March 14, 2017
SXSW 2017

14 Behind-the-Scenes Reveals from the 'Game of Thrones' Showrunners at SXSW

At SXSW 2017, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner interviewed GOT showrunners, confirming rumors about Season 8 and revealing BTS secrets.

For the first time, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner pointed the mics at their own showrunners. Moderating a panel at SXSW 2017, Williams and Turner asked Game of Thrones scribes D.B. Weiss and David Benioff a host of questions about their experience across the show's seven seasons, ranging from their favorite deaths, practical jokes on set, which house they identify with most, and potential answers to fan theories.

Game of Thrones Season 7 premieres July 16.

1. Season 8 will only have 6 episodes

Though the outline for Season 8 is 140 pages long, it will consist of merely six episodes, as opposed to the standard 10, according to Weiss and Benioff. Episodes 1 and 2 will be written by Dave Hill and Bryan Cogman, respectively, while Weiss and Benioff will pen the final four, including the series finale.

2. Ed Sheeran makes an appearance in Season 7

As a surprise for Williams, who is an avid Ed Sheeran fan, the showrunners booked the musician to guest star in the upcoming season. 

"A lot of musicians say that they would like to [be on the show], and we tell them, this is so boring, you're gonna hate this," said Weiss. "Sigur Ros came on during the fourth season, and Jonsi was done after his close-ups. He was like, 'Can I go home now?' I was like, 'Oh no, you're in 1,700 shots.'"

3. Casting the Stark girls was incredibly difficult

"[Arya and Sansa] start so young," said Benioff, "and we knew if the show worked, they were going to go to extremely dark places, so it was a tricky thing, casting people and just hoping they would blossom into the women that they've become."

While casting Arya, the showrunners looked at over 300 girls. "We could not find the right Arya," said Benioff. "Then, we were sitting in this hotel lobby looking at casting videos, and there was a tiny thumbnail picture of Maisie Williams, and there was something about that that was so Arya."

4. Williams and Turner have matching tattoos

Williams and Turner sport matching tattoos on their forearm that read "August 7, 2009," commemorating the day they were officially cast in their Game of Thrones roles.

After the young women showed off their ink, Weiss and Benioff commended them on keeping their heads even as the show skyrocketed in popularity. "It can be a difficult situation to navigate when all of a sudden [a show] blows up the way it did—it's so easy to become total assholes," said Benioff. "You both completely weathered it in a very impressive way. On the performance side of things, to watch you guys become the actors you've become has been very gratifying for us."

"Yeah, everyone has remained pretty great [despite the fame]," said Weiss. "With one exception. But that we won't discuss in a public forum."

5. The worst scene they've ever written is in the pilot

"There's a scene in the pilot that might be the worst scene we've ever written," admitted Weiss. "It's the most embarrassing scene, anyway: when the Stark boys and Jon Snow are shaving each other. It's a really weird scene. They're all shirtless. It's kind of like, why is this here?"

"There's a scene in the pilot that might be the worst scene we've ever written."

The showrunners shot it because there was no continuity between the scenes in the pilot. "The beards were all different, so we did it to explain why," said Weiss. 

6. Sansa is showrunners' favorite character

Weiss and Benioff believe that Arya is the show's most-loved character "because she's a rebel, and I think people are drawn to people who rebel against whatever the societal structures are," said Benioff. "For me, though, I always loved Sansa because she seems like a real person. She goes on one of the most interesting journeys: she doesn't start out as someone who is really sharp, shrewd, and tough, but she becomes that person. Arya is kind of always there, which is what's great about her, but Sansa had to get there by painful experience."

"I think Sansa has had to face way harder choices," added Weiss. "With Arya, there's always a pretty clear path of what's the cool, badass thing to do. Sansa's choices feel more real and resonate more with peoples' real, not black and white, but gray experiences. Anything she does is going to have consequences."

