Game of Thrones writer Dave Hill gives a behind the scenes look at the creative process

Three Eyed Raven and Bran in Home Game of Thrones

Writer Dave Hill has been with Game of Thrones since season two, starting out as an assistant to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. He was promoted to writer in season five, taking the writing lead for “Sons of the Harpy.” He took the lead again in season six for “Home,” and is also responsible for the “Histories and Lore” features included in the Blu Ray releases. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Hill shares what it’s like to be involved in one of the biggest televisions shows of all time.


GoT writer Dave Hill

GoT writer Dave Hill

The pressure of writing for such a popular show must be overwhelming at times, but Hill is able to keep a sense of humor about it. When asked about his pre-writing rituals, he responds, “1) The largest iced coffee medically safe to drink. 2) Panic attack about how many people will be watching what I write. 3) Quick internet research on possible fallback professions. 4) Oooh, YouTube science videos! 5) Mental exhaustion. 6) The largest iced coffee medically safe to drink. 7) Rinse and repeat.” Hill adds, “At some point I have a script done. House elves, I suspect.”

Fortunately, Hill isn’t responsible for the difficult job of letting actors know when their time on the show has come to an end (usually due to a gruesome and shocking death). “My bosses [Benioff and Weiss] get that hard task, because they are tactful, courteous, eloquent – and now that they’ve stopped reading this, I confess I wonder if there isn’t an element of relief,” he says. “This show is a beast, and we must feed it with the blood of the living. Better them than us.”

From season 5's "Sons of the Harpy"

From season 5’s “Sons of the Harpy”

Even though the series has now surpassed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the writing process hasn’t changed much; in fact, the show has been on its own trajectory for years. Hill explains, “David and Dan have spent a decade driving toward these upcoming seasons, and also met with George years ago to discuss ending the series. A lot of the big stuff has been figured out for a while. And even from the pilot, the show has been evolving differently than the books due to everything from production concerns to casting wins to the demands of adaptation and the television medium,” he admits. “The seams between the books and the show were minute at first, but have grown larger with every passing season.”

The writing team spends an incredible amount of time working on the scripts. According to Hill, “It varies so much given how spread out our season is – basically the whole year. But for me, writing a first draft of an episode usually takes – with some production exceptions – around three weeks.” All that hard work is worth it though. “Even now, years in, I’m still thrilled to hear our incredible cast bring my words to life, and to walk onto these gorgeous sets with the veritable army that is our amazing crew,” Hill confesses. “To think that everyone with whom you’re working is the best in their field… That’s phenomenal and, honestly, downright intimidating.”

For a sweeping fantasy series like Game of Thrones, the devil is in the details. The crew spends countless hours ensuring that the imaginary world is as realistic as possible. Hill states that people would be surprised by “how much time on set is devoted just to figuring out how certain fantasy creatures (the Children of the Forest, the dead) walk and move through space. Also, the really banal stuff like portion sizes on plates at feasts and everyday meals.”

Children of the Forest on Game of Thrones

Staying true to the lore of Martin’s world is also a priority, although changes have certainly been made over the years. According to Hill, “We’ve all read the books countless times so we all have a pretty thorough working knowledge of them. That said, we sometimes have to alter book lore a bit to fit the demands of the show. For example, changing Asha Greyjoy’s name to Yara and that dragonglass also kills wights, as we saw in 605 [‘The Door’].”

One change that disappointed many fans was foregoing the distinctive purple eyes of the Targaryens, as they are described in Martin’s novels. Hill explains the change was unfortunate but necessary. “Believe we tried that in the original pilot, but asking anyone to act 10 hours a day in thick, dry plastic lenses that don’t even read on camera… Well, that ended fast. An early experience with the different demands of the TV medium versus books.”

When asked if any of the actors remain in character during a shoot, Hill quips, “Maisie [Williams] is always going around killing people between takes. Coincidentally, we usually finish shooting her scenes really fast.” The cast and crew definitely enjoy a good joke, as well as the occasional prank – such as the time John Bradley got a new costume for Samwell’s trip home to Horn Hill. As Hill puts it, it was “an abomination that would’ve made Henry VIII cringe.” Hill even has a humorous idea for a Game of Thrones spin off when the main series ends: “Hot Pie. Think about it! The Great Westerosi Bake Off = $$$$$!!”

