When the Game of Thrones series finale airs on May 19th, we’ll be witnessing an ending that the smash-hit HBO series’ showrunners have known for half a decade. Ending any TV series is no small feat, and there are a number of ways to do it. Some showrunners admit they sort of feel their way around and the series finale comes about organically, while others have had the ending meticulous mapped out for years. With regards to Game of Thrones, it’s a case of the latter.
Speaking with EW, showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss revealed that they’ve known the “major beats” of the finale for at least five years, with Benioff noting they discussed it back in Season 3. But Weiss notes that they’ve allowed for adjustments here and there for the “grand finale” over the years so as to ensure they’re hitting upon the best possible idea:
“It wasn’t like something where five years ago one of us said, ‘I think this has to happen and I know this is right.’ [The storyline was] something that gradually unfolded with neither of us wanting to plant a flag in the ground right out of the gate. Because what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a better idea out there and you planted a flag on the second- or third-best idea? So it was always more a ‘What if…’ conversation than an ‘I think that…’ So by the time we got to the place where we were outlining we already knew most of the big things.”
Of course the show is based on George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, which isn’t yet complete, but Benioff and Weiss previously revealed that once it became clear the show would end before the books, Martin sat them down and told them the broad strokes of his planned ending. However, Benioff and Weiss have since stated that in order to keep from spoiling the books, they don’t plan on revealing how or if the show’s ending differs from that of Martin’s book series.
Somewhat refreshingly, Weiss also admits that they really do care if the fans hate the finale, while also acknowledging they can’t please everyone:
“We want people to love it. It matters a lot to us. We’ve spent 11 years doing this. We also know no matter what we do, even if it’s the optimal version, that a certain number of people will hate the best of all possible versions. There is no version where everybody says, ‘I have to admit, I agree with every other person on the planet that this is the perfect way to do this’ — that’s an impossible reality that doesn’t exist. You hope you’re doing the best job you can, the version that works better than any other version, but you know somebody is not going to like it. I’ve been that person with other things, where people are loving something and I’m going, ‘Yeah, that’s okay. I was hoping for more.’”
Benioff cites The Sopranos series finale as one he admires, though I wouldn’t necessarily expect a similar cut to black for Game of Thrones:
“From the beginning, we’ve talked about how the show would end. A good story isn’t a good story if you have a bad ending. Of course we worry. It’s also part of the fun of any show that people love arguing about it. I loved the way David Chase ended The Sopranos [with its surprising cut to black]. I was one of those people who thought my TV had gone out. I got up and was checking the wires, unable to believe my cable had gone out in the most important moment of my favorite TV series. I think that was the best of all possible endings for that show. But a lot of people hated it. I’ve gotten into a lot of arguments with people about why that was a great ending, but people felt legitimately cheated and that’s their right to feel that way, just as it’s my right to feel like they’re idiots. I’ll always remember being on the subway headed to Yankees Stadium a couple days after the Sopranos ending aired. And there were like three different conversations in the subway and they were all about the exact same thing.”
There’s even more pressure on Weiss and Benioff for the Game of Thrones Season 8 ending because they directed the episode themselves. Weiss tells EW they made the decision to take the reins to avoid being a “backseat director” to someone else:
“We trust our directors. When something has been sitting with you for so long, you have such a specific sense of the way each moment should play and feel. Not just in terms of ‘this shot or that shot,’ though sometimes it’s that as well. So it’s not really fair to ask somebody else to get that right. We’d be lurking over their shoulder every take driving them crazy, making it hard for them to do their job. If we’re going to drive anybody crazy, it might as well be ourselves. At least if something goes wrong, he can yell at me and I can yell at him.”
Benioff and Weiss haven’t officially been in the director’s chair on the show since the Season 4 premiere, but they’ve no doubt wielded intense influence over each and every installment thus far. Clearly they’ve been thinking about how they want the show to go out for a long while now, and it’ll be interesting to see where they land when the most highly anticipated television event of the year airs in May.
Until then, the six-episode Game of Thrones final season premieres on Sunday, April 14th.