Inside the 'Game of Thrones' Season 7 Premiere as HBO Brings Winter to Downtown L.A.

HBO celebrated the return of its award-winning and record-breaking fantasy series in epic fashion — and THR has all of the details.
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From left: Gwendoline Christie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sophie Turner

It's hard to reconcile winter's arrival in the thick heat of summer, but Game of Thrones is nothing if not adept at shattering conventional thinking.

Even without a single drop of actual snow in sight, Los Angeles nevertheless played the role of a wintery Westeros on Wednesday night, hosting HBO's world premiere of the fantasy drama's seventh season. The event — which included red-carpet interviews with cast and crew as well as the world's first look at a new episode of Game of Thrones since season six wrapped more than a year ago — was held at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. Given the venue, it was only fitting that Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi would be on hand to conduct a special live performance ahead of the premiere episode, adding an exceptionally epic quality to what's already one of the most epic series in television history. 

In the weeks and months leading up to the premiere, HBO has touted season seven as the year that House Stark's iconic words become more than just a warning. Winter is no longer coming; it's here, and with it comes the Night King's army of the undead, and the promise of all-out war (to borrow from another show in which zombies are featured) breaking across Westeros. The event's red-carpet theme reflected the ever-looming threat of winter, beginning with the fact that the red carpet was more like a frosted blue. What's more, the villainous Night King loomed over the proceedings, figuratively and literally, in the form of a massive statue that stood in front of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

"You should be pretty afraid of him," Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, told The Hollywood Reporter about the threat the Night King poses over Westeros. "This season is all about the alive human beings coming together and sensing that there's a greater threat here, and there he is. You should be pretty afraid."

Winter's arrival impacted Game of Thrones on more than just a story level this year, too. Production was delayed in order to capture more scenes of winter, which not only led to the season's later-than-usual debut (Thrones typically airs in the spring; season seven is the first year it airs in the summer), but also unseasonably cold conditions for the cast and crew. With that said, the folks responsible for the series know their way around a blizzard or two at this point.

"Belfast is never not cold," said Isaac Hempstead Wright, who stars as the green-seeing Bran Stark. "That's the first thing I learned when I arrived, my first day on set — my first day ever on a film set. It was a beautiful day in a forest, but it rained all day, and it was muddy, and I remember coming home and telling my mom that I didn't think I could do it. But we've grown accustomed to the chill."

Beyond bad weather, season seven promises an accelerated pace, thanks to the fact that disparate stories are starting to thread together. For instance, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her forces will finally touch down in the Seven Kingdoms this season, an act of war that's guaranteed to register on Cersei Lannister's (Lena Headey) radar. With so many characters who have yet to cross paths now existing on the same (admittedly sprawling) continent, fans can expect more and more stories to start colliding, as the words "winter is here" take on meaning beyond the forecast.

"All of the stuff that's been spoken about and all of the stuff that's been predicted, the scenes you have been debating — it's going to become reality," said John Bradley, the erstwhile Samwell Tarly. "It's not anymore about debating and speculation. It's about reality. This is the time where conversation ends, and decisive action has to be taken. The time for debating is over. All of the stakes have been ramped up, and it suddenly becomes very serious." 

Given the show's propensity for killing off characters, many of the actors who walked the red carpet were likely attending their final Game of Thrones premiere as an active member of the cast. But even for those who escape season seven, the final curtain call is not far off. Potential spinoffs are in the works, yes, but the proper Game of Thrones series will end its run next season, making this the penultimate premiere event for the historic series.

"I really don't want to think about it yet," said Hempstead Wright. "I keep going, 'Oh, there will be another season. There will!' But it's really freaky. It's really weird. This has literally been 50 percent of my life. It's scary. This is a family to me, and everyone will attest to that. We're all very close."

Indeed, Hempstead Wright's point was made roughly five minutes earlier, when he was pulled in for a tight embrace with one of his on-screen sisters.

"I love this," said Turner, speaking to the atmosphere of the live season premiere. "We're all over the place here. Emilia [Clarke] is in Morocco or Spain right now — Star Wars land — and everyone's all over the place. But when we all get together, it's a real celebration.