John Bradley prank

Speaking of endings, does Hill know how the series will wrap up? “Well, we all broke the final season together, so…” Hill leaves the sentence unfinished, but presumably he knows where the story is headed. Most fans have no idea how it will end, although crazy theories abound. The most farfetched one Hill has heard is that “it’s all Bran’s dream as he lays dying from his fall in the pilot, like the little matchstick girl.” Not to worry – he says that theory is 100% wrong. Let’s hope so!

The entire interview is an entertaining read, so check it out over at BuzzFeed.

45 responses

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    1. ETA: HODOR! (Is that still a thing?)

      Smart of them to publicize the wight/dragonglass change now.

      I was worried r/asoiaf would collectively lose their shit when that episode aired over that, but it seems to be going down with a reasonable degree of understanding, which I am glad for. They seem to have taken it better than r/freefolk, which is not something I thought I’d see.

      If only the GoT Wikia was as reasonable. I shudder at the thought of the vitriol that will doubtless appear there after that episode airs.

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    2. Dragonglass killing wights makes sense from a KISS (keep it simple stupid) perspective, since even people who recap the show each week on YouTube can’t seem to remember what kills what. However, I also think it’s a change that divides the books from the show in far bigger ways than many people realize. It means D&D are going to give us a confrontation with a solution impossible in the books. So, whatever happens on the show from here on (with respect to the wights and White Walkers) will definitely not happen like this in the books. And I’m glad.

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    3. Dragonglass kills wights ?? I did not see that in 6.05. When did that happen ?

      I saw Meera kill a White Walker with dragonglass, that’s it.

      I’m a little skeptical of his statement that they spend so much time making sure everything is realistic.

      Arya chase scene last year ? Surviving all those stab wounds was not realistic. Having them reopen when she fell onto the market and then magically heal again was not realistic.

      Littlefinger taking Moat Cailin, staying there for weeks, then marching through the North with thousands of mounted knights and making it all the way to Winterfell without Ramsay knowing anything about it was not realistic.

      Having Jaime and Cersei accurately predict Dany’s arrival on Dragonstone yet make no effort to take it first was not realistic.

      Euron’s massive fleet being built in just a few months (at best) is also unrealistic.

      Daenerys burning down the temple of Dosh Khaleen was also unrealistic. The way the fire spread was absurd, the fact that all those huge men couldn’t break out of those wooden windows was odd, the fact that Dany is immune not only to fire but also to smoke inhalation and massive wooden planks falling on her head is silly, and the fact that the Dothraki who hate magic and witchcraft would all simultaneously swear allegiance to a foreign woman who just murdered all their leaders is not realistic at all.

      They would have been panicking, trying to figure what happened, mourning their dead khals, and calling her a witch. Yet they all calmly look on as Dany steps out, beside the two guards she had killed, and bow down in unison.

      Twenty good men infiltrating a camp of thousands and magically locating all the tents that had food, supplies and horses, setting them aflame simultaneously and leaving unscathed was not realistic, nor was Stannis just marching up to Winterfell with no scouts, no formation, and being somehow taken unawares by a massive cavalry.

      As much as I still love the show, there have been about a dozen unrealistic things in almost every episode since Season 5.

      Either they don’t quite know what is realistic, or they don’t really spend that much time on it.

      Sorry for the rant.

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    4. “dragonglass also kills wights as we saw in 605 [‘The Door’]”

      Aaaah I knew it! He he he. Guess getting that dragonglass is hella important now 😛

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    5. Markus Stark,

      One of the children of the forest killed a wight with dragonglass during the attack on the cave.

      But yeah the writing has been thin at best in the last couple of seasons.

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    6. Flayed Potatoes,

      I see, I hadn’t noticed that at all !

      EDIT : Just went back to look at that, and I actually did notice it every time I watched the episode, but I thought she was just ripping the wight’s head off. I didn’t think the wight had actually died.

      We always knew they could be decapitated, cut in half, etc…, but they would keep moving. Only fire could stop them.

