Last night in Beverly Hills (swimming pools, movie stars) the United Talent Agency (UTA) held a screening of the Game of Thrones season 5 premiere episode, titled “The Wars to Come.” This was a lovely, fanciful affair held to benefit the Larchmont Charter School in a small, cushy theater that bore a sound system capable of rattling fillings from teeth. It (and the episode) was spectacular.
After the show (but before a complimentary open bar was opened for those in attendance), Bryan came down to the stage to answer a few questions. Herein lies my transcription of said interview. I’ll warn you ahead of time that I was only able to ask one question! (Sorry, folks!)
So without further ado, the UTA interview with Bryan Cogman: (MILD SPOILERS, especially with regard to the season 5 premiere episode!)
(Note: The MC was Dan Erlij, one of UTA’s top dudes. Think: a down-to-earth Ari Gold with an actual dry sense of humor. Seemed like a great guy. Bryan is repped by UTA.)
Dan: When did you realize the show was more than just a success? What was the first tangible evidence you had that this was a cultural phenomenon?
Bryan: Not to get dark here, but it was the night Bin Laden died. Joel McHale, the comedian — who I love — tweeted after Bin Laden was shot: “I bet Bin Laden’s wishing he’d caught the east coast showing of Game of Thrones.” So that’s what that night meant to me! I think we really just hoped it would be successful enough that we could do the whole thing? But I think it’s safe to say David and Dan and I… none of us thought it would be the phenomenon that it is. It’s hugely gratifying.
Dan: You have been referred to as the “Loremaster” of the show in interviews. Can you explain what that means, exactly, and what that burden entails?
Bryan: Ah, yes. It’s a terrible burden. No, I started off as David and Dan’s assistant on the original pilot. And now if you say “Stark” or “Lannister”, even if someone hasn’t seen the show they might know what you’re talking about. The shows and the books have really become part of the Zeitgeist. And at the time, while they were still pretty popular, they still had basically a cult following. So when I was working as their assistant I thought, Well, maybe I’ll do some timelines of the events leading up to the first episode of the show, do some family trees for the producers and the designers coming in, the directors coming in, and the executives… because no one really knew what to do with this thing, and you want to quickly be able to reference something in a meeting, so I did a few of those and gave them to David and Dan, and they said, “Oh, more please!” And before I knew it I had to be in all these meetings because I was the guy who could answer those questions. And then I benefited from the fact that David and Dan had never run a show before, and they didn’t know you shouldn’t give your assistant the fourth episode to write. So thanks, guys!
Dan: What has been the most controversial moment in the course of the series, do you think?
Bryan: Gosh. I dunno. Controversial in what way?
Dan: In terms of the rabid fans you have, writing things. Because my follow-up question is: What is the worst thing that’s ever been written about you in the blogosphere?
Bryan: Oh, wow. Well I stopped checking the blogosphere as much. I’ve been called a “hack” more than once. (He gives a look that kind of translated to “But who hasn’t?”) But I dunno. Culturally… there was a scene last year between Jaime and Cersei that was upsetting, and was meant to be upsetting, so… I guess mission accomplished. That was certainly controversial in a cultural way. And… well, the thing about these books is, everyone has got their favorite character. Everyone has their favorite character, everyone has their favorite subplot, or dialogue from the books. It’s such a rabid and — for the most part — wonderful fan base, so everybody’s got something. There’ve been controversies throughout. Some people say, “This character would never do that in the books,” and that’s sometimes true, but… you know, we make the decisions we make that we believe are best for the show. If I say much more I’ll just get hammered in print tomorrow, so…
Dan: It’s already starting, but it feels like this year especially, you’re going to be outpacing the novels. How are you managing to balance the obligation to book fans while also creating wholly new stories? And particularly with George Martin being a writer and a producer on the show, how does that work? Have there been disagreements about the direction, and what do you do when the parents fight?
Bryan: Wow! That’s a lot. You know, it’s a tricky thing. I think for the longest time, we were going season by season, hoping we could get that done, and then as we got to planning seasons 3 and 4, we realized, “Oh, I think we’re actually gonna be able to do this whole thing!” And we sat down with George in Santa Fe, in his home, and he sort of walked us through his Big Picture plan for the whole saga. So we have that! But ultimately, they’re two different mediums. The needs of a fifth season of a TV show are vastly different from the needs of a fifth book in a series, so… decisions are made for creative reasons, for budgetary reasons, for all kinds of reasons.
Dan: So you’re saying there’s never been a moment where George has said, “There’s no way you can do that.”
Bryan: Well he’s never expressly said “Don’t do this!” He’s not in the writers room when we break down the season. He reads the outline and gives us thoughts, we go back and forth and we ask him questions, he asks us questions. It’s been a great collaboration. He understands the show universe is the show universe, and the book universe is the book universe. I’ve said this before, but… If you read comics, if you read DC comics, there’s Earth 1, there’s Earth 2, and the way I reconcile it, as a fan of the books — as one of the biggest fans of the books — there’s Westeros 1 and Westeros 2, and they’re alternate universes; some things are the same, some things are different. And if we jump the shark in season 7, the Tyrion with no nose might enter a time warp and come into the show. And do battle with the Tyrion that has a nose.
