Game of Thrones is a site for the HBO-series based on George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.
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Almost a year ago, we first had a long chat with writer and keeper of the mythos, Bryan Cogman, about his role in the first season, which included writing the episode, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things”.
Bryan was there almost from the ground floor, helping during the time of the pilot, and becoming the right hand man to David and Dan as they developed, wrote, and produced the show. Going into the second season, he received the title of story editor… and he wrote the extremely well-received third episode of the series, “What is Dead May Never Die”.
In the interview below, Bryan discusses various aspects of the episode, his overall role on the show, and more. Insightful as always!
What exactly does a story editor do, anyways?
I think that part of the process is obscure to viewers, who don’t really know what amount of work goes on between the wrap of filming and writing for one season, and cameras rolling for the next season. Can you discuss a bit for fans how the mapping out actually works?
Sounds like a bit of a collaborative jigsaw puzzle.
How spirited can the discussions get, I wonder, about what gets to stay and what gets to go? You’re all passionate about what you’re doing, after all.
Ha! Well, it’s funny. D&D keep it cool. I’m the crazy one. So I may be going on and on, getting all worked up, pacing… but that’s my nature. Apparently, I have a tell if I don’t like what’s happening during a take. I guess my leg shakes. But, on the opposite side, if I love something I show it even more—nodding my head, jumping up and down, etc. But, yeah, it occasionally gets spirited in the writer’s room, as you say… but it’s always fun.
I was an actor, you see. These guys are cerebral writers.
I think that’s best. I’d hate to think everyone’s sort of just sleepy-eyed and drowsy at the planning stage.
Yeah, filmmaking entails early, early hours. I couldn’t manage it. I’m a night owl.
A lot of coffee fuels those early mornings, I’d guess.
Is that why you’re at a coffee shop now? I didn’t realize you tended to work from one. I know quite a lot of writers do, a change of environment and all.
Yeah, I have three in rotation, currently. I used to have an office—it’s now my baby daughter’s room. But, in truth, I do like working away from home—I’m less distracted, I like the crowd noise… but what will generally happen is I complete the bulk of a script outside and then finish the last of it off in a crammed frenzy at home late at night. Don’t know why but that’s almost always how it’s happpened…
There’s always that ONE scene I can’t figure out that just happens at the end.
Did your script for this season feature one of those?
Whoever cuts together promos seems to have decided it worked really well, since it was the centerpiece of the “Power” promo.
Were you on set when that scene was filmed?
In your epsiode and the previous one, you can see that Conleth and Peter really click. Varys and Tyrion together tends to steal the show.
I can already see the Emmy predictions. And yeah, his Varys—his voice, his delivery, is pretty much the only actor’s that works its way into my head when re-reading the books. He really nailed it.
Hah. Ciaran Bermingham was amazingly funny. If we see the Vale again, I hope he’ll be there.
You know, now that you mention it… As an actor yourself, I suppose it might be true that you think of characters from an actor’s perspective—how would you play this, how would you deliver this? Is that right? A general you, not specifically you imagining yourself in every role!
I was going to mention those. Because, bar none, those scenes are my favorite in the first four episodes. The spareness is exactly what it needed.
First four, I mean.
Yep! Have you seen it yet, with the final scoring and all? Everything just comes together—you wrote just what was needed and no more, the director shot exactly what was needed, Ramin Djawadi’s gorgeous new Greyjoy/Theon theme really underlined what was happening. Great television.
And what’s interesting from a purist’s perspective is that it’s really a bit of a new scene. In the novel, we go from Theon learning that no, his father means to attack the North… to the next chapter, a week or two later, he’s fully on board and he’s not really reflective on his decision. You filled that gap beautifully.
The “burning scene the letter” scene was interesting—it wasn’t in our outline. We were cutting from Yara (Asha, I know, I know…) saying “make your choice” to the baptism ritual. But there was something missing—and ultimately, it had to come back to Robb. In our version of the story, Theon is very close to him—he’s the brother he never had. And I wanted to take him right up to the point of betraying his own blood—so that’s where the warning to Robb scene came from. And at first, it was more elaborate—he was going to write it, take it to a rookery, nearly give it to a maester—(remember when I asked you if the Ironborn have maesters? that’s why). It was going to be more of scene/scene. But it never worked, so we just went with the simple act…
Now it helped that Alfie is so bloody fantastic in the scene and that Alik Sakharov directed it as if he was directed a huge setpiece—meaning he gave it the same time and attention as a “big” scene. He did take after take after take with Alfie trying it all kinds of different ways—perfection. my most treasured souvenier from the show is that I have the prop letter to Robb… the one in the shot. It’s framed on my wall.
