A Song of Ice and Fire Books General George R. R. Martin Speculation

Just how different was George R.R. Martin’s original Game of Thrones outline?

As you know, I don’t outline my novels. I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it.” So says George R.R. Martin at the start of his letter outlining A Game of Thrones and the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire to his publisher. The letter was posted by the Twitter account of the British bookseller Waterstones, and confirmed by HarperCollinsUK’s account.

Martin submitted this outline for his trilogy alongside the first 170 pages of A Game of Thrones, and at this point, all of his future plot points make sense. But aside from a continued focus on his five main characters–Tyrion, Bran, Arya, Jon, and Dany–almost nothing but a few long-passed plot point remain. Still, it’s super interesting to see the specific ways that the story-as-plotted changed, and to try to figure out why.

Check out the letter and some of its highlights after the jump….

Page 1 of Martin’s letter–click to expand

What stands out about the original story is how fewer factions exist. In the Seven Kingdoms, it’s just Lannisters and Starks, while overseas, just Dothraki and Targaryens. Joffrey Baratheon is mentioned, but the outline seems almost totally unconcerned with House Baratheon.

This story is also more clearly related to the Wars of the Roses, with the bloody civil war between Lancaster and York was resolved by the foreign-based invasion of Henry VII. Jaime is cast as Richard III here: “Jaime Lannister will follow Joffrey on the throne of the Seven Kingdoms by the simple expedient of killing everyone ahead of him in the line of succession.” Meanwhile, Tyrion seems like a direct analogue for Neville, the Earl of Warwick, the “Kingmaker,” who played both sides in that war.

Once the story reached King’s Landing, though, and Martin started fleshing out the political intrigue, two factions became half a dozen as Littlefinger, Varys, Cersei, and the Baratheon brothers all appear–the Greyjoys also appear to be a late addition to the story, with the original draft suggesting that it’s Tyrion who sacks Winterfell. Thus the two kings, Robb and Joffrey, become five, and the story becomes significantly more complex. Page 2 of Martin’s letter–click to expand

Yet while Martin’s original story may be less complicated, many of characteristics we associate with Game of Thrones were still present. The body count remains high–Robert, Ned, Cat, Robb, Viserys, and Joffrey all die. The aura of family tragedy remains as well, in lines like this: “Sansa Stark, wed to Joffrey Baratheon, will bear him a son, the heir to the throne, and when the crunch comes she will choose her husband and child over her parents and siblings, a choice she will later bitterly rue.” The letter also describes “a bitter estrangement between Jon and Bran” over Jon’s inability to protect his family while in the Night’s Watch.

Part of me is pretty happy with the significantly expanded version of the story that we got–and I would say that that expansion has led to the popularity of the books and its adaptation as a TV series. But I do also miss the relative simplicity of A Game of Thrones and would be curious to see what a trilogy with this narrower scope might have ended up looking like. Page 3 of Martin’s letter–click to expand

A few other thoughts:

  • Arya is the center of a love triangle with Jon and Tyrion in this. How relieved am I that this didn’t make it into the final version? Well let’s just imagine fights between #TeamJarya and #TeamAryion…
  • Speaking of Jon, the fact that his parentage is referred to obliquely here suggests original intent was that he wasn’t Ned’s child. It makes sense that most of the evidence for his true parentage comes from A Game of Thrones.
  • Sansa isn’t one of the five characters Martin wanted to make it to the end, but I think it’s fair to say that his feelings about her importance have changed.
  • Lord Tywin, who swiftly became the lead villain over Jaime once he appeared, isn’t mentioned at all. Nor are the Boltons or Freys, let alone the Tyrells or Martells.
  • Drogo is a villain in the initial version of Dany’s story. She also invades with a Dothraki army in the second book.
  • The main thing that looks like a spoiler is Dany happening across a clutch of dragon eggs after fleeing the Dothraki when she kills Drogo. She still supposedly leads a Dothraki invasion in the second book, though, implying that with the dragons she’ll be able to acquire a new khalasar–something the end of A Dance with Dragons suggests is imminent.
  • Martin has a lot more happen in “battles” in this than he’s done on the page. Robb maims Joffrey in one, and dies in another. It seems like GRRM is much less interested in battles in the final product than he was in the initial planning–and that’s probably a good thing, given the emotional power of the Red Wedding.
  • Martin calls this a “high fantasy” and suggests that the biggest threat to the Seven Kingdoms are “the Others” instead of the civil war or Daenerys’ invasion. This suggests that the heroic fantasy ending I wrote about here was the original plan.
  • Perhaps the biggest takeaway here is the date of the letter: Decemeber 7th, 1993. Given that the novel was published in August 1996, it seems that Martin’s every-other-year releases of the first three novels in A Song of Ice and Fire was the aberration, while 3-5 year waits between novels is normal.

 

 

20 Comments

  • The reason the first three books were released so close together is that he’d spent ten years writing them as one book, the first in the planned trilogy. The bulk of the work was already done on ACoK and ASoS, so he just needed to add some things and polish them up.

