Maybe, just as the Game of Thrones credits roll, you turn the TV off. Maybe you flip back to the HBO Go Roku menu to sample some Ted 2. But those of us who indulge in the full block of Game of Thrones programming every Sunday this season ended our nights with the talking heads of GoT: showrunners and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. In the weekly “Inside the Episode” segments, they broke down the finer points of the episode we had just watched.
With George R.R. Martin — author of the word-filled books on which the series is based — only serving in a don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you advisory capacity this season, the perpetually chill Benioff and Weiss got the chance to indulge their true, audience-satiating tendencies. How does the Stark army get out of the Bolton army’s death spear circle? Those Knights of the Vale gotta ride up right at the last minute. How does Arya buy all that travel and baking time to fuck with my man Walder Frey? Just accept it; it’s sick. It’s also like, “Daaamn, no she didnt.”
Benioff and Weiss’s blockbuster-movie-ready plots this season give us basically what the show has always delighted us with, in its most unapologetic form. That is: revenge, debauchery, ominous predictions for that winter everyone is so into, and heads being cut off, squished, or trampled. It’s almost as if GoT, in Season 6, finally figured out how to keep it 100 with itself. Benioff and Weiss’s “Inside the Episode” segments only offer more evidence to support this theory.
If you fantasized that the allusive or pseudo-political moments in GoT were steeped in deep mythology, or arcane historical precedents, perhaps you’d be surprised how Wiki-able my boys Benioff and Weiss keep it. Consider, for instance, the scene where Tyrion negotiated with the slavers for a seven-year taper-off plan on the practice. “One of the historical examples we looked to when writing these scenes was, oddly enough, Abe Lincoln,” Benioff explains, looking like he really thinks it’s odd.
“He wasn’t ready to get rid of slavery quite as quickly as people think!” Benioff explains.
How about Jon Snow’s murder-by-posse? “It’s a little bit like the assassination of Julius Caesar, where there were quite a lot of men involved in the conspiracy, Benioff reveals. These guys know what they want and they know how to get it: their old AP History textbooks.
More instructive are Benioff and Weiss’ revelations about character motivations — for instance, resolving some ambiguities about that Caesar-like conspiracy.
“I don’t think there’s any question about who did this and why,” Weiss says, laying down the law. “It was a very clear powergrab.” To break it down, those guys — whose faces we saw before they each stuck a knife into Jon Snow — were the characters they looked like they were. And when they said that they were doing it “for the watch,” that meant they didn’t think Jon Snow was doing a good job as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. It seems like they also wanted to take back control of it for themselves.
This heady insight extends to all elements of the plot. Weiss breaks down the mentality of the skeptical Dothrakis when Dany lights up that temple in brutal detail: “They’re thinking she’s a funny-looking, white-haired girl who has put herself on record thinking she’s all that, and stringing a bunch of high-falutin’ titles after her name.” On Cersei’s moral ambiguity, Benioff extrapolates, “She’s not an evil witch whose function in life is to perform evil.”
It was also fascinating when my brus Benioff and Weiss detailed their points of reference for certain dope imagery — Melisandre’s resurrection ritual, for instance. “It’s kind of like you’re applying the paddles to the patient of cardiac arrest but the paddles don’t work,” Benioff explained, making us consider that it is kind of like that.
When B&W had to deal with Jon actually getting up off the pallet, things got a little more complicated. “The first version we wrote had a lot of talking,” Weiss explained, discussing Snow’s first scene and the process of editing a script. As we saw it on the page, written out, we realized it was just too much dialogue.”
They also noted the challenges that Kit Harrington, the actor who plays Jon Snow, had to deal with in his first back-from-the-dead scene. “It’s living to learn with the experience of being murdered, which is an experience of absolutely no one in this world,” Benioff explains. This makes it painfully clear that, even though Benioff makes a dope-ass show full of crazy magic stuff, he doesn’t believe in it. Erwa-erwa-what? Maybe, in a more spiritual sense, he also doesn’t believe in resurrection, which is mind-blowing from a dude who seems as woke as Benioff. But the only way to figure that answer out is probably sliding into the BDMs (Benioff DMs).
Ian McShane, a very short-lived addition to the GoT cast this season, argued that he didn’t understand the diehard fandom surrounding the series, which he describes as “just tits and dragons.” That is to say, it’s meant to be sensational. Stuff happens for morbid or shocking effect and then is quickly forgotten. Perhaps the most decadent example in the season was McShane’s role itself: a lot of trouble and a big paycheck to highlight the Hound’s rehabilitation, reignite his bloodthirst, and show some more mangled bodies.
In other words, Benioff and Weiss — who are real ones — know how to give the people what they want. In many ways, they are the people. They, like many GoT fans, perhaps, fuck with metal and have sick tats. They, too, were totally freaked when they learned about the plan for Hodor: “I remember Dan and I just looking at each other when he said that and just being like, Holy shit,’” Benioff says. They make the most popular show on premium cable, and one of the most culturally significant pieces of pop art of the past five years. Why? Because they know people like that deep shit. “Rebirth is clearly a theme this season,” Benioff explained, as if just noticing it. My savages Dan and Dave know how to make that TV.