GAME OF THRONES RETURNS!
Entertainment Weekly Looks At The Thrilling Epic Series As It Returns
With More Magic, More Swords and More Sex.
NEW YORK – Returning for its second season, HBO’s fantasy hit Game of Thrones is sexier, bloodier, and more epic than ever. In this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, we look at how the show isn’t just for nerds anymore.
The phrase—battling everything—could have been the mantra for Game of Thrones’ second season on screen and off. Based on New Mexico novelist George R.R. Martin’s fantasy-book series A Song of Ice and Fire, Game of Thrones follows the brutal quest for power among several ruling families in a sprawling mythical kingdom. Its initial 10-episode series order was considered a risky move for a premium network best known for contemporary shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Though the sexy vampire drama True Blood proved that a supernatural series could succeed on the network, the high-fantasy genre was still considered so...so...nerdy. Television’s last hit fantasy series was the syndicated Xena: Warrior Princess, and no TV show had ever pulled off combining swords, sorcery, and R-rated sex and violence. When Thrones premiered to lavish critical praise last April, the network granted it a quick renewal. “Our biggest goal is passionate engagement,” says HBO programming chief Michael Lombardo. “And Thrones has rabidly passionate viewers.” But only about 2.2 million people tuned in for the initial airing, which isn’t so hot when a network spends a reported $50–60 million on a project. Then something strange happened. Fueled by word-of-mouth buzz, Thrones’ ratings went up. And up. Martin’s novels leaped onto best-seller lists, moving a staggering 8.4 million copies in 2011, including his newest Song of Ice and Fire installment, A Dance With Dragons.
The show even impressed the stuffy ranks of the Emmy voters, scoring 13 nominations, including best drama, and a win for Peter Dinklage’s swaggering turn as sharp-witted dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Counting repeats, DVR, and on-demand playback, Thrones’ first season has now tallied 9.3 million viewers per episode.
The acclaim transformed the cast into objects of fan worship, even beyond the feverish halls of Comic-Con, where the group was greeted like conquering heroes last summer. Taking a break from shooting season 2, Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) was on the streets of Dubrovnik when a young stranger made a beeline toward her. “I thought he was going to ask for directions,” she says. “And he goes, ‘You are my khaleesi!… Mother of dragons!’ ” Dinklage too found himself reeling from the fan-tensity. “One woman said she named her daughter [after the Thronescharacter] Sansa,” he recalls. “I didn’t know what to say about that.”
If Thrones’ first year was considered a creative gamble, the second season demanded that HBO and producers double down: The new chapter has a larger cast, a more complex story, and an array of new exotic locations that required several production units often shooting simultaneously across three countries. There are more dragons, CGI enhanced “direwolves” (played by real wolves this time instead of dogs), and a massive climactic battle. All of which called for a boosted budget—and getting that wasn’t easy either. “There’s so many characters and locations and story lines, so many things that are atypical in television—and for good reason,” says producer Dan Weiss, who writes for the show along with fellow exec producer David Benioff. “You could do this show relatively easily with twice the money that we have, then after a couple great seasons it’d collapse under its own weight and cease to exist.”
The new season has enough scheming, deception, and fighting for a dozen TV shows (or a few Harry Potter novels). The only ingredient missing was something that most networks would consider crucial: a widely known, marketable star like Sean Bean, who graced the first season’s ad campaign. Bean’s honorable patriarch Ned Stark was beheaded in front of his young daughters near the end of the first season, a move that shocked even HBO executives. “I did not know the ride we’d be going on in season 1,” admits Lombardo, who discovered the plot twist after ordering the pilot. As much as producers have been willing to depart from Martin’s source material, however, there’s one sequence in the new season that Weiss and Benioff desperately wanted to render faithfully: a battle so enormous, it seemed impossible to shoot.
“As great as the first season was, there were a few things that were a little problematic,”says Martin, a co-exec producer who occasionally writes for the HBO adaptation of his novels.“One of them was the absence of battles.” A wartime sequence had, in fact, been planned for the final episode of Thrones’ first season. But it was scrapped in favor of a less costly strategy, one that TV series have used for decades when staging a large conflict: Show the run-up and aftermath, but not the actual fight. But that technique wasn’t going to work this time around. “This season is about a country at war,” says Benioff. “And we felt like if we didn’t see the most important battle of this entire war on screen, we’re going to shortchange viewers.” While Weiss and Benioff pride themselves on finding creative solutions to budget issues (“One really powerful image can be stronger than six merely good images,” Weiss says), this obstacle had only one solution: “We had to go begging,” Benioff says candidly, “cap in hand, several times.” The duo didn’t get as much cash as they wanted (the show’s budget rose 15 percent overall this year), but they credit HBO for never once asking if wartime scenes would increase ratings. “[The conversation] was all about why this story needs this big battle,” Benioff says. Adds HBO’s Lombardo: “All of it’s on the screen. David and Dan are not only talented writers but they’re nimble, and I think we’ve figured it out.”
The result is a massive battle sequence—scripted by Martin himself and largely shot in a quarry in Northern Ireland—that, according to Benioff, could run for “at least half an episode.” While most hour-long TV episodes are filmed in less than 10 days, the Blackwater episode took about a month of wet, muddy night shoots. Dinklage in particular was pummeled by the elements. Says Weiss,“Peter didn’t have to act tired because by 5 a.m. he’s had 41-degree rain pouring on him for eight hours straight.”
But the struggles will be worthwhile if Thrones comes roaring back to another round of praise, awards, and, perhaps, an even bigger audience when it premieres (April 1 at 9 p.m.). The producers are itching to dive into Martin’s fan-favorite third novel, which they plan to split into two seasons. HBO executives suspect that like Daenerys’ dragons, Thrones could grow into a monster, and they assure that the series would have to “fall off a cliff” not to get renewed. While Weiss and Benioff appreciate the network’s confidence, they take nothing for granted. On the scenic Croatian hilltop, Weiss gestures toward the sea. “We got a cliff right here.”
Link to EW.com story: http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/03/14/game-of-thrones-ew-cover-2/<http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/03/14/game-of-thrones-ew-cover-2/>
For exclusive new looks at Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, and more in character, on the set for season 2!: http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20470532_20578535,00.html<http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20470532_20578535,00.html>