It's featured "Red Weddings," literal head-crushings, WTF lead-character murders, death by dragonfire and molten gold force-feedings, major plot twists, and epic battles involving gargantuan woolly mammoths and bow-and-arrow-wielding ice giants. As legions of Game of Thrones fans can attest, HBO's fantasy series has never skimped on spectacle, big set pieces or creative ways of detailing what happens when you cross the wrong politically ambitious person in Westeros and beyond. And though anyone who's read George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels knows that there's much more is in store for the Starks, the Lannisters, Jon Snow and the Mother of Dragons, it's tough to imagine that anything could top the last four seasons. Winter is coming — but after matrimonial massacres and cast-of-thousands sieges, where is there left for the hit show to go?
Ask showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss that question, however, and they'll tell you that things are just getting warmed up — according to the pair, the upcoming fifth season is going to be the most epic to date. "We're starting to build to a crescendo now," Benioff says. "Two of the set pieces we shot this year have been the biggest ones to date. And on a story level...expect a snowball effect." As they prepare for the show's return on April 12th, the writer/producers weighed in on what to expect, the "spoiler" issue, and why the end may be in sight.
What can we expect from this season?
Benioff: For four seasons, you've had all these characters who've been separated by geography — from Daenerys and her band of warriors roaming around to everyone in Westeros. Now, these storylines are starting to merge. It's going to be a big East-meets-West season.
Weiss: It'll be easier to keep things straight for the viewers – and for us.
This is one of the advantages of having a show with a high mortality rate: the potential for things to get streamlined eventually.
Benioff: It certainly does keep things fresh. [Laughs] Most of the actors have read the books...
Weiss: ...or have looked up stuff online to see what's going to happen to their characters, so it's never really a surprise.
Benioff: I mean, Sean Bean was number one on the call sheet — and he got his head chopped off. So it's hard for anybody on the show to think that they would not also be in danger of getting their head chopped off.
That must have been an awkward conversation.
Benioff: Sean knew that going in, so no surprise there.
Weiss: The one-year contract was a big tip-off. "You guys sure you don't need options here?" "No, no, we're good, thanks." [Both laugh]
Do you feel a sense of pressure coming out of the last two seasons, where you have to find a way to top things like the Red Wedding?
Benioff: Absolutely. But there is an overarching story, and we are past the midpoint now; it's getting closer to the end, ultimately. We are starting to build to a cresecendo, which means the battles have to get bigger and things have to get more dramatic. Something like the "Red Wedding"...you'd been with these characters for nearly three seasons, so of course something like that is going to have a big effect on people. But when you think about characters like Arya or Tyrion, who you've spent so much time with, whenever they're in jeopardy, it should feel like a big deal.
And just from a production level, it's definitely gotten bigger this year. Two of the set pieces we've just shot are the biggest things we've ever done, in terms of shooting days and number of effects shots. And on a story level . . . expect a snowball effect. So its less a pressure to top ourselves than to do this story justice.
Is the endgame still seven seasons and that's it?
Benioff: We've always said that, but we have to talk to HBO and come to an understanding. There's a temptation to keep going with it because we're still having fun, but you don't want to ruin it by tacking on a couple of extra years.
Weiss: The big thing is, this is a show with a beginning, a middle and an end. We know what the end is, and we're heading toward it now.
Benioff: We're not sure whether it's going to end up being, say, 70 or 75 hours — but it can't be 100 hours. It would start to feel like a bogged-down mess.
When you guys spoke at Oxford recently, you mentioned that the show would soon be getting to major storylines before George R.R. Martin's novels do — the headlines then read " Game of Thrones to Spoil Books!"
Weiss: I wouldn't trust anything we said at that event. We were pretty drunk. [Both laugh]
Benioff: There's such a double meaning to the word "spoil" there. I'm not sure it's possible to spoil George's books. As the show progresses, it becomes its own thing in some ways . . . just because something happens on TV doesn't mean it will happen in the novels. To be a spoiler, there has to be certainty. And George could very well change his mind as he writes these books.
How is his relationship with the show these days? You could argue that, while his books are insanely popular, most people know what Game of Thrones is — and then draw a blank when you A Song of Ice and Fire.
Benioff: He seemed really happy when we saw him at the premiere for the new season the other night. George is a great guy about all of this. It's a strange thing, but we are working at a certain pace because we have to.
Weiss: It can't go on for 13 years. We need these actors while they can still play the characters.
Benioff: You can't have a 32-year-old Arya Stark. [Both laugh]
There's still a long way to go with the show, but in terms of what you guys want to do after this is over — one would guess it would be something that has absolutely nothing to do with hard-to-choreograph battle scenes and CGI dragons, right?
Benioff: It will be nothing but two guys sitting in a room, drinking beer and cracking jokes.
Weiss: It will not involve horses. [Both laugh]
Benioff: There's a project about escaped convicts in Oklahoma [Dirty White Boys, based on Stephen Hunter's 1995 novel] that we're developing — and it doesn't involve a single sword fight!
Weiss: Even if it's a fake sword fight, you have to know what you're doing. This next project just involves guns. Pretty much anyone can pull a trigger, so it will be easier by default.