      Interesting change to the lore, though it definitely makes the Wights a lot less unstoppable. Wonder if they’ll do the same with Valyrian steel.

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    7. Markus Stark,

      Well Jon scratched a wight during Hardhome with Longclaw and that thing fell down instantly, so it’s very likely. He does the same in the second trailer for this season. Otherwise we’d just have long boring sequences of Jon hacking at bones all the time, like Meera did in the season 4 finale with her regular steel weapon.

      Jenny,

      I know right? How dare he!111 😛

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    8. Like many I rewatched The Door scene just to see the wights and dragonglass change…I didn’t see it?

      I saw her remove a head but that was it? We already knew that could be done.

      But great article!

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    9. Flayed Potatoes,

      Obviously he should take all five of his men and go fight Cersei.Or even better stay put in the north and even though he speaks English and what he says makes factual sense and is very easy to understand repeat it for the 101st time.When they still don’t get it he should just pray and wait for the WW lol.

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    10. Markus Stark,

      You love the show? Lol

      Who are you kidding? You just bring negativity and hatred when you speak about the show,majority of your complaints don’t even makes sense, just like what you said about Stannis, completely ignoring the context of the story. He is a man who killed his child, lost his wife, lost Melisandre, he is willingly marching to his death, and you are acting like he was normal person in normal situation, just to spread negativity towards the show, like usual.

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    11. Markus Stark,

      What you are saying may be true. But I can forgive a lot in a fantasy story. I agree that aryas injury, Euron buildig a thousand ships are the ones that make me shake my head. Still – it all works out. And I am eagerly waiting to see what happens next!

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    12. HouseMartellBitches:
      ETA: HODOR! (Is that still a thing?)

      If only the GoT Wikia was as reasonable.I shudder at the thought of the vitriol that will doubtless appear there after that episode airs.

      With any luck he’ll be too busy “demanding”/”sueing” HBO to do a reshoot of the sept of Baelor (rape) scene from 403 with “Rhaenerya’s army”. My god.

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    13. ash: Euron buildig a thousand ships are the ones that make me shake my head.

      Euron didn’t build a thousand ships. Yara and Theon only stole the fastest ships.

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    14. If dragonglass does kill wights, then they’ve probably done that from a practical, production and writing perspective.

      Having to have the dragons available to kill the wights every time there’s a confrontation, or having to manufacture situations and environmental conditions where the human armies can rain flaming arrows onto the wights, would limit the writing and production process a fair bit.

      GRRM can come up with any solution he wants for killing wights, because he doesn’t have to come up with a way to realistically depict it all on screen and practically and safely produce it.

      Making the dragonglass kill wights means that they can depict any confrontation between the dead and the living more like a traditional battle.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’d love it if they were able to produce scenes where the Westerosi outwit the Night King on the battlefield; using wildfire, flaming arrows and dragons to counteract his undead army.

      Having dragonglass be a magic kill-all and cure-all isn’t ideal. But I understand the limitations that film-making can put on storytelling, so I can deal with it. As long as the end product is still impressive and gripping, that is.

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    15. Jenny,

      He should just spend the whole season supervising archery training like Ned did in episode one and every time one kid misses the target he should say: “Which one of you was a whitewalker slayer at 10? Keep practicing!” 😛

      What a great character arc!11 😛

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    16. Making wights vulnerable to dragonglass tilts the odds against them by some amount but I don’t think that it necessarily results in a fundamental divergence from the books (plotwise), because the jeopardy that they present comes, more than anything else, from their ability to proliferate rapidly. Dispatching them on a one-by-one basis only works when the number of wights is small enough. To defeat an army of them, it seems as though what is needed is a quick and efficient way either to destroy large numbers of them (such as flames from a fast-flying dragon) or to deactivate them (such as killing a controlling White Walker, perhaps). It’s difficult to see the dragonglass thing being a fundamental game-changer unless someone invents a dragonglass machine gun.

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    17. Markus Stark: Having Jaime and Cersei accurately predict Dany’s arrival on Dragonstone yet make no effort to take it first was not realistic.

      That was realistic, although they should have offered some reasoning.