    Given that house Baratheon isn’t mentioned at all, and that Jaime is said to kill everyone ahead of him in line for the throne, it seems that House Lannister was meant to be holding the throne initially.

    I like the changes he’s made to it for the most part. It’s a far more complex story now.

  • Wow, that letter is quite the read. I wonder if ASOIAF would be as successful had he stayed on that path.

    Though a lot has changed, the whole ‘five character’ importance issue has essentially remained the same, and it leaves me pretty convinced that Jon will end up being the single most important character, and that his parentage is the most important aspect of the series.

  • wow, very interesting.
    especially the part about Jaime and Tyrions initial loyalties.
    I really don’t see how Jon and Arya could’ve ever been “an item” despite who you believe his parentage is, they’re both still Starks and thus related. Although “normal” for the time period, wouldn’t sit well with a modern audience.

  • As someone suggested in westeros.org, it seems that Jaime Lannister, as we know him, didn’t exist in that draft. It seems that the character that Martin refers as “Jaime” in the draft, was later changed to a woman and named Cersei, then she was given a twin brother. If you read it, it makes perfect sense, the Jaime in that draft is essentially Cersei, her hatred for Tyrion, how she ends up as the sole ruler, etc.

    Also, it seems that the majority of the Arya character in the draft was finally given to Sansa. I think George planned Arya to age much quicker, but in the end she stayed relatively young, so she gave her part to Sansa. So, I guess it would be ok to count Sansa as a sixth main character now.

  • Ann,

    But the letter was written in 1993, and the plot of the series as outlined there is very different from the three books as published. It’s even different from A Game of Thrones. So he can’t have written much of the first three books prior to 93.

  • A very interesting read, but I’m really glad a lot of this didn’t play out… Dany killing Drogo to avenge Viserys? Jon/Arya/Tyrion love triangle? Sansa and her loyalty to Joffrey? The love triangle is particularly bad haha.

  • Squealy,

    Martin actually started writing AGoT in the summer of 1991, two years earlier. He got about 100 manuscript pages down. Very roughly, that seems to take us from the beheading through to Bran being chucked out the tower window (coincidentally, the exact same space covered by the first episode of the TV show). The prologue was written a lot later, so this section is almost devoid of any magical elements, especially as Dany doesn’t get the dragon eggs at her wedding.

    In late 1991, Martin went back to LA to work on DOORWAYS. That took up all of 1992 and it appears the first half or so of 1993, before it was dropped. He went home to Santa Fe and resumed work on AGoT, having spent a lot of the intervening time thinking about the storyline. He then wrote this outline in October after writing what appears to have been a roughly further 70 MS pages and adding in the fantasy elements. We know from other interviews that he added the fantasy stuff at the urging of his friend Phyllis Eisensein, so clearly that happened inbetween writing those original pages and writing the outline.

  • I kind of like these more villainous versions of Jaime & Tyrion. And the bit about killing off all the other contenders to the throne and blaming someone else reminded me of Varicella.

  • It is clear that Sansa and Jaime grew in the telling.

    Nonetheless, I think that the story didn’t really changed that much, although that’s not evident on first glance.

    I think that the first three books were actually the first planned book. And some part of the third, the fourth and the fifth were the second. The sixth and seventh books are supposed to be the last third volume. The changes that he made were organic.

  • Frédéric Sinclair:
    As someone suggested in westeros.org, it seems that Jaime Lannister, as we know him, didn’t exist in that draft. It seems that the character that Martin refers as “Jaime” in the draft, was later changed to a woman and named Cersei, then she was given a twin brother. If you read it, it makes perfect sense, the Jaime in that draft is essentially Cersei, her hatred for Tyrion, how she ends up as the sole ruler, etc.

    Also, it seems that the majority of the Arya character in the draft was finally given to Sansa. I think George planned Arya to age much quicker, but in the end she stayed relatively young, so she gave her part to Sansa. So, I guess it would be ok to count Sansa as a sixth main character now.

    Jaime also seems very Tywin like. I doubt the Old Lion existed at this point.

    And it’s a great thing he gave up on the Jon-Arya incest (or at least I hope he did) and Sansa becoming Joffrey’s bride, because goddamnit, not only the story wouldn’t work, I doubt it would sell anything.

  • Frédéric Sinclair,

    I think Tyrion (As we known him) never existed, originally, or he was merged with Jaime’s (Current One’s) Character. TYR is the One Handed Norse god of War, the saviour of humanity. Sound like anyone we know?

  • It says that the Others have legions of undead and “neverborn”, I wonder if the neverborn are the result of the process we saw Craster’s son go under.

  • Ann:

    Given that house Baratheon isn’t mentioned at all, and that Jaime is said to kill everyone ahead of him in line for the throne, it seems that House Lannister was meant to be holding the throne initially.

    But Joffrey is already called Baratheon in this letter, so it was the Baratheon line holding the throne. However I indeed find it strange what claim to the throne was Jaime supposed to have.

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  • Batman:
    It says that the Others have legions of undead and “neverborn”, I wonder if the neverborn are the result of the process we saw Craster’s son go under.

    For some reason the word “neverborn” really gives me the willies.