James Hibberd’s book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, about the making of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, draws on more than 50 new interviews with the cast and crew—many of them more revealing than anything that came out when the show was on the air.
“I knew there was an opportunity to circle back on some of the controversies, and see if people would open up more now that the show is over, and they did,” Hibberd says in Episode 436 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast.
Game of Thrones was a lightning rod for controversy throughout its eight-year run, and many fans have second-guessed the choices made by showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Hibberd hopes his book gives readers a clearer understanding of why those decisions were made.
“One thing I was trying to do throughout the book is, ‘You might like something, you might not like something, but here’s why certain decisions were made, and why people did what they did, and what the thinking was behind it,’” he says.
The book makes it clear that Game of Thrones was a gamble from start to finish, with Benioff and Weiss counting on the show becoming a cultural phenomenon just to reach the finish line. “It was such an incredible feat for them to pull that off, and a really ballsy thing to do,” Hibberd says. “You’re really just on a total high-wire act trying to do that.”
Hibberd also devotes six chapters to the show’s divisive final season. He hopes the book will appeal to those who enjoyed the ending as well as those who hated it. “I was trying to write it so it can either play out like watching the movie Titanic or like watching the movie Rudy, depending on your point of view,” he says. “I was trying not to put a thumb on the scale, and let the reader decide how they felt about everything as it went along.”
Listen to the complete interview with James Hibberd in Episode 436 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
James Hibberd on journalism:
“I don’t tend to take cheap shots, I don’t think, and I don’t make assumptions about, why somebody did something unless I know why they did something. In other words, I don’t go from ‘this was a bad decision’ to ‘this was a bad decision that they clearly did because they wanted this or wanted that,’ when I don’t know. And I think that just comes from being a reporter all my life. The fewer assumptions you can make, the better off you are and the more accurate what you’re doing is going to be.”
James Hibberd on season 8:
“I think the average fan has a much clearer sense of how it played than I do, because they watched it correctly —they watched it relaxed, and enjoying it, and not knowing what was going to happen. I came into it having known everything, and I also have my laptop open in front of me—I didn’t see the episodes in advance—I’m frantically taking notes for my recap, and preparing to post my postmortems. So the way I watched it was all screwed up, because I was in the middle of working through it. So it’s really hard for me to put on a ‘TV critic’ hat.”
James Hibberd on George R.R. Martin:
“We talked for hours at his favorite restaurant in Santa Fe. He was really candid. When you read his quotes, you’re never quite sure which direction he’s going to go on something, because there are things that he really praises about the show, and there are things where he’s really critical about the show. The journey for him in this is very emotionally complex, and he’s pretty open about that—you can sort of feel the emotional complexity as he goes on. So of all the things in the book, I was most happy with the interview that I had with George.”
James Hibberd on HBO:
“[The showrunners] were looking at this as, ‘How do we do [George’s ending] on our budget? We can’t do anything close to that. The only way we could do it is as movies, so maybe the final season can basically be three movies instead.’ … I called HBO for a comment. They had a big reaction, and then there was a whole summit meeting between HBO and the showrunners about it. HBO did not want to do that, because they’re not in the business of doing movies. They’re not in the business of saying, ‘OK, now that you’ve watched a show on our network for seven years, go to a movie theater to see how it ends.’”