The “Game of Thrones” cast and crew brought ice and fire to South by Southwest on Sunday afternoon. The HBO series’ panel was hosted by stars Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Though the show is renowned for its darkness and violence, the actresses and the writers were nothing but easygoing as they discussed the making of the show.
Williams and Turner, acting as the moderators, opened the panel by asking Benioff and Weiss, their “fun uncles,” about the show’s casting process.
Benioff and Weiss revealed that Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean were cast early on, but they encountered difficulties finding their Arya Stark.
“We probably look at 300 different girls in England and could not find the right Arya,” Benioff said.
Weiss said he was eventually drawn to Maisie by her face on her audition video’s thumbnail, and through Maisie’s chemistry tests with Sansa Stark candidates, they cast Turner.
Williams and Turner then directed the conversation toward Benioff and Weiss’ behind-the-scenes antics. The writers recounted multiple instances in which they pranked the cast, such as when they lied to Kit Harrington that his character, Jon Snow, would be gravely disfigured at the request of HBO for a grittier lead. Harrington was not pleased, thinking he would have to hide his face under heavy makeup.
“He bought it until David started laughing,” Weiss said.
The showrunners also discussed their casting of musicians on the show, and they teased an appearance by Ed Sheeran in the upcoming seventh season.
“We knew that Maisie was a big fan,” Benioff explained. “For years we tried to get Ed Sheeran on the show so we could surprise Maisie, and this year we finally did it.”
“It was very good fun,” Williams said with a grin.
“I’m still waiting on Bieber,” Turner added.
Hoping to draw some softness from Weiss and Benioff, Turner later told them to “describe the most significant way getting to know us made you better people.”
“I’ve seen two women who grew up really well under circumstances that have made other young people grow up into monsters and somehow avoided it,” Benioff said. “It’s been good for me.”
The showrunners also took questions from the audience. A popular one was, “Will there be a dragon White Walker?”
Benioff and Weiss appeared impressed by the idea, but admitted they weren’t sure if such a beast would fit the “Game of Thrones” mythology.
The topic of the conversation eventually turned to how “Game of Thrones” has affected TV portrayals of women. Benioff and Weiss were unsure of how their show has affected female characters in media, but Weiss did say their own portrayals of women owed a lot to George R.R. Martin’s popular novels.
“There were more compelling female characters [in the novels] who had agency than in any show we had seen,” Weiss said. “They weren’t anyone’s right-hand, anyone’s wife. They were out there and had their own storylines. This seemed like a very actress-centric show before we had even started.”