Game of Thrones creators: Why we swapped dragons for aliens in new show

David Benioff and DB Weiss are in high spirits. With Game of Thrones a distant memory, its creators are fired up about their latest TV show, 3 Body Problem, and there isn’t a dragon in sight.

Game of Thrones ended after 59 Emmys and eight series in 2019. Having shelved a Star Wars trilogy that year, Benioff and Weiss chose to adapt a best-selling Chinese sci-fi novel.

Liu Cixi’s The Three-Body Problem, published in 2008, has sold up to nine million copies worldwide, and won a Hugo award.

Without spoiling the plot, it’s about advanced aliens invading the Earth. They’re fleeing an unstable solar system with three suns orbiting each other – hence the name, Three-Body Problem.

The book has two key characters trying to outsmart the aliens, a scientist and a detective, but the TV show’s creators felt that this wasn’t enough.


So with Liu’s blessing, there are five young, diverse Oxford scientists trying to beat the aliens. Well, technically four, as the fifth, played by Game of Thrones’ John Bradley, is a millionaire who used his scientific knowledge to create a multi-million pound snacks empire.

Snacks are always useful in a crisis.

They try desperately to solve problems in a deadly virtual reality game, which coincidentally has three suns, while also trying to save the Earth from alien onslaught.

They’re watched by a world-weary Mancunian detective, played by Dr Strange star Benedict Wong, and a senior official, played by Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham.

Thrones creator Weiss explains they were blown away by the book’s complexity, calling it “unlike anything we’d ever read, certainly unlike anything we’d ever contemplated bringing to the screen”.

Getty Images Alexander Woo, David Benioff, and D. B. Weiss attend the 3 Body Problem World Premiere at SXSWGetty Images

“He did sign a very funny note, when we tried to get him for a cameo,” Benioff told USA Today.

“It was to the effect of, ‘In case there ever is a real alien invasion, I think I should probably save myself for that crisis’.”

But after so much success in the fantasy genre – why did Benioff and Weiss leave it behind?


Thrones star Kit Harrington spoofed the show on Saturday Night Live in 2019
Despite their huge fanbase, not everyone was delighted with Game Of Thrones’ finale; 1.8m fans even signed a 2019 petition demanding the eighth series be remade, with a different script.

But Benioff and Weiss didn’t want to return to that world, having spent “10 solid years” making 73 episodes in the Kingdoms of Westeros.

It was “the greatest experience of our lives,” says Weiss, but they really wanted “a new set of challenges on every level”.

Weiss calls 3 Body Problem “about as far away as you can get from what we’d just done on Thrones”.

Ready for a new challenge, they had to be picky.

The issue was that Game of Thrones had set a high bar for their expectations.

Netflix Jess Hong as Jin Cheng, John Bradley as Jack RooneyNetflix
Jess Hong plays physicist Jin Cheng and Thrones’ John Bradley plays snack supremo Jack Rooney

“You show up at work every day and are kind of amazed you actually get to do this for a living – and that’s the feeling that you’re chasing,” Weiss says.

“Whenever you choose a job you’re spending years of your life on, you don’t want to make the wrong choice – it’s pretty easy to get bored.”

Having finally decided on Liu’s book, the duo became a trio, joining forces with Alexander Woo, who created vampire TV series True Blood.

Woo calls the novel “a very exciting challenge to adapt”, adding: “There were ideas, images and stories in there, and I almost couldn’t conceive of how one author could have come up with this.”

He agrees it’s crucial to choose the right project, given how all-consuming it inevitably becomes.

“If you don’t feel exhilarated by it, it’s a slog. It’s a really, really dreadful way to whittle away your life unless you love it,” he says.

The virtual reality game has many different realms and brutal consequences
The three of them have worked on 3 Body Problem for the last four and a half years, with a crew of about 1,000 people.

The book is full of knotty scientific problems, which were not easy to translate into a TV show.

A crash course in physics was needed, and the show’s creators say they would have been lost without the help of two scientific experts.

They spoke to Matthew Kinsey, who Weiss says was “on the team that discovered the Higgs Boson particle”, and Bobak Ferdowsi, a flight engineer at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“Bobak has been in many control rooms when they were launching rockets,” Weiss explains.

The two scientists “kind of walked us through physics for dummies” and were crucially on hand throughout the series.