Game of Thrones has always been cinematic, and at one point its creators apparently tried to take the entire final season to the big screen. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, who adapted the hit HBO series from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels, have known what they're building to in the show's six-episode eighth season for quite some time.
Martin's novels aren't yet complete so the show will finish its story before the books do, but the author did give the showrunners an idea of what he was headed for, including a battle sequence that will now take up an entire episode of the last season. Benioff and Weiss have been equipped with this knowledge for years, and even back in 2012 they knew what they had to aim for, and they were worried.
Game of Thrones was already a huge hit back then, drawing millions of viewers to HBO and virtually guaranteeing that Benioff and Weiss would get to keep making the series for years to come, but HBO was only spending $5 million on each episode. That's a huge budget for a lot of shows, but Benioff and Weiss were looking at it and wondering how they could possibly pull of the finale they had in their heads. In a new feature covering the final season at Entertainment Weekly, it's revealed that they were expressing this concern even back during production on Season 3.
“We have a very generous budget from HBO, but we know what’s coming down the line and, ultimately, it’s not generous enough,” Weiss said at the time.
To make matters worse, the two creators had pitched the series to HBO as a character drama in an epic fantasy world, a show that could be contained in both scope and budget because it was more about the people than it was about the dragons and magic and armies. That may have been true of the first season, but it certainly wouldn't be by the time the final year rolled around. Benioff and Weiss struggled with this dilemma, and ultimately came up with what they thought could be an interesting solution: Shoot the six-episode final season as three feature films; a movie trilogy, just like The Lord of the Rings.
“It’s what we’re working towards in a perfect world,” Weiss said back in 2012. “We end up with an epic fantasy story but with the level of familiarity and investment in the characters that are normally impossible in a two-hour movie.”
This grandiose idea didn't fly with HBO executives who are more interesting in retaining and growing their subscriber base than trying their hand at theatrical distribution. They weren't into the movie trilogy setup, but with Game of Thrones' star on the rise, they did tell Benioff and Weiss not to worry. The showrunners would have everything they needed to make the final season on the grandest scale possible.
And indeed, Benioff and Weiss got what they were promised. The network and the showrunners ultimately came to an agreement that would spread production on the final season out over two years, at a budget of around $15 million per episode.
“They put their money where their mouths are — literally stuffed their mouth full of million-dollar bills, which don’t exist anymore,” Weiss joked.
So that's the story of how and why Game of Thrones' final episodes took so long to make, and why we won't be seeing them on the big screen.
Game of Thrones returns in 2019 on HBO.