(Dan is looking at him very strangely.)
Bryan: In the… books he doesn’t… have a nose. (Room is laughing, so there’s a pause.) It was chopped off. (More laughing.) And we… didn’t think we should chop off… Peter’s nose.
Dan: (Rather clueless look but I have a feeling he was purposefully playing the straight man here) So you’ve talked about ending the series after season 7, season 8. Is it official now? And why would you do that when it’s so succesf–
Bryan: Do you really think I’m gonna talk officially about that right here? “Yes! I can say right now…!”
Dan: (glumly) Okay.
Bryan: Well, okay, I can’t speak to that. But I don’t think I’m speaking out-of-turn by saying the episode that you all just saw is phase 2 of ‘Thrones. The show as you know it is not the same. It’s definitely moving toward the endgame, if that means anything. But that’s definitely what we’re doing.
Dan: Well, do you know how it ends?
(Dan looks sad that he’s not getting more. Room is dying with laughter at this point. Poor Dan. Womp womp.)
Dan: (Changing tactics!) Clearly, in this episode here, we see that Varys has an idea of who might be the ideal ruler for the Seven Kingdoms. Do you have a character that you think could be the eventual ruler?
Bryan: Well, if I said that it might give away something.
(Dan looks at all of us like “Duh!”)
Bryan: I know I’m being cryptic, but there’s nothing I can’t say that won’t be parsed–
Dan: Okay, I’m gonna try–
Bryan: I have favorite characters, if that’s what you want.
Dan: Fine. Is there a particular storyline or house that you like writing to more? Is there one you feel a particular affinity to?
Bryan: Well, it… changes from season to… (Break for a lovely fit of coughing. He takes a drink of water, and then says, aside:) There’s a frog in my throat the day that I have to speak. (Back on track!) It changes from season to season. We had a great time, and I personally had a great time with Cersei in the season that you’re about to enjoy. Hopefully. I think her season, her arc this year is incredible. I’ve tended to like the downtrodden, outcast characters, like Sam, Theon in season 2 — and throughout, really — but really exploring that in season 2 was a lot of fun. But they’re all wonderful. They all feel like foster kids to me.
Dan: You’ve done this before. You’re very Politik.
Bryan: Yeah, well. (A wince and an apologetic shrug.) You have to be.
Dan: Okay, well, I think I’m just gonna open it up to–
Bryan: Oh! The kids! I love the kids. And I love writing the kids. And they have blossomed into something wonderful–
Dan: Are you saying Arya and Sansa, as the kids?
Bryan: Yeah, particularly Arya and Sansa in this season. You’ll see, they–they–
(It’s like he almost let something slip. Dan leans in, SUPER INTERESTED NOW…)
Bryan: They.. are just… astonishing.
(Dan slumps.) (More laughter. Dan Erlij needs his own Womp womp soundtrack.)
Dan: Can you at least … Fine. Final question before I go to the room. But I think this has been referenced: Are we gonna see dragons go west? Is this east coast vs. west coast? Biggie Smalls vs. Tupac?
(Bryan just smiles and shakes his head.)
Dan: … Nope…? Maybe other people will be able–
Bryan: (faux-accusingly) You’re my agent!
Dan: I know!
Bryan: I love this. You’ve become like this… (Predator hands? T-Rex? Something.)
Dan: I’m gonna open it up and maybe other people can ask smarter questions.
Bryan: They’re very smart. I just can’t answer them!
So I was ready to ask questions, and was right down front in the middle. They couldn’t ignore my omnipresence! I raised my hand and waved like I was flagging down a cab!
Dan: Okay, you.
Bryan: (Instant recognition!) AXECHUCKER!
Me: (an intelligent-sounding) Hey! Wh… Uh. Hey! (I waved to… everyone.)
(If all eyes weren’t on me before, they sure were now. I think one guy thought I was about to rush the stage with an axe in hand.)
Bryan: That’s his internet name.
Me: I didn’t actually… bring my axe with me. This time.
Bryan: Thank you. It’s nice to meet you.
Me: It’s nice to meet you! We can… do the small-talk… chat… after. Later. I think.
(Everyone. Staring. I’m still a little freaked out, but the show must go on!)
Me: This is a little awkward. Okay! The scripts for season six! Are they done?
Bryan: No. We’re working on them!
Me: Okay! How is that? How does it feel… like… because now you’re going beyond. Parts of season 5, we already know, is delving into stuff the books haven’t covered yet. Season 6 almost definitely… you’re gonna be covering stuff no one’s even heard of before. What does that feel like?
Bryan: Well without confirming or denying what you just said, it feels great! I mean, yeah, it’s scary, and immensely challenging, but it’s always been scary and immensely challenging in different ways. But I think David and Dan have a very clear vision of where they want the show to go, and… personally, I’ve been writing a lot of other things lately, and it’s actually been wonderful to get back into ‘Thrones. I’ve been writing for these characters now for the better part of the past 6 or 7 years. So I feel very comfortable writing for their voices, and writing for the cast, so in that way it’s kind of easier. Because even if I’m approaching a scene that doesn’t have a book counterpart, I feel like the characters, as they exist in the show, are kind of a part of my DNA at this point. So it is always easier. But it is scary. Hopefully everyone likes it.
