For Game of Thrones fans, there is basically no off-season. When the show isn’t airing, or the theorizing subreddits aren’t churning, there are still casting rumors to chase, filming details to parse, and massive plot leaks to debunk or debate. It’s an all-year sport, and the team at Watchers on the Wall plays it better than anybody.
They seem to know everything — where cast members are eating dinner and who they’re talking to; what set-design details might indicate about a storyline; nearly every single beat of a climactic episode months before it airs — all with a team of about 15 people, most of whom have other full-time jobs.
To get a better idea of a day in the life of a Game of Thrones news guru, we spoke to the site’s editor-in-chief, Susan Miller (formerly of the fan site Winter is Coming), about her routine, her team, and her favorite parts of the job.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
So how does Watchers on the Wall work? What’s your daily process?
I live in the Eastern Time Zone, and a lot of the filming is taking place five or six hours ahead, so they’re already out there filming and producing the news when I wake up. As soon as I get up and get my son off to school, I come right back and sit down with my breakfast and see what we have for news, and I pop into Slack and see who’s around. Pretty much everyone has other jobs, and this is something we do for the passion of it. So we see who and what we’re working with today. If there’s filming news, we work with that, and if there’s not, we might be putting out a spoiler report. We make those decisions together, and then somebody goes ahead and puts the post together, and I look it over for them. There’s a lot of independence in creating things, but we talk a lot about the pieces.
Right now, season seven filming is going on, and we already have a sense of what’s going to happen each day, because we are aware of the filming schedule. So we try to assemble our own schedule — something loose just to give us an idea of what to look for in the news. It is actually a lot of teamwork. That’s the basic idea — we go out and find the news, and then we try to balance that with our own sourced information, which is a whole other piece of the puzzle.
Is the filming schedule publicly available?
A lot of it is, and some of it isn’t. They give you loose information — they might mention they’ll be at a location in October. But things change very often, and some of the information is semi-public. They have released some of these dates by putting out casting posts for extras, which are posted on a public Facebook. So when they tell these extras, “If you’re chosen, we need you for these dates in this location,” that tells us filming is taking place in that location around that time.
Is somebody on your team responsible for compiling the filming schedule?
Technically, everyone is, but some team members are more about that than others. I do a lot of it. Luka [Nieto] does a lot of the news. Luka is from Basque Country, so he’s been doing a lot of that. We try to use people’s strengths, just because that seems logical. Somebody from Basque Country will do a lot of those posts, because he knows the terrain and the people and the language, of course.
Can you walk me through vetting tips and sources?
We don’t get tips every day, but it’s certainly a lot more often during filming season. They come from different areas — somebody can just pop up in my Twitter and say something, or on our Facebook. You can’t trust necessarily everything, because sometimes people make up wild stories, and you’re just like, “Yeah, that’s not true.” But it’s very entertaining, so it has some value in that sense.
Over the years, you do acquire long-term sources that you know are telling you the truth, and they’re not just going to make up a wild story to mess with you. Those are the people you can actively seek out each season, or every so often say “Have you heard anything new?” If I see someone who’s there, locally, talking about a location, I can message them and ask for more information. People are pretty friendly. They might not have more information, or they might not want to talk about it more, but sometimes they do, because it’s a very exciting subject.
How did you personally get into Game of Thrones and want to start operating a website like this?
I started reading the books more than 10 years ago. Some guy I was dating at the time who is now irrelevant recommended the books to me. The books are way better than him. I just loved the books. And then they announced they were going to do the TV show, and that was exciting news. And I just Googled looking for websites to talk about that, and I found Winter Is Coming, which at that time was owned by Phil [Bicking]. I also started a Tumblr maybe six months before the series premiered, which was another place I started interacting with fans, and compiling information for my own enjoyment. At the beginning of the second season, Phil asked me to join Winter is Coming and start writing for them. That’s how I got more actively involved in putting out the news.
Then things changed at Winter is Coming. The original owner sold to a new company. We didn’t really like the new changes. My whole staff just said, “We still want to do this, and we still want to be friends and work together,” so we all left at the same time and started Watchers on the Wall.
Do you have a background in journalism?
My background has always been just in writing fiction. My whole life, I’ve just been somebody who likes to write. Some of the people at the website do have backgrounds in journalism, some of them are people studying film. And some of them also write fiction. Pretty much everyone does this for the love of it, but everyone comes into it with some experience.
There have been some huge season seven leaks from Reddit. How do you feel about them? It’s a big thing for you guys to talk about, but it’s also a bummer to know so much.
People think they want that many spoilers, but almost invariably, it’s like gorging yourself on a pile of candy — you make yourself sick. I don’t think that’s a good idea. As far as everything on there, I don’t repost somebody’s big old list of spoilers like that. We find our own spoilers, and if they happen to match up with what’s on somebody else’s leak, then okay, it is what it is. I can’t work that way, as far as taking somebody else’s list and trying to verify it. If I did that, I feel like I would just be trying to confirm what I want to know instead of looking for the information independently.
Have you ever gotten something totally wrong, and been surprised when the show aired?
It’s rare. I don’t know if we’ve ever been 100 percent horribly wrong. There have been a couple of times when there were small details we were told we were going to see, and then those things never happened, but I still wonder if they were cut. It’s hard to say, because all the things that were cut don’t make it onto DVD deleted scenes. They only include a few of them every year. We have a pretty solid track record, we’re pretty cautious.
