Spoilers for season 1 within, beware! As well as a few four-letter words courtesy of Jason Momoa.
Most devoted Comic-Con attendees were likely familiar with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire book series before HBO produced Game of Thrones. But Thursday’s panel was the perfect mix for fans of the books and the HBO series: as moderator, Martin made sure to keep the talk restricted to the first season, while allowing for some tidbits of what’s to come in Season 2 and the yet-to-be-released books.
Showrunner David Benioff admitted, “I hadn’t heard of [the books] back in 2006. The first four showed up on the doorstep, and they were about 5,000 pages, and I just thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know how I’m going to get into these.” But Benioff was quickly hooked, and realized the books would work much better as a TV series than as a movie, which was also being suggested at the time. (A PG-13 movie, he noted with disdain.)
Emilia Clarke, who was almost unrecognizable as a brunette, auditioned for the role of Daenerys Targaryen without having read the books either. As soon as she got the role, however, she made sure to read Game of Thrones and was instantly smitten with the book and the character of Dany.
“The thing that prepared me for this was Dany, falling in love with her, [George’s] amazing words, and the amazing character she is,” Clarke said. Although she would like to continue with the series, she wants to take the journey with Dany and didn’t begin A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series, until she’d wrapped filming on Season 1.
But Momoa spoke fondly of his experience filming. Showrunners Benioff and D.B. Weiss cast him as Khal Drogo after a suggestion they read on a Game of Thrones message board. Momoa committed to it fully, going so far as to master the fictional Dothraki language.
“Almost all of your dialogue in the show is in a made-up language,” Martin said. “That must have been an interesting challenge for you.”
“It literally sounded like Jabba the Hutt and Fozzie Bear,” Momoa replied. He said it took a little bit of Guinness before he was able to get it right.
Martin asked Lena Headey about the experience playing a villain on Game of Thrones after her heroic turn on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. But Headey insisted that Cersei has some moral ambiguity, a trait she enjoys playing up.
“That’s what I love about her,” she explained. “And I know I’ve been criticized for [giving her] some humanity, but I think everyone deserves a chance. I just think she’s a confused woman who thought life was going to be something very different, and she just tries to cope.”
As Cersei’s twin brother and lover Jaime Lannister, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau doesn’t deal with as much ambiguity, but he still enjoyed his filming experience. “There were so many great scenes,” he reflected. “To get those scripts and read those scenes … I really liked my last scene with Catelyn. It was really great to do that.”
The biggest rounds of applause in the room were for break-out star Kit Harrington (who plays Jon Snow) and the more established Peter Dinklage, whose work as Tyrion Lannister just earned him an Emmy nomination. Martin noted that Tyrion is his favorite character in the books, and asked Dinklage what it was like to step into that role.
“I think that everybody on this panel was faced with that when we started the show—really big shoes to fill,” Dinklage said. “I think, yes, Tyrion is liked a lot, but so are some of these other characters.” Then, after a long pause, “Yeah, it was terrifying.”
Harrington was eager to play “bad-ass with a sword” Jon Snow—and while he knows what’s next for everyone’s favorite bastard, he was kind enough not to give too much away. “Like you say, he’s got a big journey ahead of him,” he said. “In the first season, he spends a lot of time concerned with his family down in the south … [In Season 2], he can actually get on a bit with his own agenda.”
As far as Season 2 is concerned, Benioff and Weiss will adhere closely to the books. The third season, if Game of Thrones rightfully earns it, is where things will get tricky, as Martin’s A Storm of Swords is simply too long to be condensed into a single season.
So what can we expect from Season 2?
“Everyone dies,” Benioff deadpanned. “Sorry, guys.”
“It was all a dream,” Weiss followed up.
The cast members reflected on what they would like to see when the series concludes, regardless of what Martin writes. “I want Jon Snow to be on the throne definitely,” Harrington said. Coster-Waldau imagined an idyllic future for Jaime and Cersei—an unlikely fate for twins in love. And perhaps only to please the audience, Headey said she “would bring Khal Drogo back for sure and have him and Tyrion co-rule.” Dinklage just wants a dance number.
Martin couldn’t reveal much of what’s to come in the Song of Ice and Fire series—which was good news for Game of Thrones fans who haven’t made it through the first four. He did at least make reference to the ending he has in mind.
“I still have two books to go, and I’m juggling a lot of balls,” Martin confided. “All I can keep doing is juggling as fast as I can, and hopefully bring everything together in the magnificent way I see it vaguely in my head stretching before me. But it’s easier to dream these things than to do them.”
Whatever happens, don’t expect a happy ending for all.
“I’ve always been a fan of the bittersweet ending,” Martin said, alluding to the scouring of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings. At least fans of the TV series have several seasons to go before we get there.
[UPDATE] Here's the trailer HBO showed at the panel yesterday. Ahhh, the memories!
Game of Thrones returns for season 2 next year on HBO.
All photos © 2011 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc.