George R.R. Martin is undoubtedly the king of his Westeros, but he couldn’t have asked for a better council to bring it to life on television.
Chief among them: Game of Thrones writers and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (affectionately called D&D). Equally crucial to keeping the kingdom (and the show) together is writer and producer Bryan Cogman, an expert in the show’s lore and the only writer other than D&D to have penned a script for each of the show’s five seasons.
A massive fan of the books even before starting work on Game of Thrones, Cogman has read each A Song of Ice and Fire title countless times; he rereads any relevant books and chapters before beginning work on a new season. He initially started out on the show to help D&D map out the first season and ended up writing the mythology of the series for the cast and crew for them to process and understand—kind of like a TL;DR of the Seven Kingdoms.
His obsession eventually turned into a job. Cogman was asked to “take a crack” at writing an episode, which turned into the script for “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things.” He’s written at least one episode per season since. Recently, he was hired to write the screenplay for Magic: The Gathering.
“You get to exercise a lot of muscles and play in different genres within ‘fantasy.’”
And Cogman is easily the most accessible to the fans. He’s the only main writer who’s active on Twitter (Martin’s account is run by his team). He’s appeared multiple times on fandom podcasts and will give interviews to fansites to break down his process and offer a level of accessibility to the creative process most fans don’t get. After all, he did bring us Ser Pounce in season 4’s “Oathkeeper.”
He’ll also stand by his fellow writers. He defended how the show portrayed Stannis Baratheon after fans became unhappy with how the character was portrayed on the show. When news came out that Game of Thrones may eventually spoil the books, he only said that “we just have to make the best season 5, season 6, and beyond that we can.”
But the writers are already five steps ahead of us. As we prepare to start watching season 5, Cogman, Benioff, and Weiss are already hard at work writing season 6. After all, he’s got a lot to tackle to satisfy the kingdom—or rather, the viewers.
How has your writing process changed this season? Aspects of the plot are deviating more from A Song of Ice and Fire, and you may begin to include elements from future books as there’s less material to adapt.
The writing process is really more or less the same as it was early on. While we’re shooting one season we’re discussing the next one, tossing ideas back and forth, etc. We reread the material from the books that will inform the coming season, we meet as a writing staff in Los Angeles once we’ve wrapped shooting and map the season out, usually tackling each storyline by character. We write a detailed outline, and, finally, we write our scripts from that outline.
How often (if at all) do you read the fan sites and forums—along with their reactions to show developments?
I followed the fan sites a fair amount when we first started, but I soon realized that would lead to madness. I don’t follow them anymore, though I am on Twitter and interact with fans occasionally—but much less than I used to, and I’ll most likely take a break while the season airs. It’s harder to do your job well when you’re worrying about what every individual viewer or fan might think of any given moment.
“I followed the fan sites a fair amount when we first started, but I soon realized that would lead to madness.”
What can you tell us about the episodes you wrote this season? [Cogman recently confirmed that he wrote episodes 5×05 and 5×06.]
Well, I obviously can’t talk what occurs in them. They were directed by Jeremy Podeswa, who is new to the show this season. He’s a fantastic director and veteran of some great HBO shows (Six Feet Under, The Pacific) and I loved working with him. Learned a lot. I think they turned out well.
What is your favorite type of scene to write?
I guess I enjoy the longer, character-driven dialogue scene the most. Two characters talking. A few that comes to mind are Lady Olenna and Margaery in season 4 or Jaime and Brienne’s bathtub scene in season 3 … or Sam and Gilly’s farewell scene in season 2. It’s one of the advantages you have writing for TV—you can devote the time and space to, say, a four- or five-page scene of dialogue or a scene that explores the backstories and/or inner life of the characters—scenes where you can really dig deep. That’s harder to do in film. But I love the other stuff too; one of the joys of writing for GOT is you get to exercise a lot of muscles and play in different genres within the larger “fantasy” genre.
What’s the status of the screenplay you’re writing for Magic: The Gathering?
Currently at work on it, but it’s in the early stages. I’m having a blast writing it. Like GOT, there’s a vast mythology to draw from and a huge cast of compelling characters. But it’s a different animal in many ways. I’m afraid I can’t say more than that at this point, but it’s an honor (and also more than slightly terrifying) to be entrusted with the property.
Photo by Riley Stearns | Remix by Jason Reed