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'Game of Thrones' Sets a Debut Date and Producers Discuss Fans' Expectations

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jan 9th 2011 11:30PM
'Game of Thrones,' the long-awaited HBO fantasy drama, finally has a premiere date: April 17.

To satisfy fans who are always clamoring for more tidbits from the show, which is based on a novel of the same name by George R.R. Martin, the network also released new 'GoT' photos Friday; you can find some of those images on this post.

On Thursday, HBO screened a 15-minute trailer drawn from five different 'GoT' episodes for members of the media; you can find my account of that screening here. But the marquee 'GoT' event of last week was the panel on the show at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.

At the TCA panel, Martin, along with the show's executive producers, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and cast members Emilia Clarke, Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage, fielded questions from the media about 'GoT,' which chronicles the intrigues and struggles of several noble families in the fictional world of Westeros.

Before and after the panel, I spoke with Clarke, Martin, Benioff and Weiss, and I'll post more excerpts from those one-on-one interviews closer to the 'GoT' premiere. But in this post, I wanted to share their answers to a question that came up during the panel: How are they dealing with the expectations of the show's avid and active fan base, one that has closely followed every scrap of 'GoT' information for several years?

What's below are their answers to that question, as well as some thoughts from Clarke on what it was like to have her first major role be a key character in a high-profile HBO project.

Part 1: Excerpt from an interview with executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

MR: Is it hard to manage people's expectations? The media, including myself, is always clamoring for more, and the fans have their own very specific ideas of what they want. Has it been challenging to negotiate all of that?

DB: I'd say, not so much, because I'm a lot more worried about George -- George's reaction to the show and our personal reactions to the show. My feeling is, if George loves the show, and if we do -- and we're as devoted to this as anyone, having spent the last five years of our lives in Westeros -- our basic feeling is that if we can make George happy, we're going to make most of his fans happy. George is the one who created this world, so he's the one I'm mostly concerned with. And I feel like we're pretty self-critical. So it's impossible to worry about trying to please a million people out there. It's a lot easier to just picture the one guy, the creator.

And everyone talks about the fans, like, 'Are they going to make the fans happy?' But the fans are not one homogenous base. They have all sorts of different opinions. People have radically different opinions on casting and the looks of various things. You'll see these great arguments and people going back and forth with very verbose and well-formulated arguments this way and that way. But people don't agree, and that's the way it should be. They won't agree with everything we do in our version of it, but I think it's going to be a pretty faithful version.

MR: It's pretty unusual for a show to have such an active and passionate fan base before a TV show even airs.

DBW: Yeah. With film it's more common. The 'Harry Potter' films [had an established fandom], and those are films that probably are very targeted towards the fan base.

DB: Even with non-genre stuff, people around the world who had read 'The Kite Runner' [a film Benioff wrote the script for], for instance, were just obsessed with the book. So you feel the pressure on a number of different things you work on. This is an unusually articulate fan base and unusually obsessed. People are really committed to these books, which is great, on the one hand, because the reason they're so committed to it is because the books are so good. George created a world that is so lavishly imagined that people can lose themselves in it and don't want it to be screwed up. And we don't want it to be screwed up either.

Part 2: Excerpt from an interview with George R.R. Martin (a previous interview with Martin is here). Martin is the author of 'A Song of Ice and Fire,' a series of novels that begin with 'A Game of Thrones.' Martin, who worked in television for 10 years before returning to fiction, is the co-executive producer of 'Game of Thrones' and wrote an episode of the show's debut season.

MR: What do you think in terms of the fan expectations at this point? Do you wish there was more video out there, more photos, or do you feel like it's appropriate for being four months away from the premiere?

GRRM: I think HBO knows how to do this stuff better than I do, so I have to trust their instincts about when to release things and how much to release to ramp up the publicity so it reaches the right points at the right time.

You know, for the most part, my fans are great and the expectations are good. My one concern is, a lot of fans have no conception of the reality of the [entertainment] business. I think there's a certain portion [of fans] out there -- the minority, mind you, the minority, I don't know how many -- who are going to be looking at this and expecting Peter Jackson's 'Lord of the Rings,' regardless of the fact that the budget for 'Lord of the Rings' was infinitely larger than our budget, many times [larger]. They can't expect that. I hope -- and I think we will -- have the best-looking fantasy series ever seen on television. But it's not a $150 million movie. And we can't compete with that. So the fans have to understand that.

I want this to look good. Of course we do. We want great special effects and all of that. But to my mind, what's important is the characters and the acting. One of my favorite television series of all time, which I rewatch every couple years, is 'I, Claudius.' You look at 'I, Claudius' and it's got painted canvas backdrops that occasionally move if one of the actors walks past them too fast. But who the hell cares? You're watching Derek Jacobi and Brian Blessed and Sian Phillips, with some of the best-written dialogue and some of the most terrific acting and directing that you'll ever see on television. So 'I, Claudius' is still a classic, even though they obviously had a budget of $3.19.

Part 3: Excerpt from an interview with Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, an exiled noblewoman who wants to return to Westeros to reclaim the throne.