There was a thing last year where we had a ton of spoilers about the Battle of the Bastards, and there were a few false reports out there that were a mix of the truth. A lot of people were saying “Oh, Tormund is gonna die!” and we were like “No, no, no.” We have a pretty good track record in terms of that. But somebody else told us that there were going to be specifically characters that we knew that were going to be burning on those crosses in the field, the flayed-man burning sigil. They never show any scenes to indicate that, so I don’t know if that person was just misled, or if they cut that. The person who told us that, told us everything else about the scene, and they were 100 percent correct. Oh well.
How much interaction do you have with your audience? What part do they play in your website?
I have a lot of interaction. Our audience is a really wide mix of people. I’m glad it’s a pretty good mix of men and women. I think a lot of times, fan-ish websites tend to drive away women, but I’ve tried pretty hard to make our website feel — I don’t want to say “super safe!” but we don’t permit an atmosphere of overt racism or gross sexism. I think it’s a pretty friendly atmosphere.
It’s a good mix of ages — a lot of them are book readers, but a lot of them are not. I think that’s great, because it’s a fresh take on things. I don’t like that snobbery. I’m always looking for that good mix of people that gives you a new eye on things. Things get stale if it’s all just old book readers. We’ve all had the same theories and the same perspective for the last 15 years. We need new people, we need new life’s blood.
You have to stay in touch with your readers. First of all, a lot of them bring you news and information every day. They’re just as much a part of the website as the writers. It just makes sense to me to be continually talking to them and tweeting to them. I’m friends with a lot of them.
I’m curious what you hear about the Game of Thrones showrunners, David Benioff and Dan Weiss. I know they’re quite unpopular with a lot of the book-reading community.
I think they’re two guys doing an incredibly hard job. There have been characters where I was like “AHHH!” There have been some choices they’ve made that really pissed me off. I don’t love the choices they made with Catelyn Stark. I love Michelle Fairley as an actress, and I think she did a bang-up job, and I think the Red Wedding came off incredibly, but they made some big changes with her character. They gave her this whole monologue about not loving Jon Snow, and I still hate it to this day.
I do understand that it’s hard to let go of the character in our heads from reading the books all these years. I can still say in my heart “PS the books did that part better.” But I think constantly comparing the books to the show is just a fool’s game. They’re two great things. You’re really cheating yourself out of an enjoyable experience if you can’t set the books aside. It seems a little pointless to me to be constantly raging about these guys. They’ve made mistakes, and I do think we should call them on it, but maybe in a more reasonable manner. They’re not the antichrist.
I was on their team until the Dorne plot line, which was egregiously bad, not even as an adaptation, but just as television.
Yeah, it seemed like they really weren’t going to include it, but then everybody wanted them to, so they crammed it back in, and then they were like “uh-oh.” They’re definitely not as good at writing young, sexualized women. They seem to struggle dealing with people of color and women of color. There are so few of them on Game of Thrones. That’s one of the weaker spots.
The Sand Snakes’ dialogue was so bad, I still think about it.
Bronn seemed to like it… I guess?
Game of Thrones theorizing has always been popular, but spoiler-hunting and watching the filming sites has become more common on mainstream sites, because the audience is there for it and publishers are realizing they can get a ton of traffic. How do you feel about that? Is it cool to have started this trend? Is it annoying to have big corporate websites feeding off your work?
It only bugs me when it’s truly ripping off. Sites like Gizmodo, they’re pretty good about linking back to us and citing us by name. I only get upset when… There are some websites, very high-profile ones, where I’ve had to tweet at them and email the writer and say, “Excuse me, can you give us credit for our exclusive photos that you posted, or our exclusive casting scoop that you have just reposted and not cited us for?” That’s very irksome, [because] this is something fans are working very hard on just because they love it. It’s a corporatization of fan culture, so that does bother me. Vanity Fair is really good about it, Gizmodo and io9 are really good about it. But there are some where I’ve had to almost train them to cite their sources.
That’s basic journalism, but something makes people think they don’t need to take fan blogging seriously as journalism, and credit it.
There are some very famous websites that are basically using our casting scoops to then go to HBO to get them confirmed, and then not source us for that. And then when I confront them about it, they’ll say “You use unofficial sources and that’s shady, so I don’t have to source you.” They actually said that to my face. And it’s like “Wow, you’re the professional and I’m considered just a fan site. Okay! Good to know.”
Do you guys pay attention at all to rumors about when the next book will come out?
Not usually. We published one of our friends [Reddit’s BryndenBFish] who did a scientific wild-ass guess a year or two ago. We published that because it was fun and he had tons of raw data he crunched to come up with a projection, which right now is looking really accurate. I think he came up with deep into 2017 for an estimated Winds of Winter publication date. I try not to obsess over it.
We just have to be patient. Watch the TV show and find other things to do with your time. There are other hobbies out there, there are other books out there. There’s a whole world of fantasy books, you know. Expand your horizons.
When it does come out, do you guys have a plan? Will you divvy up the chapters to get all the information ASAP, or does everyone binge-read?
I think it’s probably safe to say everybody is just going to inhale the book. I don’t think I could even ask people to divvy it up, because we’ve all been waiting for this book for so long that to me, that would just be cruel. Let them have that pleasure. Just go read and soak it up like a hot bath.