game of thrones

Jonathan Van Ness on the End of His Game (and Gay) of Thrones Journey

Gay of Thrones’ Jonathan Van Ness and Erin Gibson. Photo: Funny or Die

It still hasn’t sunk in that Game of Thrones is over. Not Jon Snow or Gregor Clegane or Beric Dondarrion over, but actually over. The end of GOT brings with it an even sadder side effect: saying good-bye to all of the creative entertainment and contingent content that has popped up in its atmosphere, from recaps to collective mental breakdowns on Sunday nights all over Twitter. One of the saddest good-byes of all happened this week on the last episode of Gay of Thrones, the double Emmy-nominated Funny or Die recap series created by Throwing Shade’s Erin Gibson and starring Queer Eye breakout star and figure-skating enthusiast Jonathan Van Ness. Since 2013, the duo and their writing team have produced the most joke-dense, reference-filled, delightful Game of Thrones recaps, with Van Ness welcoming guests like Tiffany Haddish, Kumail Nanjiani, and Gibson herself into the stylist’s chair to talk Mayor Pete, Baby Kill Bill, and Tilda (Tyrion, Arya, and Brienne of Tarth, in their world). We spoke with the pair just moments after they finished shooting their last-ever episode of Gay of Thrones.

So did you just finish shooting? Is this a wrap?
Jonathan Van Ness: Yes, yes. Literally ran here because we were late! Had a huge episode to shoot today.

Was it sad? You’ve been doing Gay of Thrones for almost as long as actual Game of Thrones.
JVN: Yes! You know, it feels surreal. I did feel this morning, when I woke up, I was like, Oh, the light looks a little different outside after Game of Thrones. It’s just such a constant. It’s that thing that you’re excited to kind of get together and watch with your friends every spring or summer, and it’s more surreal that that’s kind of over. I think I can speak speak for Erin when I say this: It’s more that we’ve all become so close with our core crew. And there’s six of us who’ve literally been doing this since the first episode that we did on Gay of Thrones. There’s six of us for whom it was like our 55th episode.

JVN: And that doesn’t even count like the trailers and stuff that we did. I think I’m chomping at the bit to figure out something else we can do someday so we can come together again.

Erin Gibson: We’re an efficient machine now, so …

JVN: We’re waiting for more content.

And you started Gay of Thrones in peak Obama era, and now we are … where we are. We’re in this like Mad Max: Fury Road place. Do you find that the way that you watch and talk about Game of Thrones has changed?
JVN: I’ll answer your question with another question.

JVN: Have you ever seen that movie Dante’s Peak, with Pierce Brosnan, about the volcano? He does this analogy in there, where he’s like, “If you put a frog in boiling water, it’ll jump out. But if you boil the frog in cold water [and bring it to] boiling, then it’ll stay, and boil itself to death.” I feel like that’s kind of what’s happened with Game of Thrones. Like, they’ve been giving us so much violence, and so much barbaric … ness? Like people have been kinda slowly cooked!

Gibson: Also, in a weird way, I feel like the show has gotten less violent since the Trump era. I feel like there was way more destructive character murdering [in earlier seasons].

JVN: As opposed to killing everyone. Like more intimate murders. Yeah, you’re right!

Gibson: Intimate murders.

JVN: Sounds like something a Republican state senator would say.

Gibson: One of the things that I think is really fun about Gay of Thrones is that we definitely get political when we feel like it’s necessary, but this show is already so political, and you see how these wheels are in motion on the show. And we want it to be compared to lighter pop-culture things. That’s what makes it fun. The show is dark, so we’re trying to figure out ways to lighten it up through the lens of pop culture.

