Few series are as courageous or brutal in the killing off of key characters in the interests of furthering the story (Spooks aka MI5 comes to mind). One of the show’s writers, David Benioff, infamously described Game of Thrones as “The Sopranos in Middle Earth”, but a more apt analogy for this uncompromising tale of political intrigue and warring families is probably Dune with broadswords.
I’ve said this before and I’m not too proud to repeat myself: Game of Thrones is seriously good television, a sophisticated adaptation of a complex, sprawling and intelligent work of fantasy for an adult audience. The direction and production are superb, the cast is remarkably strong and the adaptation itself, penned by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, is inspired.
In contrast to Fox which we’ve seen axe quality shows such as The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Firefly at the drop of a hat (or at least dropping audience numbers), HBO recognised early on that it had something special with Game of Thrones despite somewhat lacklustre ratings for the premiere(2.2 million of HBO’s reported 40 million plus subscribers tuned in). Prepared to invest in quality TV however, a second season was quickly confirmed, adapting A Clash of Kings, Book Two in George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire. “We are delighted by the way David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have brought George R.R. Martin’s amazing book series to the screen, and thrilled by the support of the media and our viewers,” HBO president Michael Lombardo commented in April. “This is the continuation of an exciting creative partnership.”
Since the premiere the ratings have climbed steadily, but the unofficial number of viewers (in this day and age of torrents and other fiendish means of accessing content online) is undoubtedly much greater: the reaction from bloggers and on forums and the like has been uniformly exuberant and for reasons of geography (if nothing else) it’s highly unlikely that all of those praising the show actually subscribe to HBO! The show has only aired in a limited number of countries so far (and let us say that the commentary has been somewhat more geographically dispersed than that). Cable provides a limited audience, and I have no doubt that when the series is released on disc and makes its way to free to air TV, it will achieve a remarkable following.
Filming of Season Two is set to commence in July and we can expect an air date on HBO (and torrents everywhere) sometime in April 2012. Production will remain in the UK, with studio filming in Belfast and exterior filming on location in Northern Ireland, and Malta (for the drier, Eastern landscapes). As yet, no new cast members have been announced, but Season Two introduces numerous new characters alongside those who managed to survive Season One.
Benioff and Weiss spoke to the LA Times last week before the concluding episode aired. The interview is well worth a read, although be warned that it has a few spoilers for those who haven’t read Martin’s novels. We’ve snaffled a few quotes about the cast and the process of adaptation:
How closely are you sticking to the book?
Weiss: The book is always going to be our template, our go-to bible. It’s mainly about the balancing act between keeping the characters the viewers have spent so much time investing in front-and-centre and introducing all these new characters George has come up with and giving them their fair share. That’s what we’re currently engaged in doing.
So you’re still rewriting?
Benioff: We’re definitely still rewriting. You start out with your dream scenario, and then the hard reality hits you and you make adjustments. We’re still in that adjustment phase. There’s a lot of writing and a lot of casting still. Most series if you get second season you’re done with most of the casting. With the second book and the second season, a whole slew of characters make their appearances.
What will happen to the major characters who remain mostly out of the action for Book 2? Will you keep the actors on retainer?
Weiss: In the book there are a couple of characters who have more of an off-screen role and come back in Book 3. But in the case of, say, Robb Stark — played by Richard Madden — he has more of an off-screen presence in the book, but Richard did such a fabulous job once his character came to the fore, he so commanded the screen that we realised there’s no way to talk about this guy and not have him in the show. So there are people off-screen in the book who we are going to write onscreen in the show to make sure people who viewers have fallen in love with are still there in the second season.
Benioff: In the case of Jaime Lannister, he’s got one scene in the second book, but he’s such an important character we want to see more of him. There’s fluidity in that certain scenes from the third book find their way into the second season just as certain scenes from the second book find their way into the end of the first season. We wanted to make sure those characters stayed in the audience’s mind and didn’t disappear for a whole year.
Presumably Martin is open to compromises, since he’s talked about his own experiences of working in TV?
Weiss: Yes, it’s a relief because it would be heartbreaking to have somebody who did what George did on the world-building front who didn’t understand what it meant to adapt that to television and was agonised over every change.
Benioff: Did we tell you the story about Martin’s experience as a TV writer on, I think it was “The New Twilight Zone”? He had written a scene with knights battling on horses at Stonehenge, and the director came to him and said, ‘You can have the horses or you can have Stonehenge.’ That’s how we frame things: Sorry, we wish we could do all this, but we have to make a horse/Stonehenge choice.
You can read the entire LA Times interview here.