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The Mary Sue Interviews Game of Thrones Writer Bryan Cogman

HBO’s Game of Thrones is two seasons in and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down soon. Fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series know just how much detail the author puts into his books, and how much is left out of the television show. Thankfully, viewers can now see even more of what went into the making of the Emmy Award-winning series with the new book, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones. The Mary Sue had the opportunity to speak with Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman, who spent countless hours putting the book together (really, you should thank him). See what he had to say about the project as well as his thoughts on the characters of Westeros. 

[Editors note: This interview was conducted via email and we weren't allowed to ask any questions about Season 3. SAD FACE.]

The Mary Sue: Bryan, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us. We really appreciate it. First, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones is an absolutely gorgeous book, but then again, you had gorgeous material to work with. What was your favorite part of putting it all together and what was the hardest?

Bryan Cogman: Thank you very much, I’m glad you like it. Yes, the folks Chronicle Books did an outstanding job putting the book together. And, you’re right, it was embarrassment of riches to work with — we had thousands of photographs to sort through, the vast majority of which were taken by Helen Sloan, our enormously talented unit photographer.

I think my favorite part of putting all together was connecting one by one with our cast and crew. Of course, I work with them every day but it was nice to sit down and engage with them about their feelings and memories about the show. The hardest part was most certainly the time constraints — I only had a few months to get it all done and I was working on it in Belfast in the middle of shooting Season 2.

TMS: I remember when I first heard about HBO turning George R.R. Martin’s book into a series I thought, “There’s no way they can fit it all in.” And obviously they can’t, but this book shows fans a whole lot more than they were ever able to see on film. Are you glad for that? Is there something in particular you’re happy viewers get to see?

BC: If this had been a movie (and that was what was originally pitched to my boss, David Benioff) it would have gutted the story. Major characters and plotlines would have likely been jettisoned. I know some die-hard book fans are upset that, say, Jeyne Poole is gone — but how would they have liked a version of the story that omitted Daenerys? Or half the Stark children? Or Jon Snow’s entire storyline? That’s what a film version would have looked like. When David read these books he knew they had to be a TV series and he brought Dan [D. B. Weiss] onboard and that was the plan from then on.

TMS: Who’s your favorite character in the show and, if you have a different answer, who’s your favorite character to write? Is there a different favorite from the books?

BC: Very hard to choose — I’ve been living with them for so long, I have great affection for all of them (and the actors who portray them). I had a great time writing Theon in Season 2 and I’ve really enjoyed writing Jaime in Season 3. And I always like writing for the kids. There’s a character I love from the books — Aeron Damphair, who we haven’t seen on the show yet, but it’d be fun to get a crack at him. We’ll see.

TMS: Inevitably in adaptations, beats or entire plots are altered to enhance the story but sometimes it feels as if the changes are arbitrary to the point that hardcore fans wonder why they were made in the first place. Of course there’s the simple changes like Osha/Asha that were made so as to not confuse audiences, but then you have Daenerys’ time and actions in Qarth that were altered significantly from the novel. Do you ever consider how fans will react to such changes?

BC: With all due respect to the fans, there is never a single change on this show that’s “arbitrary”. Every change is debated and discussed at length and there’s always a good reason — be it creative, budgetary, etc. D&D [Benioff & Weiss] make decisions in the adaptation based on what’s best for the show. Of course, I’d love everyone to love every bit of the series, but you can’t please everyone all the time.

TMS: The Mary Sue is a geek girl culture site and we’ve had many heated discussions on the women inhabiting the world of Game of Thrones; their strength, how they’re treated, the power they hold, etc. We could probably get into a bigger discussion about this but how do you view the women of Game of Thrones?

BC: Hmmm… I’m afraid this answer will disappoint you, but I don’t really view them any differently from the male characters — I view them all as fascinating, multi-layered, dynamic characters to write for, all of whom are played by actors of the highest skill. George has done a brilliant job conceiving them and establishing their places in the world, their wants and needs, their flaws… I just try to serve that and leave the larger analysis to the critics.

TMS: [That answer actually didn't disappoint us.] Thanks so much for your time, Bryan! I look forward to the start of Season 3, oh so far away. :)

BC: Thank you! I’m very excited for people to see it.

Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones is available in standard, special edition (next month), and ebook versions.

Previously in Game of Thrones

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  • Kathryn

    I’m not complaining about no Daenerys. I find her sections mind-numbingly dull because they’re all the bloody same, and she’s such a drip.

    If it wasn’t for her dragons, she’d have absolutely no importance to the story.

