Freezing atop a glacier in Iceland, preparing to film the capture of young hero Jon Snow (Kit Harington) by an army of savage “wildlings” for HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones, Dan Weiss (known to fans as D. B. Weiss) marveled at his good luck. “It was one of the peak moments in my life, standing in this place that’s so epic,” says the 41-year-old Highland Park native.
Weiss’s journey to Iceland was just as arduous as Jon Snow’s, minus the sword fighting. He grew up reading fantasy novels, playing video games, and wrestling with Dungeons & Dragons, then fell in love with horror films like 1976’s The Omen. Turned out the movie’s screenwriter, David Seltzer, was also from Highland Park. In the late 1980s, Seltzer spoke at Highland Park High School. (Disclosure: Weiss and I were classmates.) “He had been sitting in possibly the same room 20 years before me,” Weiss says. “It crystallized for me: This wasn’t a person that was different from me. This was something I could feasibly do in life.”
A decade later, Weiss, now living in Los Angeles, had sold a script to Warner Bros. (it didn’t go anywhere), written drafts for a screenplay for the sci-fi novel Ender’s Game (another script was used), and cranked out another script for a film adaptation of the video game Halo (it was never made). Almost ready to toss in the towel, he detoured to Dublin’s Trinity College to earn a master’s degree in Irish lit. Which led to yet another fortuitous encounter. “I met my friend David Benioff, who went to Trinity for the exact same thing at the same time,” Weiss says.
It was Benioff, the writer of The 25th Hour and Troy, who introduced him to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The septology, starting with 1996’s A Game of Thrones, charts a dynastic war on the fictional continent of Westeros. Though some fantasy elements—witches, dragons, and zombielike white walkers—appear, the story focuses mostly on battles and politics. “It was this universe that I hadn’t spent much time in since I was 12, but it felt completely different,” Weiss says. “It was wholly realized. The characters all want power, love, to fuck—they want what people in the real world want.”
Weiss and Benioff, by now writing partners, pitched the series to HBO. Production of the first season began in January 2007. Game of Thrones has since won critical raves, a slew of awards (a Television Critics Association Award for program of the year, an Emmy and a Golden Globe for star Peter Dinklage), and more than nine million viewers, making it the third-most-watched series in HBO history.
This month the series enters its third season, which means more long absences for Weiss from his wife, Andrea, and kids, Leo, 4, and Hugo, 2. (Weiss says he and Benioff “work 51 and a half weeks a year.”) But he’s forever grateful that his persistence has paid off. “There were many opportunities to give up along the way. The people who stick with it long enough . . . good things end up happening to those people.” He pauses. “Or not. What the hell do I know?”
Game of Thrones returns to HBO on Mar. 31 at 8 p.m.