Warning: Game of Thrones finale spoilers below…
No wonder HBO renewed Game of Thrones so fast — the network would have a subscriber riot on its hands if the network folded the show after Sunday’s closer. With Jon marching beyond the wall, Tyrion appointed to rule Kings Landing, Arya traveling to Castle Black, Robb declared King of the North, Sansa promised to wed her father’s murderer and Dany hatching a trio of dragons, the stage is set for all sorts of drama in season two. Below executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss answer a few of this season’s burning questions:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First, the question on everybody’s minds: Why did Hodor randomly run into a scene naked?
DAVID BENIOFF: Equal opportunity nudity. There’s a line in the book about him having the blood of giants, and you need to see him for that line to play. And we didn’t want to do the coy Austin Powers joke where he’s covered up by a french baguette or something.
D.B. WEISS: I just feel, what’s so scary about d–ks? Half the people in the world have them, why not put them on television? Now if we ever show [the eunuch] Varys naked…
DB: Good idea, write that down.
Obviously Ned Stark’s death received a huge reaction from viewers. What was that like for you guys last week?
DB: We’re in Belfast, we were thousands of miles from all the screaming in America. We don’t have a sadistic reaction, we’re not taking pleasure in people’s pain because we get it — we had a similar reaction when we read the book. But we wanted a strong reaction and we got one. I think apathy is the worst thing when making a show like this. If people are infuriated, it’s great that this fictional world has such an impact. There was never a moment of doubt about doing it this way.
DW: For me, reading the book, it was the moment when I was like, ‘We have to do this.’ It epitomizes this whole world.
DB: For me, that moment was Hodor’s penis.
DW: We both got our way!
What would you say to some viewers who are writing in the comments, “Ned and Drogo were my favorite characters, I’m never watching this show again.”
DW: It’s like when you throw the book across the room and then you run back and pick it up again.
DB: If you’re just watching the show for Ned Stark, I’m not sure which show you’re watching. Clearly there’s a huge number of characters and Ned and Drogo have been vital parts of the story. But it’s crucial for us we create a world where you’re constantly in fear for these characters — that was our experience reading the books. It creates a huge amount of suspense. You kind of cling to the characters when you know you can lose them at any moment.
DW: It’s not something [author George R.R. Martin] does willy nilly. Ned dying is telling a hard truth about the price of honor and the price of morality in a world where not everybody has the same values as you do. It’s not a simplistic redemptive message, where you sacrifice yourself and it saves the day. At lot of times sacrifice ends up being futile.
Ned’s execution was shot perfectly. One thing that seemed really smart was adding in Arya and Ned seeing each other.
DB: There’s a reason [director] Alan Taylor is sitting 20 feet from us: We dragged him back to Belfast to shoot another four episodes for season two. In the book, Yoren happens to see Arya, and it’s a bit of a mild coincidence. For us, it was more important that Ned be the one to see her and says that one word to him, “Baelor.” We had the statue of Baelor and had the name “Baelor” carved into it and thought we were being all smart. But we failed to realize the crowd would be right in front of the word when we shot it. Luckily people seemed to figure it out anyway. It’s the one last thing Ned can do to protect this girl he loves so much. And when he looks out there and sees she’s gone, hopefully now she’s safe, but it’s also now just a sea of angry faces and that’s all he’s left with. I just loved Sean Bean — he conveyed so much with no dialog whatsoever.
In the opening of the finale, you ended up showing Ned’s severed head, the blood, the corpse. Can you talk about that decision?
DB: There was no way to do that in episode nine without obscuring what the moment was supposed to be about. But on the flip side, there’s something harsh and incontrovertible about what just happened and we didn’t want to shy away from that. There’s also a parallel in first episode where Ned beheads a deserter, and we’re seeing it from Bran’s perspective. Bran’s told very specifically “don’t look away” and we see the whole thing. In episode nine, we shift from Ned to Arya and she’s told “don’t look, don’t look” and Yoren restrains her from seeing — she’ll be scarred anyway, but he doesn’t want her to have this image in her mind. So we don’t see what Arya doesn’t see.
DW: There was a bunch of viewers who had a denial reaction — that Ned can’t really be dead. But in episode ten we make it clear he’s dead. There was a lot of discussion over how many frames of sword-into-neck to include. We had very high-pitched arguments about whether to add another twelfth of a second of a beheading.
In the books, characters occasionally have flashbacks to moments with Ned Stark. Did you shoot any additional material with Bean that might be used in later seasons?
DB: I wish I could tell you that we did.
DW: A lot of those flashbacks take place years ago, and Sean’s stuntman looks uncannily like a young Sean Bean, so that may work.
I don’t know if you’ve seen this online, but Thrones has inspired a new word, “sexposition” — the combination of expository dialogue and a sex scene.
DB: We’re really admiring of the cleverness of that word.
DW: Unfortunately, we didn’t actually invent using sexposition.
DB: We might have to come up with a new expository tool for season two — like using dragons.
Some fans were bummed they didn’t see anything from the battles, even though they’re not very detailed in the book either. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say there’s a big battle in the second book. Will you be able to show that?
DB: There was never much discussion of shooting The Battle of Whispering Wood [Robb vs. Jaime’s army]. We did have plans to show Tyrion marching into battle behind The Mountain. We had a whole way we wanted to shoot it following Tyrion’s eye level as The Mountain is just (cutting soldiers down). Ultimately we had to make some really tough decisions. We ran out of time to shoot it properly and we much rather have a great scene with our characters than a crappy version of the battle. We want to have some great battles, we’re working very hard to have great battles in season two. We’d like to have more direwolves too.
DW: There’s so many things we can do so much better than films. But there are a few things like battles and creatures where there’s a brute force financial component to doing those well, and it involves being very creative and selective about how you show those things to make them achievable. We don’t want them to look like a Playstation 2 game, we want it to look at the same level [of quality] as the rest of the show.
Those looked like very realistic, big-summer-movie-quality dragons. How are you going to afford to keep doing that though season two?
DB: I have no idea. It’s going to be a season of tough choices. We have dragons, we have direwolves growing, we have massive battles. Despite the various character deaths, we have a growing cast of characters — all this with the same amount of time to shoot it.
DW: There’s going to be a lot of smoke.
Will the direwolves be created with CGI in season two?
DW: It will be a combination of real dogs and visual effects and any other way we can make it work.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from shooting the first season that might influence season two?
DB: Any time you have a horse in a scene, it doubles the shooting time. We know the cast really well now and writing for those actors is a huge advantage. We know, say, John Bradley (Sam) is going give an incredible line reading of this line. It makes it a lot of fun writing for these people we’ve come to know so well.
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If you hung through the finale credits, you saw this little season two tease (notice the green fire…):