Going from page to shooting to editing, has anything significant changed along the way?
Benioff: Yes. First of all, we almost had no battle at all. For budgetary reasons we came very, very close to having all the action take place off-screen, the way plays have handled battle scenes for a few thousand years. The idea was [MINOR SPOILER ALERT] that we’d set most of the episode in Maegor’s Holdfast. Cersei and Sansa would be cooped up in there with the other noblewomen and children, hearing occasional reports from the battlements.
Given how good Lena and Sophie are, we could probably have made a decent episode, but we didn’t want to do it that way. Last year we had to cut a battle we wanted to shoot, and the Battle of Blackwater Bay is far more important. To our minds, the entire season builds to this clash, and if we didn’t see any of it, we were undercutting the story and short-changing the audience.
As we’ve mentioned before, we went pleading to HBO for more money. We made our case why we needed the battle and they obliged. That allowed us to do a battle. It did not allow us to do the battle from A Clash of Kings. It would be difficult for a $200 million feature to do justice to the battle from the book. We didn’t have a chance; there just wasn’t enough time on the schedule or money in the budget (even after our Blackwater bonus).
There was a good deal of pressure to turn Blackwater into a land battle. The Battle of the Blackwater Banks, I guess. And we understood the technical reasons why that would help our cause: land battles are much easier to shoot than naval battles.
Weiss: But we’ve seen so many pitched battles in epic fantasies, and relatively few naval battles (probably because most people making epic fantasies are smarter than we are and know to avoid them). And the split between army power and navy power is central to George’s story and the whole dynamic between Stannis and Renly (and indirectly central to the Tyrion storyline as well). Going with the exclusively land battle route would ultimately have meant rewriting the whole season.
So we had to perform triage on the battle, determine what we could save and what had to go by the wayside. Quite a bit had to go, including some stuff we absolutely hated to lose. But it was really about keeping the heart of it intact, preserving the core elements that would give the episode the impact we need. In our unbiased opinion, we think that we – the collective ‘we,’ the team of hundreds and hundreds of people who worked like dogs on this thing into the wee hours of many, many nights – we think that we created an intense, dramatic battle.
Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin wrote the episode. Can you talk about his contribution to the episode and to the season in general?
Weiss: Yes, when we came to George with the harsh production realities, he was very helpful in helping us find our way to a lean – but still incredibly mean – Blackwater Bay. He contributes to every season in numerous ways. Such as… well, inventing all the characters and main storylines, for one.
Benioff: George created the world that we’ve lived in for the past six and a half years, so the word “contribution” doesn’t encompass the scale of what he’s provided for the series. We were at the Paint Hall with him during season one, showing him one of the sets, and he said, “So this is where they’ll shoot the scene from my episode?” And we looked at each other and one of us said, “George, they’re all your episodes.” The characters sprang from his brain, so did all the major storylines, so did all the prominent characters. We wanted to give him “Blackwater” to write because no one writes better large-scale battles than George. Ultimately we had to sacrifice some of that scale. There are some wonderful moments from the script (and book) that we wish we could have afforded. But when you’re delivering ten hours of epic fantasy in less time than a studio feature delivers two hours, it just isn’t possible to shoot everything you want. It always comes back to horses or Stonehenge.