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Game of Thrones Season 3 Roundtable, Part 2

Posted by msunyata on Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Having discussed the Time of Puppies and Rainbows in the first part of our roundtable, Coming Attractions’s crackerjack crew of Game of Thrones experts now turns its attention to the nitty-gritty of television contracts, the difficulty of Daenerys Targaryen’s upcoming storyline (or lack thereof), and the huge news that A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin will be developing further series for HBO in the not-too-distant future… which may or may not include Game of Thrones spinoffs.


Mo Ryan, TV critic for The Huffington Post:

As far as I’m aware, TV actors don’t normally have a set or minimum amount of screen time put into their contracts.  Here’s something that is fairly standard in US TV:  an actor who is contracted as a series regular may have a “10 for 13” or “8 for 10” contract.  That means that for the duration of the shooting of a particular season, they are committed to that show – they can’t take on other projects during that time frame unless given explicit permission to do so.  It also means that they might not, and, in fact, probably will not, appear in every episode.  (Let me make clear at the outset that I have no knowledge of how any GoT contracts work; I’m just offering general information about how much of cable TV operates in the U.S.)

For instance, an actor on Mad Men (just as an example) may have a 10/13 contract, which means they will be paid for a minimum of 10 episodes.  Now, the producers don’t have to use that actor in 10 episodes, but they’re on the hook for 10 appearance fees if that actor appears or not.  And, of course, depending on storytelling needs, the producers may end up having that actor in 12 or 13 episodes (and presumably the actor would get more dough, but I’m no expert in these matters, so I wouldn’t want to say that’s the rule).


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What tends to happen with most cable TV shows is that, aside from a few top-tier actors, most series regulars appear in many, but not all, of a given season’s episodes.  (Actors who are not series regulars, i.e., their names are not in the opening credits, may appear only a few times or quite a lot – it all depends on what the show needs and can afford.)  The thing is, producers might feel the desire to put someone in eight out of 10 episodes, given that they may well be paying for that number of appearances.  I think there’s also a very real recognition that audiences expect to see lead and major supporting characters in every or almost every episode, so there’s a desire to give the people what they want.

Again, I don’t know how it works with GoT or HBO, but, so far, the show appears to be trying to put a fairly hefty number of storylines in each episode.  One of the most interesting things about the upcoming season will be whether they will continue to follow that model or pare down the weekly array of plots.  I doubt the producers’ choices will be driven primarily by financial concerns, but they might be driven by a desire to follow TV conventions and show the fans Arya and Tyrion and other leading characters every week.  We shall see, I guess.


James Poniewozik, TV critic for Time:

Continuing on what Johnny said a bit earlier, when we’re talking about the issue of forcing a character into more episodes than the book might seem to justify, aren’t we talking, above all, about Dany?

Dany was always going be a challenge to integrate into the series.  She spends the entire arc of the story (to date) on a separate continent.  Her narrative – without getting spoilery – involves spending a very long time learning to be a queen and waiting for her dragons to grow.  It’s not just a matter of the amount of chapters she gets in a book like ASoS.  It’s also that, in the books, her connection to the larger narrative is at least bolstered by a considerable amount of history, flashback, prophecy, and mythology that the series has mainly dispensed with.  (Wisely, I’d say, but that’s another argument.)

So how do you replace that connective tissue for a TV audience?  If you don’t – and you shunt her off to maybe a third of the episodes of a season – you are going to get a considerable “Why the hell do we care about her?” reaction.  You have to provide the TV equivalent – which includes, in this instance, more screen time.  I’m maybe a broken record about this, but I think the goal of the producers needs to be not reproducing what I loved most in the books, but finding a visual correlative for it that works on the screen.

Now whether they’re doing the best job of it is another question:  I thought they could have done better in season two than her showdown with the multiple Jim Rash warlocks in Qarth – but the decision to expand on her experiences in Qarth and replace the prophecy download with action I approve of, in principle.

All of which is to say, she’s going to be even more of a challenge in adapting ASoS, but she’s not the only one.  Not every story in that book would seem to divide into two satisfying season arcs neatly.  And that will get only more interesting once you get to A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons, which you could argue would be better split into, say, three seasons divided geographically.  But that’s never going to happen; what, are you going to put some actors on retainer to come back in two or three years?

