Game of Thrones is a massive production that shoots simultaneously all across the world. For all of the pieces to work together smoothly, every script for the entire season has to be finished before cameras roll on episode one — that way they can film all of the Jon Snow scenes up at Castle Black all at once, for example. It's an efficient way of shooting, to be sure, but it also seems like it'd be pretty difficult for the writers, who have to work faster than normal to make sure everything is completed by the shooting date.
Writer/producer Bryan Cogman recently gave an interview to Observer (via Collider) that details exactly how the writing process works on the show, and it's a fascinating read for people who enjoy knowing behind-the-scenes details.
“As we’re shooting one season we’re trading emails and/or chatting on set about the broad strokes of the next season: ‘Character X’ starts at ‘blank’ and we want him or her to end up at ‘blank.’ Then, as we start to approach the end of production, David & Dan, in some years, will assign the various writers a few characters. For instance, when we were working on Season Four, I was assigned Arya and a few others. So I’d go home and work for a few weeks on my ‘Arya Season Four,’ keeping in mind a few scenes we’d already discussed and what chapters and scenarios and themes from the books we might use.
Then, in January, when we’re back in LA, we’d meet for about two or three weeks, armed with the work we’d all done individually, and throw it all up on the board. You debate, you use some stuff, you throw some stuff out, you think up some new stuff. Sometimes what you end up with is really close to the individual outlines. Sometimes it’s very different.
After we map out all the main characters’ individual arcs, using color coded index cards, we arrange them by episode and get a rough idea of the scene order. From there, we all split up again and each tackle a chunk of the outline—a detailed outline, which sometimes ends up being over a hundred pages. David & Dan polish it, and that’s what we use to script our episodes. I’m generally assigned mid-season episodes—it just seems to work out that way. George wrote a script per season for the first four seasons, but took a break for Season Five as he’s hard at work on the next book. And while George isn’t in the writers room, he reads the outlines and gives his notes.
From there I write my two scripts—it takes me about a month and half to do both—D&D read them, give notes, I do a rewrite, D&D sometimes do a pass on it themselves. And we continue to tinker with all of the scripts through prep and production. But they’re generally camera-ready when we finish them. They have to be, as we have to have all ten scripts complete well before shooting starts. We shoot all 10 episodes simultaneously, out of order, like a big, ten-hour movie, with two shooting units going at all times, sometimes in different countries.”
That's wild. Normally writers are scripting late-season episodes as the season begins to air, but these guys have to plan so far ahead for this series. It's probably for the best, actually: it doesn't allow them to take fan response into account even if they wanted to, and while sometimes fans think that they know best when they throw out suggestions or predictions for things that they want to happen, it's clear that Benioff and Weiss are the masterminds behind this show and they have the whole thing planned out very clearly. I can't wait to see what they've cooked up for Season 5, and luckily, we don't have to wait very long to find out. Game of Thrones returns on April 12th.