The king’s Small Council of advisors includes crafty Master of Coin Lord Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and eunuch spymaster Lord Varys (Conleth Hill). Robert’s brother, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), is advised by foreign priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and former smuggler Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham). The wealthy Tyrell family is primarily represented at court by Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is the capital’s principal religious leader. In the southern principality of Dorne, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) seeks vengeance against the Lannisters.
Across the Narrow Sea, siblings Viserys (Harry Lloyd) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) – the exiled children of the last king of the original ruling dynasty, who was overthrown by Robert Baratheon – are running for their lives and trying to win back the throne. Daenerys has been married to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), the leader of the nomadic Dothraki. Her retinue includes exiled knight Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), her aide Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and the sellsword Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman).
Conception and development
D. B. Weiss and David Benioff
Showrunners D. B. Weiss and David Benioff created the series, wrote most of its episodes and directed several.
In January 2006, David Benioff had a phone conversation with George R. R. Martin’s literary agent about the books he represented, and became interested in A Song of Ice and Fire as he had been a fan of fantasy fiction when young but had not read the books before. The literary agent then sent the first four books of A Song of Ice and Fire to Benioff. Benioff read a few hundred pages of the first novel, A Game of Thrones, shared his enthusiasm with D. B. Weiss and suggested that they adapt Martin’s novels into a television series; Weiss finished the first novel in “maybe 36 hours”. They pitched the series to HBO after a five-hour meeting with Martin (a veteran screenwriter) in a restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard. According to Benioff, they won Martin over with their answer to his question, “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?”
I had worked in Hollywood myself for about 10 years, from the late ’80s to the ’90s. I’d been on the staff of The Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. All of my first drafts tended to be too big or too expensive. I always hated the process of having to cut. I said, ‘I’m sick of this, I’m going to write something that’s as big as I want it to be, and it’s going to have a cast of characters that go into the thousands, and I’m going to have huge castles, and battles, and dragons.
—George R. R. Martin, author
Before being approached by Benioff and Weiss, Martin had had other meetings with other scriptwriters, most of them wanting to turn it into a feature film. Martin deemed it “unfilmable” and impossible to be done as a feature film, stating that the size of one of his novels is as long as The Lord of the Rings, which had been adapted as three feature films. “I knew it couldn’t be done as a network television series. It’s too adult. The level of sex and violence would never have gone through.” He then went on to say that the only way this could be achieved is if HBO does it. Similarly, Benioff also said that it would be impossible to turn the novels into a feature film as the scale of the novels is too big for a feature film and dozen of characters would have to be discarded. Benioff added, “a fantasy movie of this scope, financed by a major studio, would almost certainly need a PG-13 rating. That means no sex, no blood, no profanity. Fuck that.” Martin himself was pleased with the suggestion that they adapt it as an HBO series, saying that he “never imagined it anywhere else”.
The series began development in January 2007. HBO acquired the TV rights to the novels, and Benioff and Weiss were its executive producers. The intention was for each novel to yield a season’s worth of episodes. Initially, Benioff and Weiss were to write every episode except one per season which was reserved for Martin (who was co-executive producer). Jane Espenson and Bryan Cogman were later added to write one episode apiece the first season.
The first and second drafts of the pilot script by Benioff and Weiss were submitted in August 2007 and June 2008, respectively. Although HBO liked both drafts, a pilot was not ordered until November 2008; the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike may have delayed the process. The pilot episode, “Winter Is Coming”, was first shot in 2009; after a poor reception in a private viewing, HBO demanded an extensive re-shoot (about 90 percent of the episode, with cast and directorial changes).
The pilot reportedly cost HBO $5–10 million, and the first season’s budget was estimated at $50–60 million. In the second season, the show received a 15-percent budget increase for the climactic battle in “Blackwater” (which had an $8 million budget). Between 2012 and 2015, the average budget per episode increased from $6 million to “at least” $8 million. The sixth-season budget was over $10 million per episode, for a season total of over $100 million and a series record.
Nina Gold and Robert Sterne are the series’ primary casting directors. Through a process of auditions and readings, the main cast was assembled. The only exceptions were Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean, whom the writers wanted from the start; they were announced as joining the pilot in 2009. Other actors signed for the pilot were Kit Harington as Jon Snow, Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon, Harry Lloyd as Viserys Targaryen and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon. Addy was, according to showrunners Benioff and Weiss, the easiest actor to cast for the show, being that his audition was on point. Catelyn Stark was scheduled to be played by Jennifer Ehle, but the role was recast with Michelle Fairley. Daenerys Targaryen was also recast, with Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant. The rest of the first season’s cast was filled in the second half of 2009.
Although many of the first-season cast were set to return, the producers had a large number of new characters to cast for the second season. Due to this, Benioff and Weiss postponed the introduction of several key characters and merged several characters into one or assigned plot functions to different characters.
George R. R. Martin
George R. R. Martin, author of A Song of Ice and Fire, is a series co-executive producer and wrote one episode for each of the first four seasons.
Game of Thrones used seven writers in six seasons. Series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the showrunners, write most of the episodes each season.
A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin wrote one episode in each of the first four seasons. Martin did not write an episode for the later seasons, since he wanted to focus on completing the sixth novel (The Winds of Winter). Jane Espenson co-wrote one first-season episode as a freelance writer.