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Q&A: 'Game of Thrones' Insider Bryan Cogman on the Biggest Season Yet

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The big cable dramas tend to have a pattern in terms of when, in the season, the big stuff happens. How do you fulfill or subvert the expectations we've been trained to have by everything from The Sopranos on down and still pack the wallop the books' big surprises pack?
That's an interesting question. Not sure I have an interesting answer! I don't really think about that kind of thing when I'm in the writers room or working on my individual episodes. I just concentrate on what feels right for the characters and the story D and D are trying to tell. David and Dan, as showrunners, may very well think about that kind of thing, but you'd have to ask them.  

Since we're talking about other dramas, are there any current or former series that influence you in terms of how you approach this material?
I wouldn't say a lot of time is spent consciously using other series as templates. Subconciously, well, I suppose The Wire, in that in my opinion it's the greatest TV show of all time and it dealt with its own complex mythology, dozens of characters, very specific "worlds", and intricate plots. References to Deadwood come up in the writers room from time to time.

Readers kept the big surprises from the first two seasons pretty tightly under wraps. Do you think that will change this season, given how many more readers and viewers there are now?
I think the book fans have been admirable in keeping such spoilers under wraps. I was delighted when a certain character's untimely death in Episode 109 ended up being such a shock to so many viewers. Look, I think book fans want the new viewers to enjoy this story the same way they first did. Of course you get a few trolls who try to spoil the party for everyone, but for the most part, they've been great about spoilers. 

The Final Standings in 'Game of Thrones' After Season Two

Actually, what's your opinion on spoilers in general? It's a hotly debated topic among TV critics, given how often we reference Show X in a review of Show Y.
Well, I feel like if you are coming to this story for the first time via our TV show then I wouldn't want it spoiled for you. I hate when the major event of a show I watch is spoiled for me. And I'm wracked with guilt when/if I spoil something for someone else. The other night, like an idiot, I referenced the death of a major character on Downton Abbey assuming my friends present had seen it. They hadn't. That was unforgivable. Hopefully they'll speak to me again.

It happens to the best of us, man.
Wracked with guilt.
I asked them to spoil something for me, like Breaking Bad, which I'm not fully caught up on, but they took the high road. 

Back to the storythe canvas begins expanding rather rapidly in this volume, and the cast and setting only gets more sprawling from here. What's your number-one trick for getting new people and places to become "sticky" in the minds of viewers?
I don't know if there's a number one trick. It helps that we cast great, memorable actors who can do a lot with their limited screentime – someone with the presence of, say, Stephen Dillane. Stannis is a major character, but has comparatively little screentime, or book time,  than the others, so you need someone who can really draw you in as a viewer. Same with Liam Cunningham, Diana Rigg this season . . .

I totally know what you mean about the difference actors make. Prose has its own advantages, but there's something about seeing a character embodied by a flesh-and-blood human being that, somewhat literally, brings them to life. Sansa is a character who only clicked for me after watching Sophie Turner play her. Bronn too, thanks to Jerome Flynn.
Yeah, and both of those characters are examples of us writing to the particular strengths of our actors. As the series goes on, you're writing Jerome's Bronn, not just Bronn. The same goes for Lena [Headey]'s Cersei, Alfie [Allen]'s Theon, Rory [McCann]'s Hound, Stephen's Stannis, and so on. With Sansa, aside from the fact that Sophie's amazing, I think that character might have clicked differently for you because we aged her up. She's 11 in the books, and making her 13-14 spun the character in a slightly different direction, I think.

Also, it was a goal from day one of the first season make the various "worlds" as specific and memorable as possible, so the viewer knows exactly where he or she is within a few seconds. So hats off to Gemma Jackson and her production design team, Michele Clapton and her costumes, Steve Kullback and his VFX wizards, and of course our directors and cinematographers.

On the flipside, what do you do to keep absent characters and settings fresh in people's minds?
Well, that's a trick. We're still figuring that out. One way is that we keep characters in play whereas in the book they might disappear or have less to do. Littlefinger and Varys come to mind. And we pepper in references here and there into dialogue, but we have to very judicious about when to do that. Too much of that kind of thing kills the drama. We'll often have a lot more of that stuff in scenes and it ends up getting cut out. 

I know that one of the things a lot of people said they loved about "Blackwater" from last season is that it didn't cut away from the characters in King's Landing or Stannis's army once. The episode benefitted greatly from that tight focus. Are you taking that into consideration this season?
Yeah, it's certainly one of our strongest episodes, but you gotta remember  – the book does the same thing. A Clash of Kings takes a break from all the other characters and jumps back and forth between Tyrion, Davos, and Sansa until the battle is done. It's the only time that really happens, I think. So, if the story dictates it, we'll do it. You'll see some episodes in Season Three where we leave certain "worlds" for that week and focus on just a few.

It's a question we're always grappling with. Do we visit every single character in, say, the season premiere, or do we leave a few for next week? There are pros and cons to both options. You don't want to leave characters for too long and screw up that storyline's momentum, but you also don't want to be constantly jumping all over the place and overwhelming the viewer.

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