Guy In The Hat: This show doesn’t really seem like it’s a jump-the-shark kind of show…
Bryan: Well just you wait!
Guy In The Hat: Well I know in the books the story basically has an end. But I’m just… would you consider lobbying, saying like… I would watch season 15 if it came to it. I’m not losing any interest in it. And I don’t see any other people losing any interest in it.
Bryan: Thank you!
Guy In The Hat: Would this be something that you guys could kind of lobby? Like hey, if people could stay invested for that long…
Bryan: Personally, I’ll do it for as long as they want me to do it. But look, one of the reasons I think it won’t be a jump-the-shark show is that shows tend to jump the shark when they’ve reached a point when they should be ending, or working toward an ending. So I think a clear end in sight and a narrative drive, and arcs that have been carefully worked out will result in a better show. If it’s not as long a show, it’s probably the better for it. And I can’t think of too many great TV shows that have lasted longer than… well, I can’t give a number out. But you know what I mean.
Guy In The Hat: Well don’t you think that this show is an exception? It’s kind of a phenomenon…
Bryan: Well, thanks! I like talking to you! (Sidelong glance at Dan who has a look that basically says ‘I regret nothing.’)
Bryan: Look, I think to maintain the quality that everyone appropriately appreciates, you kind of have know when to fold ’em. Now I can’t confirm when that is, but… a 15-year show is probably not in everyone’s best interest. But I… yanno. Who knows?
Guy In The Beard: A big part in the books was revealing Robert’s Rebellion. Going forward, is that something you want to explore on the show, or do you think that’s only for the books?
Bryan: That’s a great question. I think you’ll find this season that the relationship to the past is a bigger theme.
Dan: So are there more flashbacks like we saw?
(NOTE: Season 5 episode 1 opens with a Cersei flashback. Sorry, spoilers!)
Bryan: In a book, you can kind of flow in and out of a character’s memory and it works. You do that on a show, well… A. You’ve then employed another cast of thousands. And B. It would just disrupt the momentum. Just going in and out, foom-foom-foom-foom! The guys made a decision very early on that we weren’t going to do them. We felt that this season… and it being a big season thematically for Cersei… we thought it would work at the start of the episode. And it works as kind of a prologue. Which isn’t to say we won’t do others in the future, I don’t know if we are or not, but… I don’t think you will be seeing huge, detailed flashbacks this season. But I do think you will be seeing a greater relationship to the past, and how it informs the characters now.
Guy Way Up There: Everyone is their own toughest critic, is there stuff you look at like “Wow, I did a great job there,” or is there–
Bryan: (definitively) Yes!
Guy Way Up There: Well, conversely, is there stuff you look back on and you’re almost forced to look away, like “Aw, I can’t believe I…” Like specific pros and cons.
Bryan: Yes. Thankfully, I have showrunners who, if I did write something totally embarrassing, it didn’t make it to air, because they either told me how to fix it, or fixed it themselves. Season 1 is interesting for me to watch, because we were sort of learning how to make the show, and still figuring out how to make them. And it’s funny because (excluding the pilot) episode 4 was actually the first one we shot. (NOTE THAT MOST OF YOU ALREADY KNOW: Bryan wrote that episode, titled “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.”) And as a result, a lot of things were moved, a lot of things were written on the fly, and we were still figuring it all out. So I look at that one and I’m very proud of the episode, I think it’s great, but it has less resemblance to my original script for a lot of reasons. So maybe season 1 I might look back at some things and go, “Oooh, if we had more money back then we could have done this,” and all that. But for the most part I benefit from having two very talented bosses who fix a lot of my mistakes. (He shouts up to the top) Andrea, tell Dan I said that!
(Andrea Troyer, Dan Weiss’s lovely wife was in attendance, and she was one of the driving forces behind having the gala benefit Larchmont Charter School.)
And as if one cue, the questions ended there. There was a sweet door prize of a MASSIVE basket of GoT goodies handed to a lucky fan, and of course an open bar with appetizers.
…Of course I cornered Bryan later, and he remained lovely as ever. He seems a lot more comfortable speaking one-on-one as opposed to in front of a theater full of people, and I even managed one more question: What was the team dynamic like now, working with The Bastard Dave Hill, and also did Dave mind being called The Bastard Dave Hill?
The answer was “It was great working with him, he’s exceedingly talented,” and no, Dave Hill doesn’t mind (and Bryan kind of thinks he sort of likes being called The Bastard Dave Hill.)
(Akin to people telling Kit he knows nothing, I surmised.)
But yes. All in all a wicked good time. I hope they do this next year!
(NOTE FOR NEXT YEAR: They charged $40. I’d pay $80. Just sayin’!)
Good times. Two days, peeps!