5 Things I Learned About “Game of Thrones” from the Show’s Writers

George R. R. Martin digs Diana Rigg and other juicy tidbits

It’s the show that did for high fantasy what Deadwood did for Westerns, The Wire did for cop shows, and The Sopranos did for gangster dramas: exploded the genre and reconstructed it with unprecedented intellect, ambition, and frontal nudity.

We had a chance to hear David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the creators, writers, and executive producers of Game of Thrones, as they discussed the world’s most illegally downloaded TV show with Elvis Mitchell. You can listen to the full conversation here or wait until Wednesday afternoon when it airs on Mitchell’s KCRW showThe Treatment. Here’s a preview.

1. Jon Snow’s Mother Got the Writers the Job
Weiss and Benioff were huge fans of George R. R. Martin’s novels when they sat down to meet the author for the first time. It was an epic four-hour lunch – by the time they stood up to leave, the restaurant’s staff was setting up for dinner – and at the end, Martin inquired, “Do you know who Jon Snow’s mother is?” Although the grown-up fanboys weren’t sure, they had discussed the issue among themselves. After they told him their hunch, Martin didn’t say much but he nodded knowingly. As Weiss and Benioff tell it, if they had answered it wrong, there would have been two other novelists writing the show.

2. George R. R. Martin Will Kill Anyone
Martin’s wife Parris once told Weiss and Benioff that she knew a certain character would survive until the end. How? Her husband had promised not to kill her favorite character. When Weiss and Benioff later mentioned this to Martin, he impishly said, “Oh, I just told her that.” The upshot: nobody’s safe.

3. Necessity Was the Mother of Invention
After they had finished writing the first season, Weiss and Benioff were told they needed to write 100 additional minutes so that each episode would meet its running time. There was no more money for battles, action set pieces or effects-heavy scenes so they invented scenes of people talking to one other not found in the books. The two delved into the private lives of characters who we had mostly seen in public. Hence, the exchange between unhappily married Cersei and Robert and the conversation between Robert and Jamie about their first kills. These turned out to be some of the showrunners’ favorite scenes.

4. Diana Rigg Has an Amazing Memory
Weiss and Benioff revealed that Martin was most excited to learn that Dame Diana Rigg was joining the cast as Lady Olenna Redwyne. It turns out she was just as excited. When she began shooting her scenes for season three, she started discussing minute points of dialogue from scenes she wouldn’t be shooting until months later. The writers realized she had memorized all of her lines for the entire season.

5. Pure Evil is Less Interesting than Flawed Humanity
Discussing Theon Greyjoy’s trajectory from Stark family ward to arrogant princeling to inept leader to humiliated prisoner, Weiss says, “Theon starts off as a medium dick. He moves into horrible territory but each step of the way you understand why he’s doing it.” Evolving from one of the least sympathetic characters to one of the most pitiable, Theon is among Weiss and Benioff’s favorite characters to write. And they have so many from which to choose.