      Jaime outlined the dire straits they’re currently in.

      Do they have the men and the ships to defend Dragonstone against Daenerys’ armada and her dragons?

      As well as defending King’s Landing and Casterly Rock and waging war against Dorne, The Reach, The North and maintaining peace in the Riverlands?

      They’re already overstretched as it is, which is why Jaime was complaining about their lack of allies.

      Could they hold Dragonstone against Daenerys, her armada and her dragons? How many men and ships would they be willing to risk to try and hold it?

      Dragonstone may be a strategic location, but there’s no point taking it if you can’t hold it and you don’t have men spare to try.

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    18. Ramsay’s 20th Good Man,

      It seems that some people need every detail to be explained. Well I don’t think they really need. I think there is just bias they have against the show so they need to find holes in almost everything that is happening in the show.

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    19. mau,

      It’s ridiculous. Especially some of the insane book purists on YouTube. Oh God. They’re the absolute worst.

      Not that it completely absolves D&D of their logical fallacies in the writing, but there isn’t a single long running fantasy series out there known to me that is devoid of plot holes. So I just take the minor ones with a grain of salt.

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    20. So is Meera then the only person who knows dragonglass kills Wights too? Because if dragonglass kills Wights in the show than why has no character said this to the audience? They just had an entire exposition scene in 701 with Jon Snow reminding the audience of the importance of dragonglass to kill White Walkers and not a peep about how it kills Wights too? Since this is apparently a thing in the show according to Hill, seemed like the opportune time to remind the audience it kills them too.

      So I’d have to assume Meera is the only one who knows and since she hasn’t been able to tell anyone yet, for plot reasons, that’s why no one has mentioned it. I guess?

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    21. Markus Stark,

      Your rant has good info!!!!

      The only sense I can make for Arya’s super power in season 6 is some sort of magic happens when certain people drink the water in the House of Black and White. Maybe if you’re training to be a Faceless Man the Faceless God blesses you when you drink the water. The Waif had super power too. The Waif was also leaping from tall buildings without breaking bones.

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    22. Omg same repetitive complaints
      Don’t people get tired of repeating the same things

      Been mia lately trying to avoid spoilers

      I’m so exciteddddd for tomorrow

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    23. Markus Stark,

      Loved the rant!!! I agree with all your points! I was rolling my eyes when these scenes occurred, and praise the fact we have the book for a more “realistic”, even handed and less dumbed down version of the story.. I guess in the end it will pay off, for there will be a neat ending and hopefully less unfinished strands

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    24. firstone,

      I also thought they would clarify her healing with her drinking that water ( which I think killed people, so I don’t know how) but nope they just sent her off to westeros and we all were happier for it if not very confused

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    25. @Markus Stark

      I agree with you 100%. There are countless numbers of illogical decisions. The show is very good anyway and i like watching it, but it could be even better. At some point D&D decided to go, sadly, the wtf-moment way full steam, as seen in the guy ritchie style poop montage. Isn´t a guy who is complaining about his warts on his schlong while exposing it enough?

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    26. It never ceases to amaze me how the show feels they have pointed something out that I totally didn’t see. Is my viewing not up to par, or does the show have a problem explaining the story and how things work? It’s like I have to make sure to watch the show and then do some homework by combing through articles to find out what I should know from watching. I don’t like homework!

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    27. As far as the ending for GoT goes, I believe George RR Martin has mentioned that he already told D&D what it is in the event of his death *knocks on wood*. Considering George also told them about the origin of “Hodor” and included it in the show, I really think the end will be true to whatever GRRM told D&D. The journey there, of course is a lot different, but the end I think will be more or less the same.

      Regarding the dragonglass it was obvious to me about its importance. I think back in season 2 Sam discovers weapons made from dragonglass at the Fist of the First Men. In ACoK, it was Ghost who led Jon to the buried dragonglass. Also the Valyrian translation for dragonglass is quite telling and highlights its importance considering the name of the book series.
      http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Dragonglass

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    28. I’m 100% fine with dragonglass killing wights and walkers, but I wonder why “they had to” make that change. Is there something that kills them in the books which is not in the series that they have left out? Obvs dragonfire will kill wights (book or show). And I imagine that will be more important than dragonglass….

