The success of the show, and the fevered anticipation for season two, are the main focus of this interview and the pair talk candidly about their experience in pitching the series, meeting with George R. R. Martin and what direction they are taking the show in season two and beyond.
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If you’ve not seen season one note that there are spoilers here. Big ones. Look down with caution.
On the success of the show
It’s the standard six season, that’s the standard television contract to protect you in case the show does go really well. We don’t even have a guaranteed third season yet, and we hope to get to tell the whole story which would probably be about eight seasons. It feels like things are going well, we’re certainly optimistic, HBO are happy with what we’re doing and we’re prepared for season three as if it’s going to happen.
We knew there would be a certain audience for the show but we had no idea if it would reach beyond the core audience to draw in people who didn’t normally enjoy this sort of thing. We pretended we knew, when we went into pitch it we said ‘This is going to be a huge hit, and it’s going to be worldwide because it’s not a show that set in America’ and made it sounds as if we really knew what we were talking about. Lots of grandiose things…
On the sex and violence
I don’t know – would more people be watching or would less people be watching if the sex quotient changed. We prefer explicit sex to implicit sex! We do what we feel the story merits, what we feel is necessary and maybe this is naive but I assume that everyone in the world has an internet connection and we’re not showing anything people haven’t seen far more of, far more explicitly than we would ever want to show. I’m, in a way, surprised that the violence doesn’t register more than the sex because violence is objectively worse than sex! HBO have never made us cut a scene, there were a couple of times…in season two when they said ‘Really…?’ and we said ‘Yeah, really!’.
It was something that we thought served a real purpose and we thought belonged in the show. If we were completely faithful in terms of the sexual content to the books then we’d be in prison right now. We’re very committed to the physical and mental well-being of the people on the show, not putting them into situations which are going to be psychologically damaging to them. That’s a line we won’t cross. If we psychologically damage the prudes of America then we’re happy!
What they love about the show
The thing I’m most proud of is the cast, I’ve worked on a couple of features and the writer has no say in casting but we were involved with this, with Nina Gold and Robert Sternes, we had to decide who was right for the characters. There’s a big chance of failure in that, we came in with so little experience and the fact that this cast has turned out to be so wonderful and so much fun to be with. We love working with these people, and every page we’ve written has been improved by their performances and by the directors and the crew as a whole. Collaborating with so many talented people and seeing our scripts improved so much.
On Carice Van Houten
We saw Black Book and really responded powerfully to it, it’s such a phenomenal film and her performance in it is just as phenomenal. It’s a very difficult role to cast, to have that preternatural beauty that the character Melisandre needs to have as a fire priestess from a foreign land who’s come and bewitched a would-be King – that’s a tall order. To have the gravitas and sense of presence and command to have, and on top of that to have a level of humanity to it and not make it into a two-dimensional ‘witchy’ thing. And it’s clear within thirty seconds she was perfect. Although she doesn’t like horse-riding…
On the different direction of Season Two
Well, the world just got a lot bigger… In the first seasons, the first episodes certainly, the main characters are all in the same place, then they spread out and in season two they have even more gone off in their other directions, there’s been a Stark diaspora. The show had to get bigger to encompass that. Also you have to remember that two of the major characters from last season, King Robert and Ned Stark, both died and the death of these two powerful men who did so much to shape the kingdoms because of their rebellion of years before really influenced events for years to come. Now both these old men from the old school are gone and there’s this power vacuum that people are struggling to fill. Even though Joffrey is on the throne it’s a precarious place, there are many other wannabe Kings out there… Season two is very much about what happens when a power vacuum opens up who tries to fill it and who get injured in the crossfire.
On George R. R. Martin and staying faithful
He was protective of the books, he had a number of other people who wanted to adapt the books, mainly film studios who wanted to make features out of them, we came to him and said the only way we can imagine this is as an HBO series because we need the time to tell the story, otherwise you’d be massacring the story and losing characters but also because HBO are the only ones who would let us tell the world as he wrote it. We don’t want Tyrion Lannister talking in PG-13 English, and we wanted to maintain that and the violence had to stay, when someone is stabbed we want to make it feel like they’ve been stabbed. A PG-13 film wouldn’t allow that.
It turns out that Martin also loved HBO series, he loved Deadwood and Rome. He’d been dealing with Hollywood people and had a smart skepticism and he wanted to know that we wanted to do a faithful adaptation. So he gave us a test question which was ‘Who do you think Jon Snow’s real mother was?’ and there was a pause, and we thought that if we got this wrong then we may not have a show, and the answer is not in the books. We said ‘the answer’s…X’ and we were right. We had to prove to him that we wanted to make the faithful adaptation. Then he saw the show for the first time and thought ‘That’s my world, those are my characters’.