Yeah, Alfie did a lot with just his eyes, with the way he carried himself. And hat’s off to Alik. Though it niggles at me that there’s some sort of cinematic reference to that pitch black room lit only by the candle and the letter that’s escaping me. It feels like a famous shot. And if it isn’t a reference, well, it’s gonna get referenced in the future, I’m pretty sure. It was that well-done.
Amazing. That may be why it’s not one of Linda’s favorite scenes—as a Swede, she has a special dislike for Bergman. ;)
It’s more common than you think!
I think it’s generations being told that it’s almost a national duty to watch and love Bergman that does it. A little rebellion!
Yes, it is a cruel scene, having Sansa have to navigate those waters, Cersei toying with her…
And that it’s couched in this very domestic moment, too. It adds to it, because you can sort of see that Myrcella and Tommen aren’t quite following… or maybe they are, but they can’t show their mother.
I did like seeing Aimee and Callum coming forward a bit more this season, too.
I think it’s the right call to give Sansa the focus, but still, that’s an interesting impulse. It’s one of the things that having the show not be stuck in a POV format gives you the chance to do, to flesh out secondary characters, to use them to underscore the stories of primary characters in a way that a novel might not allow.
To go back a little to the story editor title… as you say, you keep the show’s “bible”. Do first drafts of the scripts ever come in with notes like, “Bryan, please insert appropriate place name here”, to weave in more of the setting and background material?
This may be illusory on my part, but when I watch your episodes this season and last, they alway seem to have just a little bit more referencing of the background and the setting and its history.
For example, this episode, you worked in a nice reminder of Sam’s family life before he came to the Watch, kind of pulling in a little of the material he has in the third book.
Speaking of that, how much easier was writing this season’s script to last season’s? We of course had your telling us last year that you started writing it thinking it was just a nice thing David was letting you do, not quite realizing he was serious about it.
It was harder, for sure.
1) More pressure. Now I was a proper member of the staff. Need to prove I could do it again, and better.
2) As you’re (sometimes painfully for you & Linda) aware, there were a lot more scenes that weren’t in the book, so it required a lot more imagination on my part.
3) It’s a bigger, much more unwieldy book to adapt into episodes of televison. Doesn’t lay out as neatly as AGoT does. But I had a great time with it.
The challenge is invigorating?
I loved that one. That was smart use of the medium, I think.
I imagine this rotating door. In comes Aidan Gillan, out goes Julian Glover. Out goes Aidan, in comes Coleth…
And the way that’s done, you can’t do that in a book. At all. It’d be weird.
A lot of things to juggle.
There’s two parts to the end there. You’ve got Yoren and Arya talking, and Yoren planting the seed of the idea of her mantra… and then, yeah, the real end. Which—yeah.
Shh, if you didn’t say that, no one else would be the wiser!
What was that location, anyways? There’s this shot of a tower setting it up, but I don’t know if that’s even a real tower. CG these days always leaves you wondering.
Ah-ha. The magic of television.
Oh, and one more thing about that scene—and this is a detail about a uberfan of the books who had to write for the TV show. Without a doubt, one of my favorite moments from the books is when Hot Pie shouts “Hot Pie!” when going into battle… When we cast Ben as Hot Pie in season one, I thought—“Yay! Can’t wait for him to yet HOT PIE!” But…
You sometimes have to kill your foster babies. We hadn’t established the convention of shouting your homeland while going into battle on the TV series, our Arya is a bit older and probably wouldn’t yell “Winterfell!”, and the nature of how I had to adapt the scene to meet the criteria (child hours, time, location, story beats, etc) meant that Hot Pie isn’t really fighting in the scene, so one of my favorite moments had to go. I made the call! I stand by it! But it did hurt.
I don’t blame you. I didn’t miss it at all when watching the scene the first time. Only noticed the second time, and more of a, “Ah, okay.” The Hot Pie fanatics may feel differently, of course.
If you start recieving pies in bulk at the production office, you’ll know they’re protesting.
I’ll just let people know now that there’s more Hot Pie in episode 4, so hold off with the pie protest… or maybe not, since you like ‘em. I’m sure they’d be appreciated. :)
Just you wait and see. Someone’ll hire a bakery to deliver fresh pies.
*makes note, knows just the man for the job*
Okay, first, minor question that will probably be answered once everyone sees it in HD—no Shagga, this season, right? Am I right to think that’s Timmett son of Timmett handling the Pycelle assault duties?
It was a fun scene. Julian Glover was great in it.
And looking forward to the next season… we know you all are already writing away. George revealed he’s writing what appears to be episode 7, working title “Autumn Storms”. So, can you say what you’re working on, or is this one of those need to know basis things right now? “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Excellent. Very excellent. I know everyone’s going to be looking forward to it.
And since HBO finally said okay to the third season… I guess it’s just a few months before cameras are rolling again. Looking forward to it, I imagine?
That’s good. More time with the daughter, too, I expect. :)
All right, thanks so much for your time, Bryan. Great to chat, as always!