Following the red carpet, attendees settled into their seats inside the venue, where HBO president of programming Casey Bloys spoke a few words before the gathered crowd.

"I just want you to know that speaking at Walt Disney Concert Hall is not intimidating at all," he said, "because I've decided this is the bar-mitzvah I never had as a child."

After thanking a litany of members of the HBO family, Bloys introduced producers and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss onstage. Rather than speaking about their process or the achievement of reaching seven seasons, the pair instead focused on the efforts of Ramin Djawadi, the show's composer and someone they described as "the nicest guy in the world" and the brain behind "the best music in the world." 

Benioff and Weiss recounted the story of how Djawadi was first brought into the Westeros fold. With two months to go before the series premiere, Game of Thrones was still without a series composer. Benioff and Weiss were introduced to Djawadi, who they immediately agreed was the perfect choice for the job. Unfortunately, he was tied up with other obligations and was unable to sign on. 

"So we did what we always do when somebody says no," said Benioff, with Weiss finishing the thought: "We groveled and groveled until he couldn't take it anymore, and he finally said yes. And now the single most recognizable role on the show might not be any character, creature or Kit Harington's hair — it's Ramin's music. It's impossible to overstate the work he's done for this show."

With that, Benioff and Weiss brought Djawadi onstage, where he conducted a sprawling symphony of musicians, with footage from Thrones playing in the background. Djawadi began by conducting a live rendition of the show's opening sequence, and then sat in front of a keyboard to play "Light of the Seven," the riveting piece that haunts the explosive first act of the season-six finale. The live music portion of the night concluded with a third piece, the same that played over the final moments of season six, scored against a montage of scenes from that season.

Following the music, Benioff and Weiss returned to the stage once more to thank the people involved in creating Thrones, including the cast. Benioff joked that when they take meetings, they're often asked the same question: "Who's the dick on your cast?" After an audience member laughed, Benioff interrupted his own joke to peer out into the crowd: "Was that Alfie?"

"There's no dick," Benioff continued. "We're the only big show in history that doesn't have a dick."

With music, anecdotes, acknowledgements and bathroom humor out of the way, the event turned toward what everyone came for: fire and blood. Presumably, anyway. At the request of HBO, absolutely no details about what's contained in the season seven premiere can be revealed at this time. Will Jon Snow and Daenerys cross paths? Will her dragons finally incinerate an army of White Walkers? Will Cersei's reign as queen end after no more than a single episode? Don't bother asking — the gag order placed on the audience may as well have been made from Valyrian steel. Needless to say, the massive premiere elicited more than a few dropped jaws and uproarious applause before the credits rolled. 

After the episode's conclusion, attendees were invited to an elaborate afterparty, staged across the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall on the top level of an outdoor parking garage. It doesn't sound glamorous without context, but that's not speaking to the various costumes and statues seen across the space. Performers dressed in ornate white garb walked throughout the party on stilts, while DJ Daisy O'Dell sat on an ivory-colored Iron Throne and played a set in front of a dance floor that was covered in a vast map of Westeros. Once again, the Night King made his presence known all throughout.

Countless celebrities were spotted at the party, including Lost and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof, Westworld masterminds Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy, Joe and Nick Jonas, Patton Oswalt and his new fiancée Meredith Salenger, Jimmy Kimmel, Timothy Simons (Veep) and Alex Karpovsky (Girls).

An elaborate array of food was on offer to attendees, including passed hors d'oeuvres (the goat cheese flatbreads were the hit of the night, followed closely by the short-rib sliders; the crab-stuffed cucumber shells were in healthy supply as well), prawns and melon, spring lamb chops, sweet corn ravioli, smoked rotisserie chicken skewers and a healthily stocked dessert bar filled with chocolate tarts and lime cookies. No lemon cakes, unfortunately for Sansa.

Game of Thrones returns Sunday at 9 p.m ET/PT on HBO. Follow our coverage at THR.com/GameOfThrones for more news, interviews and theories over the course of season seven.

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