MR: Your character is off in one world, she's really separate from the journeys of the other characters. And you as an actress were filming your scenes separately from the rest of the cast. Did you feel alone sometimes? Did you feel that separation and was it good or bad?

EC: It's funny, because we all met, and we all did the read-through together, and the whole cast were joking about it, we were all saying, 'Well, this is the last time we're going to see each other. [laughs] We're just going to be on the same TV series for the rest of our lives, but we won't hang out!'"

[As it turned out, despite the fact that there are several story lines that were filmed separately, a lot of the cast's time in Belfast overlapped, so she became good friends with several other actors, including Harry Lloyd, who plays Viserys Targaryen, Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, Richard Madden, who plays Robb Stark, and Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy.]

All of us had a nice kind of crew together, which was lovely, and we kind of overlapped, we hung out. But then the biggest thing was that the people who I personally worked with are just the best people ever. Harry Lloyd is now my best friend. Ian Glen [who plays Daenerys' advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont] is the best mentor anyone could ever ask for. He's incredible, just the most brilliant, prestigious British actor, and a wonderful person. And Jason Momoa [who plays Dothraki leader Khal Drogo] is just the coolest kid around. So just that alone -- to be working with those guys and being around such brilliant professionals -- it didn't really feel lonely at all.

MR: Describe what your first day on set was like.

EC: Crazy! It was on a horse! It was with a whole caravan of the Dothraki people, and we're in these amazing willow fields. It was petrifying. It was so scary. I can ride, I've done some riding before because I grew up in the countryside. But riding on camera is just something totally different. And riding on camera with 60 other horses is crazy.

So that's where Ian -- that's where we bonded to start off with, because he was kind of calming his horse down and calming me down at the same time. But it was amazing, because, as with this entire shoot, it was baptism by fire. And for me, my favorite thing to do is have new experiences and learn from them. After that, you're like, "Cool, bring on the acting!"

MR: I asked for some fan questions on Twitter, and one fan asked -- with all the expectations for this series, are you getting used to the fan attention? Have you experienced much of it?

EC: A very, very small amount. I was hugely aware of the enormous fan base that came with 'Game of Thrones, with it being such a brilliant book. From my point of view, I always wanted to try to give them what they deserve as fans who love this thing so much. I just think that it's the least, as actors, that we can do.

As far as the attention, it's the part and the acting that are the thing for me. So the other stuff -- it's there, but it's not something that I concentrate on, that I'm fully aware of. More than anything, it's the acting [that occupies her attention].

Bonus factoid: There was a Twitter account that was using Emilia's name, but I asked if that was really her, and she said it was not. The account's now gone from Twitter.

Check out Westeros and Winter is Coming for more coverage of 'Game of Thrones' at TCA.


Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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8 Comments

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applelinda

It's just porn.

April 20 2011 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David P. Graf

It's obvious that you two enjoyed the book far more than I did. That's fine. Different strokes for different folks. However, I feel no need to defend why I didn't enjoy it beyond what I put in my original note.

January 12 2011 at 5:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to David P. Graf's comment
Sergio

It is an odd complaint to lodge against the books though. It's equivalent to complaining about The Sopranos because organized crime syndicates exploit working communities, or complaining about The Wire because the war on drugs turns inner city slums into warzones.

January 13 2011 at 4:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sergio's comment
David P. Graf

Sergio,
I see your point! After all, I enjoy the Law & Order series even though mayhem and violence form the basis of their stories. However, I don't see "Game of Thrones" as entertainment. Based upon my reading of medieval history, It reminds me too much of all the horrible things that happened to ordinary people thanks to vain and power hungry aristocrats. I might feel the same way about shows and books in which the third reich wins the second world war if I knew a survivor of the holocaust.. And so, I have to retract my comment about "Game of Thrones" being medieval porn. Thanks for your insight.

January 14 2011 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
Katja

Hmm, dunno why I can't reply to your later post as I wanted.

Anyway, I think you answered my question. Kinda. I suppose you feel the troubles too strongly to enjoy the story? That's fair enough, I'm having the same problem with reading Stieg Larsson. I enjoy fantasy and scifi because I can distance myself more but still find some meaning to the stories.

By the way, I didn't mean that you had to defend your opinion. I was just interested to hear more about the basis for it, precicely because it's very different from mine.

January 15 2011 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David P. Graf

I may be in the miority but I am not looking forward to seeing 'Game of Thrones'. It's medieval porn in my opinion. Ordinary people pay the price for the power plays of a few aristocrats. I have no doubt that it will be entertaining but I am too familiar with medieval history to enjoy it.

January 10 2011 at 10:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to David P. Graf's comment
Werthead

"Ordinary people pay the price for the power plays of a few aristocrats."

Indeed, that's one of the key themes of the books, particularly from the second one onwards. If you mean will the series gloss over the suffering of the common people than no, not if they're being faithful to the text. In fact, the fourth novel concentrates quite heavily on this theme.

January 10 2011 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Katja

What exactly do you mean? Like Werthead I think it's a bit unclear. And did you read the book(s) or are you basing your opinion on the promo material alone?

If you did read the book I'd love to hear exactly why you didn't enjoy it as most people seem to be completely hooked by the first hundred pages or so.

January 11 2011 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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