This is getting ahead of ourselves, but I suspect the answer again is to add/expand on some stories.  That – or radically cut from those books, but then you’ll run into the possibility of hitting the cupboard-is-bare point with how much Martin has actually written.


Game of Thrones Jon Snow



Doug Cohen, author:

I would pretty much echo everything James is saying.  Translating Martin scene-for-scene from books to screen is a nice idea in theory, especially to some longtime and hardcore fans of the books, but it’s just not practical.  The demands of the screen are different from those on the page.

I do think some changes had to be made last season, but I also think some of those changes were severely bungled, particularly making Jon Snow seem like an incompetent boob at times, watering down Qhorin Halfhand until he was borderline vanilla compared to what we got in the books, and the reinvention of Xaro Xoan Daxos, which also fell flat for me.  There was also the matter of how they handled Robb’s love interest, though I’m still carrying flickering hopes they somehow manage to salvage that.

I do think ASoS has a lot of rebound potential, though.  A Clash of Kings is a great novel – and I emphasize great – but compared to A Game of Thrones and ASoS, it is more of a transitional book, with not nearly as many indelible moments.  I’d imagine Weiss and Benioff will take advantage of this as much as they can.

On Dany, I can’t see her deviating too much from the course Martin laid out for her – what happens needs to happen for obvious reasons.  However, we are going to get introduced to a number of new characters during the course of her travels, and as they’re on another continent removed from the rest of the action, it might be difficult for some viewers unfamiliar with the books to keep up with who’s who.  So if they need to expand Dany’s role for the sake of TV adaptation, I’d like to think that her challenges at each stop will simply be a little more difficult/involved, providing some time for extra characterization of these new players.  If they take things in this direction, I think I’ll be fine with Dany’s extra screen time.  I’ll also add that there is a small but important scene from the end of book two with Dany that never found its way into season two, so this also marks a chance to incorporate some additional canon in season three.

To come back to something I said earlier, Theon is the bigger question mark in my mind.  I really can’t see them taking the approach with this character in season three that Martin did in the third book, particularly because an important character in this storyline (shorthand for those readers in the know:  the BoB) was completely absent from season two on HBO.  As I refuse to believe BoB has been written out of the adaptation, this suggests to me we’ll be meeting BoB in season three, which means readers who want the writers to adhere strictly to material they’ve read in the books better buckle in and brace themselves.  Saying anything more than this probably risks becoming too spoiler-y.


Amin Javadi, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire:

Thank you, Maureen – it was great to get that perspective and information on contracts.

James and Doug, I am in general agreement with what you are saying, and I don’t think any of us disagree with the need to make changes and to meet the “demands of the TV screen.”  As I made the point last year, I am not a purist, and I don’t resist changes for the sake of purism.  I just dislike changes that detract from the story, and, in my opinion, season two had more problems in this area than season one.  Part of that was due to the fact that when you have to make more changes as the TV show develops, there is naturally a greater chance of making bad changes.  I don’t deny that or expect perfection – I just want the show to learn from mistakes and handle the required deviations better in subsequent seasons.

That is all I want.  I don’t need a reborn faith-based adherence to the book storyline, but I also don’t want a doubling down on “all the changes were necessary” mentality presented by some fans.  On A Podcast of Ice and Fire, we have received accusations of having a “a circle of spite” in regard to our TV episode reviews, but we also been accused of having a “circle jerk.”  I interpret these different responses as us having found the middle ground between the two extremes of fandom.


Marc N. Kleinhenz:

I am extremely hesitant to ask/reveal this, but... am I the only one who really isn’t that perturbed by Jeyne Westerling’s transformation into Talisa Maegyr?  While I’m not entirely on board with the showrunners’ rationale for doing so (well, what I perceive to be their rationale, at least), it’s not like Jeyne was ever anything but a footnote in the novels.  Just giving her the expanded screen time that they ended up giving Talisa would have resulted in a huge deviation from her character, methinks.

(As for a makeover that does have me up in arms?  Shae.  Although this may be another conversation for another time...)


