The fourth season to HBO’s flagship program “Game Of Thrones” premiering this Sunday, we caught up with show writer and native Oklahoma son, Bryan Cogman.
I wrote about Cogman’s journey from being the assistant to show co-creator David Benioff to writing episodes before the midway mark of the first season. You can read all about that here.
Game Of Thrones is based off of the wildly popular book series “A Song Of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin who is equally famous for his bloodlust as for his sense of grandeur in the series. With more than 40,000 pages written spread across five books so far and with two books pending, the size of Martin’s universe is gigantic and ever expanding.
We wanted to talk with Cogman about what it’s been like trying to fit such size down into an hour long television episode and what his favorite part of working on one of television’s most popular show has been.
Naturally, Cogman is well versed in the ASOIAF universe, having read every book several times over, and has insight into future events of the books and show that he is allowed to discuss (spoiler questions were asked though, trust me.)
As a writer, how is it for you trying to adapt such a gigantic fantasy landscape with dozens of different plot points into an hour long TV episode?
BG: ”It’s a wealth of things to work with which is great from a writing standpoint but it’s not easy. The books get even bigger and bigger and harder to wrestle as they continue and that makes it much harder to adapt into the television format. Season 1 was much easier because it was really just about the family and politics, it had a very classical structure that worked really well as an adaptation.
But this series just has hundreds and hundreds of characters and subplots in subplots and thousands of years of anthology of Westeros or Essos, if I’m not careful I could be cutting to flashbacks every five seconds, so it’s a big challenge.
When we started it was more like each season corresponded with each book, now it’s more of an adaptaption of the whole saga. A lot of that is budgetary and time. You have to decide what aspects and plot points and characters have to be sacrificed and you start doing that and it becomes its whole own show, almost like an alternate universe to George’s books.”
Speaking of George, what’s it like working with him? I can only imagine that it’s difficult to sit in the same room as him and attempt to adapt his books with him watch.
BG: George writes and episode a season but he’s not in the writers room with us when we are writing the season because he has plenty to do with trying to finish the books.
We meet with him in New York and we powwowed with him and everything now is devoted to the end game of really finishing the story. He’s an incredible resource and very supportive of what we are doing but it’s a very health working relationship and we have a great dialogue between him and the show.
Game Of Thrones could enter unprecedented territory in coming seasons by surpassing the source material. How have these conversations been with Martin about how the show might continue past where his last book has finished.
BG: Yeah, obviously I can’t say a ton about the future of the show but I think we have made it really clear that we aren’t stopping. We have talked with George and I think he understands that we can’t really stop either.
We have the end mapped out and are excited about the show and all of the possibilities. It is a bit unprecedented but I imagine it will still appeal to both fans of the books and of the shows. And George is hard at work on the last two books, I know a lot of people get frustrated because they love this story so much and they want to see it finished, but it’s not just like he can press a magic button. He’s plugging away at it.
How has it been working on a show that has just exploded in popularity like this?
We always knew it was special because you read those books and you just know that this is different but I never thought it would be this big. It never occurred to me. Quite frankly I thought it would have a cult following and appeal to the genre crowd but people of all stripes, ages and persuasions are watching the show.
I think we just assumed the geeks of the books would enjoy it but to make it a show that everyone would we really made a conscious effort to make it as accessible as possible. The fantastical efforts are certainly there but it was a conscious choice to focus on the family and the politics in the first season to suck people in and I think it helps.
I think if we had led with dragons and the white walkers and the shadow babies, not everyone would’ve stayed because of that. Now everyone is ready for it because they are invested in the characters. My father would never consciously pick up a book called Game Of Thrones, but he and my mom both did to support me and they ended up loving them. George’s story and characters reach beyond the trappings of the genre.
People that normally wouldn’t watch shows about walkers and dragons… the show has awakened the inner geek in people that they didn’t now existed. That’s a really fun thing for me.
Who are your favorite characters to write scenes for?
It varies from season to season but I still like Jaime Lannister a lot. I got to write his back story last season and that was a lot of fun. because when Jaime is introduced, he is such the prototypical villain but there really is so much more to him. So to introduce him as a villain and deconstruct him and give people second thoughts about him was a thrill. It’s more complicated than just a straight redemption arch, we get inside and see what make him the way he is. His arch is fascinating, lots of contradictions with him.
Does the weight or pressure of having to appease so many fans every weigh on you?
BG: It’s a funny thing for the people that are core fans of ASOIAF because they have lived with these characters for quite awhile. Their connection to these characters stems from their imaginations and from their minds so when they see our versions of these characters in the show and they sometimes don’t match… some fans have had to reconcile with that a little bit.
The pressure used to wear on me. I was on twitter a couple years ago and I couldn’t handle it all that well, don’t get me wrong because 90% of the feedback you get is fantastic. But those nasty people who are being disrespectful and they tweet you and they say you completely screwed Stannis’ story line, it’s just rude. Even if you feel that and you have the right to say whatever because Twitter is a public forum, you shouldn’t say that.
A couple years went by and I rejoined Twitter recently. I’ve had a fun time engaging with the fans and I’ve got much tougher skin now.
What will you be doing for the premiere on Sunday?
Me and the rest of the writing team already have our heads wrapped around season 5, so we are hard at work with that.
Being on this show is an amazing ride and I think season 4 is going to be our best. Between all the visual effects and on scene shoots it nearly killed us to make it. But we have the hardest working crew on television hands down. There is no show on any network that requires the amount of stamina and planning to film in three different countries with two different units filming at the same time.
What about this season are you looking forward to the most?
The previous seasons were slow builds. This whole season is relentless. Every day felt like we were filming some huge scene and I don’t mean in terms of scope and technicality or the action, but for the importance of the story every scene felt heavy. The highs and lows for all the characters in this season are so intense.
It’s going to be our best season yet, I really believe that.