Entertainment, Guest Authors

Inside Game of Thrones: Bryan Cogman’s Top 5 Episodes

We’re thrilled to have Bryan Cogman guest posting on the blog this week. Bryan is the author of Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones and the Executive Story Editor on Game of Thrones. Read on for Bryan’s top five favorite episodes from the first two seasons of Game of Thrones, and check out Executive Editorial Director Sarah Malarkey’s post about making the book for even more Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones!

Hi all,

Bryan Cogman, here. I’m Executive Story Editor on Game of Thrones and have had the privilege of writing three episodes of the series. I collaborated with the wonderful folks at Chronicle on the new book, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones, which hits bookstores this month.

I hope fans of the show will enjoy this visual companion to the first two seasons of our series, which features extraordinary photography (much of it from our ace unit photographer Helen Sloan), concept art, costume sketches, and remembrances from our cast and crew. And the collector’s edition, available through Amazon.com and HBO.com, features a bonus book: Game of Thrones: The Storyboards, which collects some of the best work from the first two seasons by our fantastic storyboard artist Will Simpson.

To celebrate the release of this special book, I thought I’d share my top five personal favorite episodes from the first two seasons. Of course, it was very hard to choose, as I love them all… but here goes.

SPOILER WARNING. You might not want to read this if you haven’t seen the first two seasons of “Game of Thrones”

5) The Kingsroad
Episode 102, written by David Benioff & D.B Weiss, directed by Tim Van Patten

I cannot overstate the importance of the first half hour of this episode to the overall success of our first season. It was inevitable that the premiere episode of the series would be somewhat burdened by a lot of plot exposition and the vast number of characters that had to be introduced. This episode, the second, starts to dig deeper, establishing the deep-rooted familial bonds that, for me, are the heart of the show.

I remember sitting in my office in Belfast as we were finishing up production on Season One, watching a rough assembly of The Kingsroad on my laptop. This was the first pass; no color correction, a temp music track, etc. My eyes welled up as I watched the series of scenes which depict the Starks parting ways, beginning with Jon giving Needle to Arya and ending with Ned fighting back tears as he promises Jon, “The next time we meet, we’ll talk about your mother.” As I watched this sequence, I knew we’d nailed it. I loved this family. I wanted them to be happy. And I knew the viewing audience would too. Perhaps I was weeping because I knew they wouldn’t be happy again… at least not for a long, long, time.

Fun Fact: We didn’t name the episodes until principal photography was completed. I pitched a number of titles, some of which ended up being selected. The first title I pitched for 102 was “A Direwolf Is No Pet”. My boss David Benioff responded by making me promise that if he were to suddenly croak, no episode of this show would ever be called “A Direwolf Is No Pet.” I made up for it by coming up with “The Kingsroad”.

4) A Golden Crown
Episode 106, teleplay by Jane Espenson and David Benioff & D.B. Weiss,
Story by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by Daniel Minahan

This is arguably the most purely entertaining episode of Season One, with a slew of memorable sequences. Tyrion’s “confession” of his past crimes. Dany’s ritualistic eating of the horse heart before the dosh khaleen. The trial by combat at the Eyrie with Bronn bobbing and weaving, tiring out the heavily armored Ser Vardis (who ends up exiting through the Moon Door). Syrio Forel instructing Arya on what to say to the God of Death… “Not today.”

But for me, what makes this an episode for the ages is the final scene: the crowning of Viserys. It’s a prime example of everyone on the creative team collaborating at the highest level. On any other show, this would be the most memorable death of any season… but not on this show. More on that later.

Watching it again also brings up fond memories of Harry Lloyd, who played Viserys and became a good pal of mine that season. I was the font of all geeky GoT knowledge and he was probably the most eager to learn everything he could about the history and the mythology of the world (a close, close second being the khaleesi herself, Emilia Clarke).

3) What Is Dead May Never Die
Episode 203, written by Bryan Cogman, directed by Alik Sakharov

I know, I know, I wrote this episode, so, yeah, I’m a bit biased. I feel like I found my own voice as a GoT writer with this script. As fond as I am of my first season effort, Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things, I can’t help but hear a novice writer during some scenes, and (showrunners) David & Dan had a much larger hand in the revisions. What Is Dead May Never Die really feels like mine, especially since I was the only writer on set during much of the shooting. Working closely with Alik Sakharov (our Season One director of photography who made his GoT directing debut with this episode) was particularly rewarding. I learned so much about filmmaking and storytelling from him.

My own personal experience aside, I love this episode for its momentum, its variety, and for the way it showcases the talents of our amazing cast. It has a nice mix of classic scenes from the books (Tyrion’s rooting out a spy on the council, the introduction of Brienne of Tarth) and scenes new to the TV series (Margaery’s failed seduction of Renly, Yoren’s final scene with Arya). It also contains a pair of scenes I’m particularly proud of—both of which contain very little dialogue and feature Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen, in one of Season Two’s best performances). In the first, Theon finishes a letter to Robb Stark, warning his foster brother that Theon’s father plans to attack. After an agonizing moment, he burns the letter. This segues directly into a simply gorgeous scene, shot on Northern Ireland’s spectacular coast, in which Theon undergoes a baptism ritual, committing himself fully to the Ironborn and sealing his fate.

Incidentally, the original draft of this episode was about twenty pages too long—it featured early versions of Davos/Melisandre/Stannis scenes that found their way into Episode 202 and Dany scenes that ended up in Episode 204.

2) Blackwater
Episode 209, written by George R.R. Martin, directed by Neil Marshall

The closest our show has ever gotten to a ‘bottle episode’ (an installment restricted in scope, using fewer characters, often using a single set). Unlike the previous episode on this list, I was barely involved in its actual production, apart from breaking the major story beats in the room with the rest of the writing staff. I also stayed away from watching rough cuts of it—I knew I would want to experience this episode the way the rest of the fans would: in real time, on TV. I’m glad I did.

Obviously Blackwater is a triumph of action (remind me how the hell our stunt team wasn’t nominated for an Emmy?) and editing (ditto Emmys?) with Neil Marshall stepping in as director at practically the last minute and knocking it out of the park (I say again… WTF Emmys?). But, as always, it’s the humanity of George R.R. Martin’s story that rules the day. I won’t soon forget Davos’s horrified recognition of the wildfire, Tyrion’s stirring call to arms, Joffrey’s cowardly retreat from battle, Sansa’s final moments with the Hound, or Cersei, fearing all is lost, cradling her son on the Iron Throne.

Finally, the episode is a testament to our extraordinary crew—the best in the business. Their tireless work resulted in an episode that really pushed the boundaries of what you could do on television. I’d put Blackwater up against any major Hollywood movie released last year.

1) Baelor
Episode 109, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by Alan Taylor

This episode (expertly directed by Alan Taylor, who has helmed the most GoT episodes of any director to date) is chock full of goodies including Tyrion’s painful remembrance of his first love and Dany’s fateful decision to trust Drogo’s life to the maegi Mirri Maz Duur. Peter and Emilia give (arguably) their strongest Season One performances here. But, come on, you know why this is my number one pick. The death of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) remains the series’ defining moment; the moment the audience knew that all bets were off; that no one on this show was safe, and that, in the end, this tale wasn’t about Ned, but about his children.

I make a point of rereading David & Dan’s Emmy nominated script each year as I start work on my own “GoT” episodes as it’s a marvel of screenwriting. Even on the page, the execution scene is thrilling and emotionally devastating; the tension slowly building line by line until the final, horrible moment. I remember my heart beating fast the first time I read it… and the same thing happens when I watch the finished sequence, even now, years later, after multiple viewings.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for watching.

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