Game of Thrones season 3



Elio García, co-founder and editor of

I thought it was largely just very cliche-ridden material that seemed to step out of some other series entirely, and which somewhat flew in the face of Martin’s complaints about the way bad fantasy novels treat certain situations.  He made some pretty unconventional choices which they then conventionalized.


John Jasmin, co-founder of Tower of the Hand:

No, let’s talk about Shae!  In fact, the similarities between Shae and Talisa underscore why changes to one of these two characters may succeed while changes to the other may not.

In the books, Shae is as devoid of personality as Jeyne Westerling.  Both characters serve mainly as objects of affection for their significant others; it’s more important that we understand why Tyrion and Robb choose to maintain their respective relationships than who the women really are.  The show has tried to make Shae and Talisa more interesting than their book counterparts.  The “new” characters could even be described similarly:  exotic, intelligent, and fiercely independent.  We shouldn’t be surprised that Tyrion is drawn to someone with those qualities.  Maybe it makes sense for Robb, too.  But whereas Tyrion’s insistence upon staying with Shae in defiance of his father’s wishes is perfectly within character, Robb’s season-long wooing of Talisa ruins what is a defining character moment in the books.  Book-Robb followed up one reckless night with a commitment to preserve both his and Jeyne’s honor, proving that he is his father’s son.  The show wedded Robb and Talisa for love and passion, not honor.

But the real reason I think the show’s version of Shae works well is because it has exciting implications for the future.  Her loyalty to Tyrion and Sansa has been admirable – both characters desperately deserve someone unambiguously on their side – but Shae will be conflicted, perhaps even resentful, when the dynamic between these three characters is upended.  It may even explain some of the choices that Shae makes later on, something the books leave unsatisfying.  If the show continues to use Shae as effectively as it has so far, it will be one of the few changes that speaks of a long-term vision.


Game of Thrones Dany



Phil Bicking, founder and editor of Winter Is Coming:

Thank you, Mo, for that very informative breakdown of how TV contracts work.  That really explains quite a few scenes in season two (particularly ones with Robb or Dany).

As to Marc’s original question, I feel like whenever Benioff and Weiss have waded into completely fabricated storylines, they have gotten themselves into trouble.  Their ability to condense characters and events is, for the most part, pretty good.  And they’ve done a great job at adding what I like to call the book’s “deleted scenes,” stuff that could have happened in the books but we weren’t a witness to because no viewpoint characters were present (Robert and Cersei’s scene from season one was a great example of this).

It is when they take to completely reworking an entire storyline that things get dicey (Dany in Qarth, Robb and Talisa, Jon north of the Wall).  So I think the changes that Marc referred to with Arya or the Winterfell storyline could turn out okay in the end, provided David and Dan take what is already in the book(s) and rework it slightly to make it fit in the narrative that they have crafted so far.  If they decide to go a completely different route altogether, then I’m less confident.

(As a side note, all reports seem to indicate that both of those storylines will be following their book counterparts pretty closely in season three, so I’m hopeful that these will turn out great in the end.)


Marc N. Kleinhenz:

Okay, one last question, and I’ll let you all get on with your very busy professions (and TV watching, of course):  what do you all make of Martin’s recently announced development deal with HBO?  Will he just create and advise but not showrun, like Joss Whedon has been doing of late?  Will he do Dunk and Egg, like he hinted at?  Or does this just take him away from finishing A Song of Ice and Fire (and the Tales of Dunk and Egg, too)?


Elio García, co-founder and editor of

GRRM seems to have hinted that a pitch for an adaptation of Tuf Voyaging is in the works, and I’m pretty sure Dunk and Egg is also on the table.  Beyond that, I believe George has a lot of terrific ideas that he’ll develop alongside fellow writers that he’s collaborated with in the past (like Melinda Snodgrass or Michael Cassutt, who also have Hollywood experience).

But will he be the showrunner on any show that comes out of this  arrangement?  I don’t think so.  I’m going to guess he’d have someone else run the show if anything came out of the deal, much as J.J. Abrams has other people run the shows Bad Robot develops.


James Poniewozik, TV critic for Time:

I’m sure GRRM will not showrun anything, any more than he does GoT.  Not that he couldn’t necessarily, since he had some hands-on experience with Beauty and the Beast and The Twilight Zone.  But precisely because of his experience then, he’s much happier being writer guy.  Dude’s got enough tsuris.

