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Review: Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones

At last, Chronicle Books and HBO have published Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones (order: Amazon US, Amazon UK). We’ve had a chance to give it a look at it early, and give some thoughts on it.

The short version for those who’d rather: beautiful and informative, with interesting tidbits… but there’s too much already-seen photography and too little concept art, plus space constraints mean it often only scratches the surface. Variety rather than depth seems have been the aim.

 

Written by series story editor and writer Bryan Cogman, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones is a beautifully-designed book, filled with full-sized stills, behind-the-scenes photos, and the occasional piece of concept art. Laid out regionally (e.g the Wall, Winterfell, King’s Landing), each section provides a brief but informative background to these regions that the series visits over the course of the first two seasons. The sections are filled out with a series of interview excerpts from the cast, writers, executive producers, and crew that provide a behind-the-scenes perspective. There’s quotes from even rarely-heard-from actors, such as Conleth Hill, discussing their characters and their interactions, and each section discusses the production and costuming design for those regions with remarks from newly-minted Emmy Award winners Gemma Jackson and Michelle Clapton and other members of the production.

The most entertaining section has to be the material at the very end which gives a glimpse at the practical jokes executive producers Dan Weiss and David Benioff have enjoyed pulling on some of the actors. We’ve heard the stories before, but now we see some actual (very funny, and perhaps not coincidentally rather gross!) script pages to go with it.

All that said, there’s a downside: despite all the art, much of it are stills that we’ve already seen, or stills from episodes which we’ve already seen. There’s certainly a certain amount of new behind-the-scenes photography, including an excellent image from “Baelor” that really emphasizes the way shots of King’s Landing had to be set up in a place that puts historic locations side-by-side with modern construction. But the amount of concept art is far less than, I think, many fans might have hoped for. Every piece of conceptual art is really quite interesting to look at, to see how these things were first conceived so one can compare to the final product on screen (for example: concept art showing that Dragonstone was once envisioned more along the lines of what the novel describes, a marked difference from what finally appeared in the show), but there’s really very little of it.

I expect somewhere on the editorial side of things, the decision was made to focus more on the photography. Perhaps to leave room for a concept art-focused book? Perhaps, and if so, I know many people will be looking forward to it. But if not, well, it feels like a lost opportunity. The more concept art, the better, in my opinion.

The approach to covering the various sections certainly also allows for a lot of interesting quotes from people not often heard from, members of the production who work under the department heads, but at the same time it does mean that sometimes it feels like we’re only scratching the surface. It would have been interesting to have one or two longer, more focused sections, perhaps covering the approach to adapting a particular scene from start to finish, or perhaps to have a longer interview with some of the key members of the production to get a better sense of what it takes to achieve what they do. Then again, the book might have been twice as long if they did that, so who knows!

All in all, it really is a nice book, the information is thoughtfully presented and does contain interesting and new bits of information, and it’s just pretty to look at—all that full-color, full-bleed imagery will do that. Could it have used more concept art and fewer photographs that dedicated fans have almost certainly already seen before? Sure. But it doesn’t take away from the book’s overall quality, and the insights it provides.

The book is due out on September 27th, and can be ordered at Amazon US and Amazon UK. The HBO.com web store also has an exclusive, signed limited edition that will include a storyboard portfolio (just the sort of thing one might have hoped would have been part of the book itself, I admit) and maps.

A brief PDF preview can be found here.

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