SAN DIEGO ― Perhaps the least surprising twist of “Game of Thrones” Season 8 is that the showrunners dropped out of San Diego Comic-Con.
Despite a deluge of Emmy nominations this week, the final season of the show was its most divisive, leading to a viral fan petition to redo the season and a backlash that has threatened to explode at Comic-Con ever since HBO initially announced showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were attending.
With the showrunners (as well as cast members Iain Glen, Nathalie Emmanuel and director Miguel Sapochnik) dropping out days before Friday’s event, actors Maisie Williams, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jacob Anderson, John Bradley, Conleth Hill, Isaac Hempstead Wright and Liam Cunningham were left to guard the wall protecting Season 8 from the realms of disappointed men and women.
Ahead of the panel, programming director of Comic-Con Eddie Ibrahim delivered a message to the audience that Comic-Con is a place of inclusivity and respect.
Well, all the worry was for naught.
Despite a smattering of groans during that opening message, the panel ran relatively smoothly. The cast was even joined on-stage by a fallen co-star, the coffee cup. And the fan Q&A, which may have contained divisive questions, was cut for time. (The moderator, Entertainment Weekly’s James Hibberd, took responsibility, going over time with his line of questioning.)
Even with those unasked questions, the cast still addressed the criticism of Season 8, with Hill, who played Varys, first clarifying an interview he did with Entertainment Weekly that seemed to indicate he was upset with how the final season went. Hill says that previous interview was initially balanced but all the negative parts were “picked over like a whale on a beach.”
“For the record, I loved all my 10 years on ‘Game of Thrones.’ I started when I was 15,” he joked.
The actor called the show a “life-changing experience,” later adding, “You look at the amount of people who are here, and we’re here to thank you for watching us for all those years. We were never divisive as a cast. We didn’t fight among each other. We always did our hardest work… and so we’re very grateful for your fandom over the years, and I think this is the reality rather than a media-led hate campaign.”
Jaime Lannister himself, Coster-Waldau, also weighed in on the backlash, saying, “It was surprising, the level of the absurdity of an online petition. Of course, HBO is going to change the whole thing, yes, because that’s the power of the internet.”
He added, “I feel so lucky to have met so many people, not just here but also fans of the show, and realizing that this show has brought so many people together, watching it, loving it, so obviously it comes to an end, it’s going to piss you off no matter what because it’s the end, but at the end of the day, it’s absolutely fine if you hated the ending, loved it, that’s great. Just don’t call people names.”
The actor previously defended the season during fan convention Con of Thrones in Nashville last weekend, agreeing with some criticisms, such as certain moments being too dark, but defending the writing and the season wholeheartedly.
“For anyone to imagine or to think that the two creators of the show are not the most passionate, the greatest, the most invested of all, and to, for a second, think that they didn’t spend the last 10 years thinking about how they were going to end it is kind of silly,” said Coster-Waldau. “And also know that they too read the comments. And it is, even though you sit on your own and go, ‘Fucking stupid writers. Assholes.’ They really ― like everyone on ‘Game of Thrones,’ every single person and there are thousands ― we worked our asses off to make the best show we could for the ending.”