Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are still in the process of wrapping up their epic fantasy drama for HBO. But ever since Wednesday, when HBO announced it had ordered a sci-fi series from the duo set in a United States where slavery still exits, the prolific pair have had to turn their attention to their next project and more specifically the controversy already surrounding it.
Titled Confederate, the drama chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone — freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.
The project almost immediately drew criticism across social media.
In an interview with New York's Vulture, Benioff and Weiss, along with fellow Confederate writers, African-American husband-and-wife team Malcolm Spellman and Nichelle Tramble Spellman, defended the project and urged those upset parties to wait until the episodes actually premiere, which is not expected for at least a year if not more.
"It’s just a little premature," Benioff said about the initial "outrage" surrounding the series. "You know, we might fuck it up. But we haven’t yet."
The Spellmans, who will both also exec produce the drama and work in partnership with Benioff and Weiss, were more vocal in their defense, pointing to specific slavery-related imagery that will not be depicted in Confederate.
"This is not a world in which the entire country is enslaved. Slavery is in one half of the country. And the North is the North," Malcolm said. "The imagery should be no whips and no plantations."
Nichelle said the time to truly judge the show would come on its premiere night, and not before, as work on the series will not begin until Benioff and Weiss are done with their work on Game of Thrones, which still has one season left to air after the current seventh season.
"I do understand their concern. I wish their concern had been reserved to the night of the premiere, on HBO, on a Sunday night, when they watched and then they made a decision after they watched an hour of television as to whether or not we succeeded in what we set out to do," she said. "The concern is real. But I think that the four of us are very thoughtful, very serious, and not flip about what we are getting into in any way. What I’ve done in the past, what Malcolm has done in the past, what the D.B.s have done in the past, proves that."
Benioff and Weiss are no strangers to controversy and criticism despite their massive critical and commercial success on Game of Thrones. Among many other topics, the series has been criticized for its depiction of violence, its depiction of violence against women more specifically, and its depiction of race, which Weiss also addressed.
"We know that the elements in play in a show like Confederate are much more raw, much more real, and people come into them much more sensitive and more invested, than they do with a story about a place called Westeros," he said. "We know they are different things, and they need to be dealt with in very, very different ways. And we plan, all of us I think, to approach Confederate in a much different spirit, by necessity."
At another point, he defended the show's premise as being based in an alternate history, one in which the North did not win the Civil War and thus, the two sides engaged in a second Civil War in the late 20th century and now are on the verge of a third.
"It goes without saying slavery is the worst thing that ever happened in American history. It’s our original sin as a nation. And history doesn’t disappear. That sin is still with us in many ways," Weiss said. "Confederate, in all of our minds, will be an alternative history show. It’s a science-fiction show. One of the strengths of science fiction is that it can show us how this history is still with us in a way no strictly realistic drama ever could, whether it were a historical drama or a contemporary drama. It’s an ugly and a painful history, but we all think this is a reason to talk about it, not a reason to run from it."
However, Malcolm also pointed to the current administration as a reason why the topics brought up in Confederate may need to be discussed again in depth. "People have got to stop pretending that slavery was something that happened and went away. The shit is affecting people in the present day," he said. "But everyone knows that with Trump coming into power, a bunch of shit that had always been there got resurfaced."
There is no premiere date yet for Confederate.
Read the full interview on Vulture.