David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn't just have to adapt thousands of pages of George R.R. Martin's novels to translate "Game of Thrones" to television. They had to film an entire world, one that included seven kingdoms, more than a thousand characters, old gods, new gods, dragons and constant political plotting.
Even Martin has said he sometimes loses track of life in Westeros, confessing to The New Yorker that fans once caught him switching the sex of a horse from one book to another.
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But Benioff and Weiss have succeeded wildly. Lost among the accolades for their show — for the brilliant, multi-tiered dialogue, the sweep of the battle scenes, the complexity of the characters — is how easily we accept it all. Using storytelling techniques like "sexposition," which Vulture has defined as "the clever technique of jazzing up boring plot exposition by pairing it with sex," they've placed us deeply in another world without resorting to flashbacks, voiceovers, or long "Star Wars"-like crawls of information.
People who hate onscreen sex can rejoice in the release of "Games of Thrones"' first season on DVD. They no longer have to endure all that nudity to learn about the Lannister family tree, the Targaryen history with dragons or why Joffrey is an illegitimate heir to the throne. Released earlier this month, it methodically explains aspects of Westeros that the show breezes through en route to its next decapitation.
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To mark its release – and the series' second season premiere on April 1 – Weiss and Benioff talked to TheWrap about why they aren't sorry for all that sex, calling God on the phone, and why you'll never catch a Romney or Obama joke on "Game of Thrones."
TheWrap: How did you meet?
Benioff: At graduate school at Trinity College in Dublin. We were both studying Irish literature. Dan [D.B.] wrote his dissertation about Joyce, and I was writing about Beckett, and we were a couple of former dungeon masters. And we were probably the only geeks there who were actually closet fantasy geeks more than we were literary geeks.
Who introduced whom to Martin's books?
Weiss: The first time I saw the books they were on the floor of David's house by his door, literally looking like they were there to serve as his doorstop. There were 4,000 pages of fiction and I looked at them and said, Wow. Who could possibly read all those things?
What audience did you have in mind when you started writing this? Did you think it would be a "Lord of the Rings" fans, or people interested in politics and power?
Weiss: I don’t think we really knew. I think we pretended we knew and told HBO, 'Oh, people are going to love this because it's fantasy and it's the most popular genre in the world.' But the truth is, we loved the books so much. And this is going back to the earliest emails we sent to each other when we started reading the books six years ago. We both fell so in love with the world that George had created. I don't think we were smart enough or forward-thinking enough to break it down in terms of, What's the audience for this?
We did do that, but it was all bluster and make believe and bullshit.
Benioff: You figure, we're not such exceptional people – if the two of us were in love with something, then clearly there were a lot of other people. There's just an incredible story there.
You have so much story to tell. Is it a relief or a temptation to know you have the DVD coming out and that people can refer to the books? Those are other places people can go to answer any questions that you can't get to on the show.
Weiss: We definitely want the show to live and breathe on its own. Once it gets to the place where people need to be consulting outside sources just to make sense of it as opposed to reading the books because you enjoyed the show – if we're pawning off the need to explain what's going on to the Internet or the books or anywhere else, we feel like we're not really doing our job.
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We do end up leaving stuff out by necessity because 10 hours [for the first season] is a long time. But it's not the same as 1,000 pages. And there's a limited amount you can do. The show is not a vehicle for information transmission, hopefully. That's what it would become if we tried to keep everything in. So we do definitely excise things and compress and condense things, but we do it with an eye toward making the show work as well as it possibly can for the show.
Some of the DVD features made me realize how many things I didn't know about Westeros – and it was surprising that what I didn't know didn't hurt my enjoyment of the show. The explanation of the religions, for example.
Benioff: That's a great example. You don't need to know anything about the religions to enjoy the show. I think part of it is just trying to create a sense of reality about this world. The thing we always say is it's a real world. It's not our world, but it should seem entirely real to the people in it. Just like people in our world will make offhand references to religion all the time, or even not too offhand, that happens in George's world as well. We want to feel as if this is a place that has its own culture and its own religion and history.
Weiss: It's a big feature of our world that we often don't know what the hell people are talking about.
But seriously: Do you still come across things in the books that you don't understand?
Benioff: We have the luxury of calling [George] and saying, "What the hell is this?" Having read them so many freakin' times, we get most of it. But there are definitely times when I'll think, where is this city again?
Weiss: Where is this all going? It's kind of like being able to ask God: What the hell's up with that?
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How do you feel about creating scenes or characters that aren't in the books?
Weiss: Our goal has always been to adapt George's whole story, not just this book or that book to the screen. Sometimes in the service of that adaptation we've found that the best way to present a fully rounded vision of his world is to introduce elements or characters that aren't actually in the books. There's things we can't explore the way the book explores them. The book uses exposition or it uses flashbacks or it uses all kinds of things we try to avoid. So far George has proven understanding.
Benioff: We don't have the luxury of going into characters' minds since we never have voiceovers. For us to get the backstory it's got to come out through dramatic dialogue, or what we hope is dramatic dialogue.
The Littlefield sexposition scene that some people objected to was some of the best exposition since the monkey with the date in "Raiders of the Lost Ark."
Weiss: We enjoyed it. In the episode following that episode, Khal Drogo rips someone's tongue out through the hole he just made in their throat. And I never really heard any complaints about that scene. It is objectively worse to get your tongue torn out through a hole in your throat than it is to witness or experience what happened in the sexposition scene. If someone had a dramatic issue with it, that's one thing. But if the issue is the content of it I'm just sort of a bit confused by it.
Benioff: We do applaud whoever came up with the term "sexposition."
You're making a show about power. During an election year especially, do you find yourself injecting any political commentary, even subconsciously?
Weiss: we're definitely not tempted to do anything consciously. Of course we're voracious news readers and we live in the world and are very influenced by the world that we live in, so I think enough finds it's way in that way – probably more than enough finds it's way in that way. To try to do it on purpose seems like it would be a mistake.
Benioff: I'm always kind of irritated when I'm watching some period story where it's very obviously trying to make some kind of allegorical statement. It feels like a falsehood. I know that sounds kind of funny when you're talking about the world of fiction. But it doesn't feel like it's coming from the world itself, but like it's trying to be commentary. Like the writer's trying to be clever and teach a lesson.
Weiss: It means the story isn't about what the story's really about anymore. Which means what it's really about starts to get flat and two-dimensional. I love it when "South Park" does it though.