Game of Thrones showrunners contemplate the end

It’s not yet time for the great fire, but the burning will begin soon.

It was October 2015. Sometime around 4 a.m. on the set of Game of Thrones. The production had set up camp in a military-controlled patch of Spanish desert. The troops patrolled the distant perimeter, effectively scaring off any paparazzi. You’d recognize this setting as Vaes Dothrak, where Daenerys was held prisoner in season 6. It was the final night of filming at this location, and the last thing left to do was torch the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen. (Emilia Clarke had already shot her triumphant emergence from the fire separately.)

As the crew prepared the pyrotechnics and a bottle of bourbon was passed around, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss answered a few questions about the end of Game of Thrones. It’s an interview we waited a few years to publish — until the timing felt just right.

This was a unique point in the show’s history. Benioff and Weiss were still a couple of seasons away from being finished, but were now beginning to seriously think about the end. They’d decided the fates of every major character. Sometimes they gave actors cryptic suggestions when filming certain scenes, with those final episodes in mind. The actor didn’t know why they were doing something a certain way, only that it was somehow important. After Thrones is finished, fans will look back and see subtle hints that were dropped.

There were some fears, too. In addition to the usual writer worries (can we get it right?), a private concern at the time was that one of the show’s major cast members would quit or fall victim to some random tragic circumstance. The cast was getting so popular, and there were so many members who were absolutely essential. “If something had happened to them, or if they decided not to do it anymore, to make movies, we would be screwed,” Benioff said later.

Beyond the worries, there was also relief and sadness. Very few fans realize the enormous amount of year-round work Benioff and Weiss put into GoT. They don’t just pen the scripts while filming happens somewhere else. They’re on set every day, for long hours, neck-deep in decision making that impacts every aspect of what’s seen on screen. “It’s the best job I’ve ever had, or ever likely will have,” Benioff said. “But it certainly doesn’t get easier.”

So how did they really feel about the show ending?

“If you’re going to spend 10 years working on one show, you better really love the people you work with, because you’re spending a sh—load of time away from your family and friends,” Benioff said. “You always put everything into it. So to spend time on a show that people respond to all over the world, it’s incredibly gratifying. You have these characters you love and you can come up with ideas for them, and a few months later these incredible actors will be saying those things. That’s such a rare gift.”

Weiss was quiet for a bit before answering. “If 10 years ago somebody had given me a chance to write a ticket, I wouldn’t have been crazy enough to write a ticket to something this great,” he said. “I just think about how bizarre it will be to not be doing this anymore, because it becomes the water you swim in. It becomes every minute of every day, 365 days a year, this show is on your mind or in your life. After it’s done, it will be like re-entering some weird universe where I don’t even know how people act there anymore.… When I’m 75 years old, I’m going to be [affecting a quivering, elderly voice], ‘You know, it would be great if Tyrion said… Ah, goddamn it!’”

The duo get the alert from the crew: It’s time.

We gather to watch the result of vengeful Daenerys torching the temple.

“Bring up the flames!” a crew member yells.

Hidden gas lines are turned on. The hut’s wood and grass catch fire quickly. Everybody is quiet.

The blaze is incredible. The intensity of the heat, the soaring height, the overwhelming diversity of billions of flames. Nowadays, most productions use special effects for fire, even small ones. “We always use real fire when we can,” Benioff noted as he watched. The dragons may not be real, but their flames are deadly.

You can see this shot in season 6, but cameras don’t come anywhere close to capturing the experience of watching it being made — and that is often what it’s like being on the set of Game of Thrones. There’s a team striving to create thousands of perfect shots that sometimes last just seconds each, yet the effort that goes into the creation of those moments is hidden and enormous — the fiery passion of hundreds.

The temple collapses into the sand. The fire dies down, and then it’s gone.

EW.com will have daily GoT coverage until the end of Game of Thrones, including post-episode recaps and interviews. Follow @jameshibberd for GoT scoop. Bookmark our Game of Thrones content hub.

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