What do we think about Sunday night? Bran in power.
JVN: This is what I would say. If I spent ten hours, like, doing a corrective color over the course of eight years, or just like any hair color, even if it wasn’t corrective … Actually I won’t stick with corrective. Because moving something that’s as thick and as dense [as GOT] and taking books that are thousands and thousands and thousands of pages, and condensing it into like ten episodes a season, or six episodes a season, I just don’t want to yuck someone else’s yum. These creators, and these cinematographers, and these actors, they have all put their blood, sweat, and tears into this project for six months of their life, if not every day of their life, for the last ten years. They all worked really, really hard, and I think that they did it as much justice as they could do with what everyone had to give.

Gibson: They had an impossible thing to do, which is please people with an ending. No one wants to see the show end, so there’s no way to make something that’s going to make people walk away really satisfied. Because everyone’s gonna be bummed out.

JVN: And I wish that people would — not to Queer Eye it — but I’m more into the fact that it was something that brought people together. Now was it over violence, pillaging, patriarchy, rape, murder, torture, and firing down entire cities? Well, yeah. But at least we were getting together with our friends to watch it once a week! You know?

Another thing I noticed in the ending is between Jon stabbing Daenerys as they kissed and then the thing with the book called A Song of Ice and Fire, I feel like George R.R. Martin took a couple of ideas from his episode of your show. Because you also did both of those in his episode.
JVN: Did we?

Yeah! In Martin’s episode you had Jeffrey [Self] stabbing you, and you had this pullout where it was like Princess Bride, with Martin reading from a book called Gay of Thrones.
Gibson: Oh right!

JVN: Wow, you kind of blew our minds. We hadn’t thought of that yet. We were so busy doing this last episode, we forgot that we accurately predicted the ending like seven years ago!

I feel like you could get a story credit.
JVN: If you get your reading glasses out and want to sort through some interviews and maybe some YouTube videos, I have been predicting that Bran was gonna warg the dragon. I thought he was gonna warg the dragon to kill Christina [Daenerys Targaryen, in Gay of Thrones-talk], but either way he’s still gonna warg the dragons. I’ve been saying that since like 2014. Full disclosure.

You got the greensight.
JVN: I really did.

I feel like now people are down to deep dive, and I think Gay of Thrones has fared well, because in doing this for so many years you can have all these running jokes.
Gibson: Well, you know what my theory is? You’ve gotta leave ’em wanting more. Never give anybody exactly how much they want. I learned that from UCB, doing improv comedy. The minute you think you’re giving too much, you gotta stop, because you wanna end on people being like “I gotta come back for more of this,” you know?

So much UCB advice is probably also good Game of Thrones “Hand of the King” advice. “Leave them wanting more” just sounds very sage!
Gibson: Yes and! Support your partner!

I wanted to ask you because of Feminasty, and because of both of your political engagement: This season of Game of Thrones has seen so much outcry about how all the women’s stories ended up, how it depicted women in power, and the [very, very male] state of the writing room on their end. Do you have thoughts about that?
JVN: I actually do. I thought about it last night. Every third sentence in my brain has been around this.

JVN: So here is the deal — and let me preface this by saying I really think George R.R. Martin is an incredible writer and an incredible storyteller. Did we have an opportunity to take a strong female character who has been through the ringer, and show her a chance to redeem her maybe more, like, ill decisions? Because it’s only because she’s been lied to, cheated, and stolen from her whole freakin’ life, and she obviously has PTSD … could we give her a teachable, adorable moment? Well, in my world, and in the rest of our worlds, yes! We could’ve! But at the end of the day, you know, George R.R. Martin is an older, you know, white man, from, you know, Montana or Alaska or North Dakota or South Dakota or something like that! [Note: Martin is from New Jersey and is based in New Mexico.] And he tries very hard! And there were a lot of micro-story lines in there that were very woke and ahead of its time. But did it fall upon the patriarchy sword? Yes!

Gibson: There was a lot of stuff in this series where I was like, Okay, so we’ve got a fantasy series that pulls the worst things about reality into it, while embracing the bonkers-ness of a skeleton who’s gonna wield a sword! So there are parts of it where I’m like, I don’t think anybody should have to go through rape to have to, you know, become heroines.