'Game of Thrones' SXSW panelCredit: Shutterstock

7. The showrunners want to be Lannisters

When asked which house they identify with most, it seemed to be a toss-up for the showrunners. "The Greyjoys have the coolest city," said Benioff.

"The Tyrells have a lot of nice stuff," said Weiss.

But eventually, the pair decided they would want to be Lannisters, because choosing the Starks would be "too obvious," according to Weiss. 

"You don't want to go mainstream?" asked Benioff.

"We want to win," Weiss said quickly.

"Was that a spoiler?" asked Turner. The showrunners clapped their hands over their mouths, feigning shock.

8. Locke and Khal Drogo were the hardest characters to kill  

"Noah Taylor (who plays Locke) had a death scene in Season 3—the bear pit scene, where he would get mauled—and we decided, after working with Noah and hanging out with him, that he was too much fun to waste, so we kept him alive," said Weiss.

"Killing Momoa sucked," added Benioff. "Jason's a larger-than-life figure. We never fully recovered from getting rid of him."

9. Benioff broke his hand playing a drunken game with Jason Momoa

"We're at a restaurant in Belfast," said Weiss, "playing 'the slap game,' having a lot of fun, and I remember looking at David and saying, 'Hey, dude, look at your hands.' They had started to swell up. Jason is 250 pounds and so fast!" Benioff had to return home, where the ER doctor told him Jason had "squished his hand."

10. The cast and crew are big on practical jokes

"We wrote a scene for Kit Harington where his face melted off," said Weiss. "We burned off all of his hair. Kit's got great hair. And the page described exactly what his mangled face was going to look like—forever. We had a whole story about how HBO thought that he felt too Disney, too Harry Potter, and wanted to ugly him up a little. He bought it."

"He was a good sport about it," said Benioff, "but he was really, really sad."

Sometimes, the showrunners write real scenes that actors mistake as jokes—such as Turner's singing debut, which she mistook for a sham. 

"Once, [Kit] convinced us that he shaved his head," said Weiss. "He was getting annoyed because he wanted to get a haircut, and was like, 'Guys, I'm just gonna do it.' He sent us a picture of himself looking like a skinhead before we were supposed to start shooting."

"We got HBO's lawyers and his agents involved," said Benioff.

It turned out, however, that Harington had sent the showrunners a picture that was five years old.  "He got us back," said Weiss."

'Game of Thrones'Credit: HBO

11. A normal day on set requires a crew of 800+

When asked how many crew and cast members work on a Game of Thrones set on any given day, Weiss ventured a guess: "800." Sometimes, the show employs four units simultaneously, "such as when Bran was being chucked out the window from a crane," explained Weiss. "I asked where that was happening, and they said, 'Unit D.' That's how I found out we had four units going."

To shoot Season 7, the show employed three full-time VFX artists for two months. They shot in Northern Ireland, Spain, Iceland, Canada, and Croatia.

12. The most expensive death? Meryn Trant

Of the multitudinous murders in the history of Game of Thrones, the showrunners remember one as being the most complex and expensive: Meryn Trant, whom Arya stabbed in the throat and eyes. "She couldn't really poke out his eyes," Benioff said.

A close second is Joffrey's demise, for which the showrunners hired "one of the best makeup artists in the industry" to hone the gruesome details.

13. Dead dragons could come back as members of the Dead's Army

A fan asked if it was possible to "have a dragon White Walker," a fan theory that posits ice dragons could dominate the great war.

Benioff's answer? "Maybe. It would be pretty cool-looking, but also very sad."

"But how's it gonna walk?" asked Weiss. "I don't know if it really goes with the mythology."

14. Dream jobs for the showrunners: Rick & Morty and Atlanta

Weiss would love to write for Rick & Morty, while Benioff chose Atlanta, "though I'd suck at that," he admitted.

"What about It's Always Sunny?" asked Turner.

"We've already done that," the writers chimed in unison.


For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

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No Film School's coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Vimeo.      

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