Game of Thrones, now in the midst of its third swashbuckling season on HBO, is a master class in TV storytelling—a sprawling, suspenseful fantasy epic for the small screen. It's also one of the most addictive shows on television. Earlier this month, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff talked to The Daily Beast about binge watching, the future of TV, and how they transformed the original George R.R. Martin novels from “crack on paper” to crack on premium cable. Excerpts:
The idea that people will be able to rewatch each episode, or binge watch them all at once, or pause and rewind—does that in any way factor into the process of putting the show together?
Weiss: So many people binge watch that it definitely impacts the level of complexity you can deliver in a show, for the simple reason that it's easier to keep track of multiple plot threads in larger, uninterrupted chunks.
And of course, we're very aware of the many different ways in which people watch TV now—the HBO Go experience, for example. It can serve as a sort of Cliffs Notes for the show—in a positive way, not in the way most Cliffs Notes were actually used. Someone who may have shied away from the scope of the thing before might now feel safe wading in, knowing that answers to their questions are there with a slide and a tap.
Why do people binge watch TV so much these days—beyond the fact that technology enables it? Is it something about the shows themselves? Weiss: I think the main reason is that people binge watch because they can. We're like dogs, really. If we like something, we tend to gorge ourselves on it until there's no more left. And as bingeing becomes possible and commonplace, it's only natural that shows should start to take it into account.
Do you ever binge-watch anything?
Weiss: I would watch the remaining 12 or so episodes of Breaking Bad I haven't seen by noon tomorrow, but my wife would kill me. I watched all five seasons of The Wire in a month, and she was not happy about it.
Benioff: I watched the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad in two intense, half-marathon bursts. What Vince Gilligan and his team have created with that show is nothing short of American art. I don't have enough superlatives to throw his way. When I met Vince, I was hoping he'd be a douche bag so I could hate him with a clear conscience, but the sad truth is that he's the nicest guy in the world.
Why is Game of Thrones so addictive? Weiss: Well ... we hope it is. George designed the books that way, literally—they were crack on paper to us—and we have been trying to follow suit. There's no great secret—it's just about continuing to raise pressing questions about characters you care about, as you answer others. All things remaining equal, a life-or-death cliffhanger is going to mean more when the person hanging from the cliff is someone you've known for dozens of hours instead of just one. And when "death" is a real possibility.
It seems that TV is the only thing we actually pay attention to for any length of time these days.
Benioff: Yes, which worries me. Speaking for myself, I'm a much worse reader at 42 than I was at 22. It's been a long time since I stayed up all night finishing a novel, and that's depressing. That said, I would put Season 4 of The Wire or any of the seasons of Breaking Bad against 99 percent of contemporary fiction, and pick Simon and Gilligan as the victors in terms of complexity of storytelling, depth of characters, and memorable dialogue.
We have some sense of how the technology of television will change over the next decade. But how will the content change—the storytelling? Every previous technological development had an effect on the creative side of the equation. Benioff: Maybe there's a Rashomon-type story where a season-long murder mystery is told from 10 different perspectives, and each perspective is a separate character. Watch in whichever order you'd like. Or maybe there's a way to merge television viewing and videogame playing, so you're taking control of a certain character and making decisions for her. All I know is we won't be the ones coming up with the newfangled storytelling systems. We're having a tough enough time with the oldfangled systems
What's next for you guys? Benioff: If HBO keeps us around, we hope to see this show through to the end. After that, I hope to sleep for a year or two.