JVN: For sure that! For sure that!

Gibson: Okay, here’s a great example: Brienne of Tarth this week, she’s writing in this book, all this sweet stuff about Jaime Lannister and what a great person he was, and how he defended his king. I don’t think if a woman wrote that scene, that’s the shit that would’ve gone in that book! And we address it this week on Gay of Thrones.

Gibson: And like, if Daenerys is gonna be crazy, make her actually crazy. Don’t make her do and say everything that I would say and do. As justified as a woman that’s been lied to and cheated, everything that Jonathan said. I was like, “Yeah! Cersei fucked up! Some people had to die!”

JVN: I did want to see her get murdered more brutally, or just like a more sexy death scene.

Gibson: Who? Daenerys?

JVN: No, evil no-volume Carol Brady. [Gay of Thrones–speak for Cersei.] I wanted to find them in the middle of trying to diddle beneath the rubble. Something a little bit nasty just to leave us on the road. Just to remember them by.

Gibson: But I needed a big murder! There was this Law & Order: SVU where three cheerleaders killed one of the other ladies on their cheerleading squad by using cuticle scissors.

JVN: Oh!

Gibson: A really slow death. I was like, That’s the shit I want to see happen!

JVN: A good Mariska Hargitay story line for the win! This is really good. But you know what it also reminds me of? Do we have our different, 2019, feminist, gorgeous opinions on how this could’ve been better and all that? Of course yes, we do. But I will say this; It’s kind of like Eckhart Tolle says in A New Earth: While the narrative of what we would’ve rather happened exists, and yes we could disagree with how it all shook out, I don’t want that to rob me of the joy and the storytelling of what this experience was in general. You know what I mean?

Yeah! And one more question: If you were dropped into Westeros tomorrow, in its rebuilding stages, and you got to start your own House, what would the sigil be? What would the motto be?
JVN: Oh, I’d be the Countess of Heat Protective Spray Land. The Countess of Heat Protective Spray and Sunscreen.

JVN: The Countess of Topical Skin and Hair Protectant.

JVN: And basically in my kingdom, there is a great SPF and it is not mineral-based, it’s not too hot, it’s also not too spicy. It doesn’t really get into our skin very deeply. We’re really protected from the sun. We’re very diverse, there’s a lot of pro-lady stuff, and also pansexual, but no one’s, like, threatened by each other? Like you know, maybe everyone’s in couples but really gets along well, and there’s also really no binary? Like people are really suspending the need to have the binary — like, “Not for us, ’cause we’re just too busy loving each other and developing sunscreen and great dry shampoos and body and hair oils.” So yeah! I’d be Countess of the Land of Topical Skin and Hair Protectant.

That sounds very Dornish! It’s weird, I love it! Erin, do you have one?
Gibson: I’d be Mother of the House of Bitch. And my tagline would be “Fuck around and find out.” And it’s basically the first 20 minutes of Wonder Woman.

JVN: What’s your, like, kingdom’s song, and native bird, and tree?

Gibson: Bird is a toucan.

JVN: Yes …

Gibson: Because they’re funny.

JVN: Yes! And your tree is?

Gibson: A pecan [pronounced like p’cahn], because it’s better to say. Because no one says it the right way.

JVN: Oh, good, good!

Gibson: It’s almost a matriarchy. It’s like, “No, we’re gonna do things right, we’re gonna treat women with respect, and if you fuck around, you’re gonna find out!”

JVN: Oh, I love that. Whereas in my world, everyone has Ps and Vs and they just diddle each other. Even though that’s not what pansexual means … everyone’s just like diddling! So happy.

Gibson: I love this idea, free love.

JVN: Oh! And there’s no STDs! Or if there are STDs, they’re all curable and there’s no antibiotic resistance.

Gibson: And there’s nobody making $2,000 a pop off a pill!

Jonathan Van Ness on the End of Game (and Gay) of Thrones