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    29. Balon01: Euron didn’t build a thousand ships. Yara and Theon only stole the fastest ships.

      Ok fine, but he had to build enough to replace them. Still seems off. But like I said, I’ll just assume they were able to slow time (mmmm, whats the opposite of jet packs?)

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    30. firstone: The only sense I can make for Arya’s super power in season 6 is some sort of magic happens when certain people drink the water in the House of Black and White. Maybe if you’re training to be a Faceless Man the Faceless God blesses you when you drink the water. The Waif had super power too. The Waif was also leaping from tall buildings without breaking bones.

        Quote  Reply

      This makes sense. remember when blind arya is taken back to the HOBAW and is tested to see if she is no one. She then is given the water, told that (I think) if she is no one she will be healed. And voila. It would have been great if they showed her coming back, swimming in the water and be healed.

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    31. Ramsay’s 20th Good Man,

      I just thought that allowing Dany to land on Dragonstone could have been some sort of a trap: Cersei was counting on Euron’s Iron Fleet, so Dany’s landing on an island was more handy than her landing on the mainland (Dorne or Reach) – one way or another she will have to make one more sail from Dragonstone to the mainland and then Euron will get a chance to show his worth.

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    32. Markus Stark,

      1. Arya was stabbed twice in the side, which, according to every tv show and movie I’ve ever watched. is survivable, as long as she missed vital organs. Besides, the Waif obviously wanted Arya to die slowly, which was her mistake, giving Arya enough time to receive medical assistance. Her surviving her stab wound wasn’t anymore unbelievable as Jaime surviving his dismemberment, Davos surviving a mini nuke, Theon surviving his castration, Sandor surviving his wounds, etc.

      2. It’s actually entirely possible for Littlefinger to march the Vale army to Winterfell without Ramsay knowing. When Robert first came to Winterfell in the books, he remarked that he didn’t run into anyone in the North on his way to Winterfell.

      3. As others noted, they don’t have the means to hold Dragonstone from Dany’s armada.

      4. We don’t know how much time has passed since Euron’s coronation. Still, I’m not an expert on ship building, so I’m not sure the average time frame to building 800-900 ships.

      5. Like ship building, I’m no expert on fire, or how it spreads. For the khal, they were panicking and didn’t have any weapons, so that probably slowed down the process of breaking out considerably.

      6. The khal are never loved by their people. They only follow strength. When Khal Drogo died, no one in his khalasar mourned for him. They abandoned him at the first opportunity. If you think the khalasar worshipping Dany when they realize she’s immune to flame, you must have also said the same thing at he end of season 1/book 1.

      7. Stannis’s army wasn’t used to the cold, and much of the men were already getting sick. It’s entirely possible that his guards would be too incapacitated to keep a proper lookout. Besides, Ramsay traveled with a small force, so it would be harder to be detected. Stannis was an emotional wreck after he burned Shireen and lost half his army. He was incapable of thinking rationally at that point.

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    33. Inga,

      Yeah, they made a point during Euron’s scene in the throne room of mentioning that he managed to burn the Lannister fleet at Casterly Rock to start the Greyjoy Rebellion.

      And that the Ironborn were crushed when King Robert’s forces made it to the Iron Islands.

      It was a reminder that the strength of Euron and the Ironborn is on the sea, raiding and marauding.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if they follow this up by having Euron’s forces catch Dany’s navy off-guard either in dock or on the move.

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    34. Cersei’s Brain,

      Yeah, Cogman is fine. But can any writing withstand Mylod’s directing?

      Markus Stark,

      I don’t apply strict realism standards to a fantasy. Some of those things you listed are possible though unusual. Last year in post-episode threads some medical people pointed out Arya could survive those wounds, even back then. Of course, I think she drank from the HoB&W healing well too, or else she might have died. And 20 saboteurs can do a lot. So relax and enjoy.

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    35. Umm how is dragonglass killing wights something that needed confirmation? I always thought it did because it only makes sense. How is it surprising that something that kills white walkers also kills a being inferior to them? Dragonglass is “frozen” fire after all.

        Quote  Reply

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