Two more days. Just a couple more days until HBO’s Game of Thrones unveils its season 3 premiere. Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss spoke to EW during our Belfast set visit last fall and shortly after filming concluded in January about the eagerly anticipated third season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Most consider George R.R. Martin’s third Ice and Fire novel A Storm of Swords to be his best book. Will this likewise be the best Game of Thrones season yet?
Benioff: Based on what we’ve seen so far, yeah, I think it will be a Game of Thrones season where, much like the book, it’s building. There’s a huge amount to set up in the first two episodes. Once the season kicks into gear we’ve already seen stuff that makes me think it will be the best one yet. And it ought to be. My favorite scenes from the saga are in Book Three.
Weiss: Once it kicks in and reaches the top of that hill and starts to roll down there’s a sheer amount of momentum. The third season has a hammering propulsion to it in terms of what’s happening. There’s major massive events happening like I don’t think we’ve ever had before … It’s our intention to make it the best season … There are scenes we’ve been waiting for years to bring for life and they stick very closely to the source material. The third book was always a major goal line for us. We knew it would be all worthwhile if we could just get to this one. There are things in our heads for a long time that we finally get to realize.
Benioff: We always said if we can make it to season three that we’re going to be on for a long, long while.
Weiss: I don’t think [fans will] make it through this season and feel, “Eh, I’m done with that.”
Benioff: Unless we really f–k it up.
Weiss: Which is always possible.
How has the production changed this year?
Benioff: The show grows every year and this past year it’s almost gone exponential. Every year after we finish we think that next year couldn’t be as hard as this year. But we just torture ourselves.
Weiss: I don’t want to give anything away, but we’re going back to places we haven’t been to in a while. And we’re going to all these new places. It lets you build out the world and provide a sense of scope that makes it feel more lived-in. The sets start to feel more real thanks to the Belfast pounding rain [weathering them].
Any particular challenges?
Benioff: We always talked about doing the third book in two seasons, but it’s not quite that neat. There’s not a halfway point in the book where all the story lines break. We’re drawing things in from other books and [adding] other plot lines that were implied by the books but not shown. It’s trickier in that sense. We could easily write a show about just, say, Bronn [Jerome Flynn]. The Bronn Show.
Benioff: Good title. We could do a great half-hour comedy with Sam [John Bradley] and Gilly [Hannah Murray]. It’s an embarrassment of riches. There’s so many great characters and you want to spend more time with them. George always wanted more hours per season. And it would be great, but we just can’t. It was getting to the point where we were turning in VFX shots on “Blackwater” [last season] a week before airing. It was getting to the point where Quality Control in New York for HBO had to get the tapes couriered with 20 minutes to spare. There’s no possible way for us to do an extra hour.
Weiss: The episodes will be longer though, slightly. We’re getting a few more minutes into each episode.
Benioff: I don’t know how Vince Gilligan manages to get every episode of Breaking Bad in at 47 minutes and 16 seconds. You never feel on Breaking Bad “oh they stretched that out” or “they trimmed it.” It all feels perfectly organic.
Is there a theme this season?
Benioff: We keep coming back to the idea of rise and fall. So much of season 3 is seeing certain characters achieve greater power and some character characters completely fall from power.
One Thrones writer was quoted as saying this season is more cinematic and less clever.
[The producers laugh]
Weiss: We always strive to be less clever. What she probably meant is there is a fair amount of visual storytelling going on, possibly more than before. I’m sure she meant it in a nice way.
Will there be a cold open in the premiere this year? You did that in the first season but not the second.
Benioff: This season we’re going back to a cold open, I believe. It should be quite strong. Samwell will be involved.
You will also introduce a new army this season, which Dany [Emilia Clarke] attempts to acquire — the Unsullied. Is this the largest group of action you’ve ever staged?
Benioff: We’ve [digitally] replicated larger groups. But this will be the largest single group of actors … They look and move like one solid mass of bad-ass eunuch.
Weiss: Last season the vast bulk of stunts and resources went into the last two episodes. Here it’s more spread out over the whole season.
Benioff: Especially the last six episodes. Our seasons are always designed to build. Pretty much the last six are full of major set pieces. There’s not one episode that’s as major as “Blackwater,” but in some ways that’s better because we get to distribute the wealth a bit more.
In King’s Landing, at least, it’s peacetime now.
Weiss: Coming out of end of the last season the Lannisters, with the help of the Tyrells, had won the war. But just because they’re not fighting with maces and swords doesn’t mean a state of war is not ongoing. The people are still jockeying for position every bit as much as if they were on a battlefield. It’s just war by other means … so there’s the Lannisters we’ve loved and now there’s Natalie Dormer and Diana Rigg as [Margaery Tyrell and Lady Olenna] and the interplay between those families is so fun. You want to see what happens when they get together.
Benioff: There’s a bit more stability because Tywin [Charles Dance] is back. This season everyone knows, with the possibly exception of Joffrey [Jack Gleeson], who is really in charge. But there’s still a major civil war going on with various combatants. Last season was about protecting the city from invaders; this season the threats are more internal. So there’s a lot of sniping going on. You would think that winning a major victory at the end of season two the city would come together.
Weiss: But being at the top just means you’re everybody else’s target.
17 DAYS OF THRONES
17. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers Q&A: Why season 3 is the most epic yet
16. Lena Headey on Cersei’s season 3 fears
15. How Kit Harington conquered his injury to keep Jon Snow fighting
14: Gwendoline Christie on being ‘too pretty’ to play Brienne
13. John Bradley defends fantasy fans
12. HBO: ‘Thrones’ piracy is ‘a compliment’
11. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on casting Mance Rayder, Lady Olenna
10. Sophie Turner on fans bashing Sansa
9. Jack Gleeson on Joffrey’s season 3 romance
8. Maisie Williams talks Arya’s season 3 adventures
7. Peter Dinklage on Tyrion’s season 3 survival
6. Richard Madden teases Robb Stark’s season 3
5. Emilia Clarke says Dany gets fast-paced season 3
4. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau talks Jaime’s season 3 struggle
3. Rose Leslie: You know nothing about Ygritte’s catchphrase
2. ‘Game of Thrones’ producers on season 3 dragons: They’re not cute anymore
1. EW Cover: ‘Game of Thrones’ wildest season yet! Jon + Dany, an ice and fire pairing
– Buy EW’s Game of Thrones cover story issue
— EW’s exclusive ‘Thrones’ portraits
— ‘Game of Thrones': 23 amazing season three photos
— Latest S3 trailer
EW rolled out 17 Game of Thrones stories with exclusive and spoiler-free behind-the-scenes content, largely drawn from our Northern Ireland set visit last fall, leading up to the show’s season 3 premiere on March 31. After each episode air we’ll have our popular recaps (catch up on the recaps for the first two seasons here) and interviews. Follow me on Twitter @james_hibberd for Game of Thrones news and bookmark our Thrones hub here.