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by Todd Gilchrist
March 28, 2013 11:54 AM
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Seven Things We Learned About the New Season of 'Game of Thrones' From the Showrunners and Cast

Kit Harington in 'Game of Thrones' Helen Sloan/HBO

When it was released in December, “The Hobbit” was blasted for being too lackadaisical and too tech-oriented for its own good. But HBO’s "Game of Thrones" is, in its very format, even longer; it focuses on character and period details that establish and explore a principal cast of dozens; and it's at least as technically demanding, with location shooting from Northern Ireland to South Africa. And its popularity has only increased over the course of its first two seasons, with a third set to begin this Sunday, March 31. Of course, unlike the late J.R.R. Tolkien, "Game of Thrones" writer George R.R. Martin has been an active collaborator in the process of bringing his series of novels to the screen. He has engaged fans of the original books and the television series -- whether or not they overlapped -- and integrated their respective appetites into both. Such creative coalescence behind the scenes is but one of the things Indiewire discovered about not just the fantasy drama's upcoming season, but the future of the book series itself, at the recent Los Angeles press day for “Game of Thrones.”

Season three’s main goal was to just plain exist at all. Natalie Dormer, who plays Margaery Tyrell, said that series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were intent on following through with three seasons of the show, at the very least, when they started to adapt the book series for HBO. “David and Dan were very clear,” she explains. “They said ‘we just want to make it to Season Three.’ It was a real milestone for them, and regardless of what happened, that’s where they were hoping to get when they set out on this crazy path.”

Now that Benioff and Weiss have reached a third season, the duo is planning some pretty significant upheavals. “Benioff has called it the season of the rise and fall,” Dormer reveals. “Reversal of fortunes. People who start off with nothing get dealt an incredible hand, and the power shifts considerably, and vice versa; there’s some really traumatic losses in the show in season three as well. So it’s definitely a pivotal moment.” Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, reinforced the idea that this should be a polarizing series of developments -- perhaps not quite the reward fans expected in exchange for their support. “In season three, the plot... thickens. ‘It gets bigger and better’ -- you know, the normal answers,” Turner jokes. “There are such huge plot twists this season that I think are bigger than season two and season one; there are many kind of shocking elements that people will love-slash-hate.”

By now the actors are no longer bound by the events in the books, but they occasionally consult them for perspectives that are not seen or examined on the show. Perhaps in keeping with her nominal screen time thus far, Rose Leslie, who plays Jon Snow’s love interest Ygritte, says she’s maintained her familiarity with the source material more or less concurrently with where the producers are in adapting it for the show. “I currently am on [book] four,” she says. “I’ve read the books, and I’m happy that I read the books. I feel that it colors the character, consciously or subconsciously, I like the fact that there is that back story going on in my head.”

"For Jon, it was quite an interesting season to film because he’s essentially a spy."

Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, says he researched the books when he was initially cast, but has since resisted the impulse to read too far into the future. “I read the books when I got the part… purely from a kind of ‘I’ve got this role in an HBO show, and I want to know what happens to me,’ it’s as simple as that,” he explains. “And then, obviously, you do get a bit too far ahead of yourself and you’ve got to rein it back.” Remarkably, Harrington confesses he avoided fantasy literature in the past, but became a fan when he sat down with Martin’s books. “I’ve always avoided big, thick fantasy books with tiny writing – I was kind of a bit snobbish about them,” he confesses. “And then I realized they’re addictive, and they’re compulsive reading.”

Fans who love watching hunky Jon Snow go through existential quandaries will have a field day watching his adventures beyond the Wall. “For Jon, it was quite an interesting season to film because he’s essentially a spy,” Harington says. “The whole season, really, for him is about where his heart belongs -- whether he’s made a stupid young-man’s decision by taking these vows and become a part of the Night’s Watch, or he would prefer to be a free person fighting for Mance Rayder. “ Harington also says that Jon’s indecision about whom he should fight for will achieve a sense of resolution, thankfully, even if he undergoes some serious second-guessing in the process. “So throughout the season we discover if he’s going to be loyal to the Night’s Watch, or he’s going to betray the Night’s Watch,” he says. “And as he goes along having to convince the Wildlings that he’s one of them, he sort of convinces himself that he’s one of them.”

Jon Snow’s sidekick, Samwell Tarly, will emerge from his shell and announce – or perhaps earn – his adulthood. John Bradley, who plays Samwell Tarly, says that past events will come to bear on his actions in season three, and he’ll finally start to feel like his own person, rather than one in need of protection by Jon. “I think that for Sam especially, it’s a hugely transformative season in terms of how he’s maturing very rapidly and very dramatically in a very short space of time,” he says. “Certain things have already happened which are planting seeds that will affect his whole outlook on life and his priorities – and just give him a reason to be alive for the first time. Somebody, or certain people, need him now, and I think he never felt needed before.”

Distinctive casting choices made during the first two seasons has prompted Benioff and Weiss to make departures from the source material to fully utilize chemistry which has since developed between the actors. Bradley says that he’s seeing the writing begin to reflect the relationship he now shares with Harington. “David and Dan are really good at finding there’s you at one end, and the character at the other, and bringing those two sides together so more elements of you bleed into your character,” he says. “They see things in you that would add a certain flavor to the character that might not necessarily be in the book. There are certain scenes, additional scenes between me and Kit, that I think were kind of written out of them observing how our relationship in real life was developing so that we’re able to bring certain colors and textures that have to do with our relationship in real life, and add that to create a relationship that’s developing between the characters.”

“Jon kind of protects Sam from the physical pain, but I think Sam protects Jon from his own, dark demons,” he observes. “So I think in the series they give each other a lot and it’s a much more mutually fulfilling relationship than it is in the books.”

Now that HBO has brought the characters to life, audiences -- and readers -- may see the performances and personalities of the actors reflected in the behavior of the characters in the books. Natalie Dormer acknowledges that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the original books and the first two seasons which may ultimately impact George Martin’s conception of the characters and their behavior as he continues to write future books. “It’s David and D.B’s show, but George gives them his blessing. So you’re getting to an interesting point where there’s starting to be a cross-pollination,” she says.

“David and Dan have fleshed out – you’ve what happens in the books off-camera, so to speak, off stage. So I don’t think’s as much a departure as it’s a fleshing out of the books – which is great for us because it gives us more details to play with in our characterizations. [And] George is writing the last two books, knowing who we are as a cast, and knowing what certain individuals have brought and as a cast to certain characters.”

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