Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are back in the hot seat after doing a panel at the Austin Film Festival this weekend. The writers talked about their decade on Game of Thrones, and their comments are nearly as controversial as the final season was. Fans are furious at some of their commentary.
Benioff and Weiss are the writers who adapted George R. R. Martin's fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, into the HBO hit Game of Thrones. The duo worked closely with the source material at first, but as the years went on and the books ran out, they have been dragged more and more by fans who think they missed the whole message of Martin's work.
Those fans felt, sadly, vindicated this weekend after Benioff and Weiss spoke at the AFF. The two threw out anecdotes and revelations that some did not see as flattering, particularly after they were criticized for the final season so much. Additionally, the two made self-effacing comments that some fans saw as them trying to avoid responsibility for their own work.
Benioff and Weiss have avoided public appearances since Game of Thrones Season 8 aired earlier this year. The two are absent from social media, and they watched the finale alone with their wives rather than at any kind of screening or event. This summer, they canceled an appearance at San Diego Comic Con at the last minute.
Finally, this panel finds the two of them back on stage again, but they still did not say much about the criticism of their work. Additionally, footage of the panel is still not available online, but it does exist in the form of paraphrases posted on Twitter by attendees.
Here are the highlights from Benioff and Weiss' talk.
They are describing their pitch and how nervous they were. They pitched to Carolyn Strauss who has a reputation of being a tough pitch. They were very nervous “because of how bad we wanted.”— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
To begin, Benioff and Weiss mentioned throughout the panel how inexperienced they were when they took on the project. They stressed that they had never worked in TV before, and even repeatedly mentioned how surprised they were that they even got this job. They recalled being extremely nervous for their first pitch with HBO "because of how bad we wanted it."
To some fans this was a sore subject, not only because they felt Benioff and Weiss ultimately failed in sticking their landing, but because they were the beneficiaries of connections and privilege, not proven talent.prevnext
David is describing the pre-meeting with GRRM who was questioning their bona fides and “we didn’t really have any.” We had never done TV and we didn’t have any. We don’t know why he trusted us with his life’s work.”— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
Benioff reportedly told the crowd that writers who work on adaptations always end up in "divorce" with their source material. For him and Weiss, he said, the divorce was "amicable," even as they strayed from the scenes and ideas they loved in the books. The fact that they outpaced the books helped with this, he thought.
Later on in the panel, Benioff spoke more about their first meeting with Martin, where they asked for the rights to adapt his show. He said that the author was nervous because they "didn't have any" credits in the industry.
"We don't know why he trusted us with his life's work," he said frankly.prevnext
They acknowledge that they have no idea why after such a dismal pilot why they went forward. “Everything we could make a mistake in, we did.” Script, casting, costume.
They think HBO went forward bc they had a lot of foreign pre-sales on the series.— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
The writers also talked at length about the failed pilet for the series, which they filmed and then ultimately scrapped, blowing through even more trust and captial. They revealed that some of the friends who watched that cut are other writers of note, including Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin.
"Everything we could make a mistake in, we did," one of the writers said. Again, they expressed confusion that HBO still let them move forward with the show, even funding an entirely new pilot.prevnext
Casting Jason Momoa
David is also saying that he went to fan casting pages and that is how they found Jason Mamoa.— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
One of the stand-out quotes from the panel was on casting Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo in the first season. Benioff reportedly admitted that he visited online forums to look at fans' dream casting lists and picked Momoa from there.
Fans were torn over this bit, as some thought it was a vindication of fan forums. Others, however, thought it was amateurish and exemplified Benioff and Weiss' flippant attitude about the value of others' labor. To them, the fans on that forum should have been compensated for their contribution, especially if Benioff and Weiss couldn't come up with good ideas on their own.prevnext
Dan wanted to remove as many fantasy elements as possible bc “we didn’t just want to appeal to that type of fan.” They wanted to expand the fan base to people beyond the fantasy fan base to “mothers, NFL players”...— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
Another hot topic from the panel was Benioff and Weiss' admission that they removed "fantasy elements" from the show on purpose. One of them insinuated that HBO wanted them to downplay these elements.
At another point, however, Weiss said that the magical elements were downplayed because "we didn't just want to appeal to that type of fan." He went on to say that they wanted a wider fan base, including "mothers" and "NFL players."
This baffled and infuriated many people, especially those who have long been upset by how much the show omits from the books. Some argued that this showed how mislaid Benioff and Weiss' priorities were — other than trying to get non-fantasy fans interested in a fantasy show, they tried to dilute a fantasy show for that audience.prevnext
White Walker Baby
They are expressing regret about putting the baby on the block of ice and him screaming. The mother was not happy bc Dan just kept talking about a close-up of the baby’s penis.
*They are very granular in details of shots, admitting losing sight of the big picture.— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
Benioff and Weiss may have accidentally revealed one of their darkest moments on set — the scene where one of Crastor's abandoned babies is taken by the White Walkers. From the sound of it, they literally placed an infant onto a block of ice to get that iconic shot.
They recalled the baby screaming, and his mother geting angry. Meanwhile, Weiss was obsessively debating a shot list and whether or not they should get a close up of the baby's privates.prevnext
He said that they wouldn’t hire writers unless they were willing to be part of the production team.
(Vanessa wrote the Shape of Water.)— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
The two writers were asked a lot about the fact that they never hired a full writing staff for the show, and their answers still left mnay fans unsatisfied. They reportedly said that they never hired another writer "because we didn't know better," however, at the same time, Benioff acknowledged that HBO had wanted them to hire more writers from the start.
In the beginning, Martin wrote one episode per season on the show. He dropped off after Season 4, but by that time Benioff and Weiss' assistant, Bryan Cogman had taken on some writing duties. They also gave select scenes to Dave Hill, Ethan J. Antonucci, Gursimran Sandhu, Vanessa Tayler and James Espenson, but for the most part, they intended to write the whole show themselves.
They toyed around with adding other writers into the mix, but explained that they only considered writers who were also willing to work on the production staff. Asked about the lack of diversity that created, they said that there really was no "writers' room."prevnext
Responding to Critics
Did you really sit down and try to boil the elements of the books down? Did you really try to understand it’s major elements.
No. We didn’t. The scope was too big. It was about the scenes we were trying to depict and the show was about power.— Needle & Pen (@ForArya) October 26, 2019
Finally, and perhaps most infuriatingly to some, Benioff and Weiss mentioned their disinterest in criticism of the show. Weiss said the "really did not" listen to feedback from critics, even in the beginning. He reportedly went so far as to say that he doesn't see the value in considering reactions to the show.
Benioff, on the other hand, admitted that he did Google the show. However, it upset him, and he decided not to do so again.0comments
This is upsetting to many, who feel that Benioff and Weiss put too much trust in themselves, especially since they are — by their own admission — amateurs in the industry. The writers said that they did not try to boil down themes or major elements of the story, but instead focused on granular attention to the plot. In the end, some might argue, that was their undoing.
Game of Thrones is streaming now on HBO Go and HBO Now.prev