  • Geekfurious Tweets

    After book 1, Daenerys doesn’t become a truly compelling character again until book 5. They’ve made her far more interesting on the show. But no Jon Snow? Come on. How could that even be possible? I can’t say more…

  • Anonymous

    I always liked Dany because she’s a child trying to learn how to be an adult, a woman, a ruler, and a decent human being – even though she never had anyone to model those behaviors for her. So she makes stupid decisions and messes everything up, but she’s on a journey that I find more interesting than most of the others in the book. You’ve got a bad guy trying to become a good guy (The Hound), a good guy trying to be a bad guy (The Imp), a bad guy becoming a good guy despite himself (The Kingslayer), and Dany seems to be a good girl trying to become a queen, and the two don’t mesh.

  • Kathryn

    I disagree. I think Daenerys is just… dull. She’s not a good girl at all, or if she is then it’s naively so. She knows she doesn’t understand the world around her, so what she does is not listen to wiser people who know the world and have lived it, instead she tries to fit it around her. A lot of what happens to her after Book 1 is based solely on her dragons. Not her. Her dragons. People only want to meet her… for her dragons.

    I’ll concede a little and suggest she’s misguided, naive, brainwashed and all that lot, but I cannot *ever* see her as even having a chance of winning the throne, especially if she didn’t have those dragons. She doesn’t do anything for other people, she does it for herself. The amount of people she effectively killed due to her terrible leadership is staggering! If she does anything ‘decent’, it’s though some naive, idealistic view that she can change the world by stomping her foot and whining.

    The only way Daenerys could win is if Westeros tears itself apart (which it is doing, even as early as the first book), and what kind of a victory is that? Defeating a set of crippled enemies with a bought army, not one that follows her through faith or belief. She doesn’t realise just how bad her situation is, and instead of stopping and thinking she needs to actually get some sort of powerhouse together, she’s just pushing on. Even one of the less big houses (perhaps even the Martells) could easily put up a good defence against her and perhaps even defeat her.

    By all rights, Daenerys’ – well, call it stupidity or inexperience – should have got her killed. The only reasons she’s got so far are Ser Jorah Mormont (who has, easily, the most badass family) and a whole heap of luck.

    I’m Team Stannis through-and-through, though. And I’m only maybe 200 pages into A Feast For Crows so maybe she suddenly sprouts some sort of interesting plot line. *Shrug*

    Yeah, Lord Stannis for me :)

  • Anonymous

    Eew, not Stannis! I was all for the king in the North, but…well…

    Dany is what, 13 in the books? I think the reason she’s doing all these ridiculous things has to do with her being 13 and raised by maniacs. I’m hoping that all these really bad mistakes she’s making help her grow into being a better ruler and a better person.

    You’ll be happy to know that Dany’s not in Feast for Crows – GRRM decided, inexplicably, to divide Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons by geography, rather than time, so you’ll be missing about half the characters, which is frustrating, and reading everything all out of order, which is confusing.

    I do have to admit that Dany’s bits in Dance with Dragons are terribly dull until the very end, but I think (hope?) that it’s all leading somewhere. Kind of like the most boring parts of LotR are Sam and Frodo wandering endlessly toward Mordor, ugh. But then they save the world. I’m hoping it’s that way with Dany, Team Dany!

    Sir Jorah, though? How did she turn that guy down? I mean, I guess he’s really way too old for her, but he’s awesome. And in the show, he has just the best voice. All sexy and whatnot.

  • Anonymous

    How about some followup questions? Why is Damphair one of his favorite characters? As a girl geek myself, the misogynistic “No woman may sit the Seastone Chair” Damphair was among my LEAST favorite characters. He thought he was so smart in calling a kingsmoot so that he could bypass two rightful heirs (Asha and Euron) to crown Victarion, but the Ironborn ended up crowning Euron instead! Ha! (Though I never could figure out what made Euron a godless man; I guess raping in general is okay with the Drowned God unless it is your sister in law?)

    And I can understand storyline changes due to time or budget, but the way they changed the Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand story made Jon seem like a complete idiot for not killing Ygritte (whereas in the book, Qhorin did not mind Jon sparing her, and ultimately, it was his sparing her that allowed him to believably join Mance undercover). Couldn’t Cogman have avoided making Jon look so bad? Qhorin’s death looked like it meant nothing. (Yes, I admit I am rooting for Jon and Daenerys to be two of the three heads of the dragon.)

  • David Marcenaro DeBernardis

    Yeah but in the books Jorah is like 3x her age, big, hairy and ugly, literally bearlike, so unless shes a certain subset of gay men, i can understand her turning him down

  • Anonymous

    Yeah…but…he’s so cool