Mo may have looked into this specific deal more closely than I, but my guess would be the idea is for him to try developing and handing off ideas, which HBO would be glad to have his brand on.  GoT is HBO’s priority and his, and there is the whole running-out-of-material issue looming.  (I have idly wondered if, at some point, HBO might do, say, a Dunk and Egg mini to tide folks over until the last novel, depending how the timeline plays out.)


Marc N. Kleinhenz:

That would be pretty unprecedented, wouldn’t it?


Elio García, co-founder and editor of

It’s basically what Starz did with Spartacus when the second season was delayed by the late Andy Whitfield’s illness.  They made Spartacus: Gods of the Arena as a prequel to fill in the time.


Marc N. Kleinhenz:

Huh.  No shit.


Doug Cohen, author:

Unless George has developed the means to clone himself, I doubt he’ll take on anything like show-running duties – he has so much on his plate already.  But he’ll be bringing his visions to HBO, and that’s pretty cool.  He understands storytelling in multiple mediums, and now he has an intimate understanding of how HBO operates.  The potential to do great things is there, but given the success of HBO’s GoT, expectations will be pretty high for anything else they put out with George’s name attached.

With this is mind, the idea of a Dunk and Egg miniseries is intriguing, and since it’s set in the universe of Westeros, it’s certainly a safer play for HBO than adapting Tuf Voyaging, at least in terms of drawing initial viewers.  However, while I love those stories (particularly the first one), the tone in these tales is rather different, and the sweep isn’t nearly as big.  I can’t help but wonder if that will come off as a letdown to those unfamiliar with the source materials, even if HBO tries to spice it up.

Just to provide a little more food for thought, George also has a novella called “The Princess and the Queen” coming out in Dangerous Women, another anthology he co-edited with Gardner Dozois.  This one is set in Westeros, as well, and as George notes on his Not a Blog, this one deals with the origins of the Dance of the Dragons [a civil war among the Targaryen monarchs set some 180 years before A Song of Ice and Fire].  It’s impossible to offer an informed opinion until we’ve read the story, but since the Dance of the Dragons deals with a war of succession among the Targaryens, the sweep sounds a little more epic than the current crop of Dunk and Egg tales, so an adaptation of this novella might be more suited to HBO’s tastes.  Of course, at the height of Targaryen power, there were also a number of fully grown dragons flying about, which could demand a sizable budget when you factor in the war of succession, as well, but clearly HBO is willing to invest in George’s visions.  Give the viewers some political intrigue, some civil war, add George’s usual flare for creating interesting characters and plots, and, of course, throw in some dragons, and this could be a tailor-made miniseries for HBO’s GoT fan base (well, there would have to be some sex, too, knowing HBO, but if George doesn’t have any sex in the story, HBO will surely find a way to include some).  But again, we need to wait and see how the novella reads before we go too far down this road.


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Amin Javadi, co-host of A Podcast of Ice and Fire:

I think it is unfortunate that George R.R. Martin did not start the series five or 10 years earlier, or, at least, if he had been able to work on GOT full time rather than part-time for years.  He could have been done by now and then would be in the perfect stage to work on a lot of TV projects, adapting his previous works with the experience built up from the last round of working with TV and a greater fame and sense of momentum on his side.  He could take a larger or more hands-on role than we speculate he will be taking right now with this deal.  Of course, we are getting into “what if?” territory here, which is highly speculative.

One thing I note to people worried about the effect on the book series is that George can only work so many hours per day on the next book before burning out.  It is not like if he cleared his schedule, he would be working on it all the time.  As long as he gets to spend those core hours, progress will be made.  The bigger disruption may be any extra travel that may be involved, as I believe he doesn’t get much writing done outside of his home.


Game of Thrones Roundtables on Coming Attractions:


Coming Attractions’s Primers and Introductions:


Season Two Reviews:

Season One Reviews:


[Marc N. Kleinhenz has covered Game of Thrones for Coming Attractions and Comic Related and A Song of Ice and Fire for and Tower of the Hand.  He’s also written some books on the subjects, too.]

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