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George R.R. Martin: There are “a lot of dark chapters” in The Winds of Winter (Video)

(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin recently attended the Guadalajara International Book Fair. While there, he was interviewed on stage about his work, talking for over an hour about his process, his characters, and what’s next for him. Watch it below, and then we’ll go over the big points.

Perhaps the hottest topic of the interview was The Winds of Winter, the as-yet-unfinished sixth book in Martin’s series. Obviously, Martin didn’t give away too much about it, but he dropped a few interesting bon mots. For example, after someone asked him about “The Forsaken,” a preview chapter from Winds, he gave us a little preview of its tone.

Yeah, that is a dark chapter. But there are a lot of dark chapters right now in the book that I’m writing. It is called The Winds of Winter, and I’ve been telling you for 20 years that winter was coming. Winter is the time when things die, and cold and ice and darkness fills the world, so this is not gonna be the happy feel-good that people may be hoping for. Some of the characters [are] in very dark places…In any story, the classic structure is, ‘Things get worse before they get better,’ so things are getting worse for a lot of people.

That’s interesting, because the most recent season of Game of Thrones, which purportedly contained events from Winds, was fairly upbeat by the show’s standards. Can we take this as evidence that the show is going further afield of the books?

Beyond Winds, Martin also talked about the elusive ending of the saga. Again, he didn’t tell the audience what’s going to happen, but he “suspect[s] the overall flavor is gonna be as bittersweet as it is happy.”

I don’t know that I, as a writer, really believe in the conventional, cliched happy ending, where everything is resolved and the good guy wins and the bad guy loses. We very seldom see that in real life or in history, and I don’t find it as emotionally satisfying myself as what I like to call the bittersweet ending.

He had a lot of praise for the ending of The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo completes his epic quest but returns home to the Shire to find it in chaos. And then, after he cleans that up, he finds it hard to enjoy life how he used to. “Its ending is, at best, bittersweet.”


 

Martin also gave us some insight into his feelings regarding the ending when someone asked him how he keeps the series’ many plot lines coherent and free of loose ends. “With increasing difficulty…Sometimes I look back and say, ‘Did it really have be seven kingdoms?’ The five kingdoms of Westeros, that would have been good.”

We’ll see by the end of the book if I’ve left any loose ends. I hope not. That’s not to say that everything is going to be tied up completely neatly in a bow. I think there’s a difference between a loose end and something that’s deliberately left by the author ambiguous, or something for the readers to think about and worry about and debate about. For me, that’s part of the fun of reading and writing is having stories that maybe have a little ambiguity to them, a little subtlety to them, and everything is not crystal clear and laid out. You have to think about some things and put clues together and see what it all adds up to. So some of that is gonna be left there deliberately. But first I have to finish the damn thing.

I think this is good news. Leaving some enduring mysteries will help the series last.

Finally, Martin talked about the overall themes of the series when someone asked him which character “deserved” to sit the Iron Throne:

I don’t know that ‘deserve’ is really an operative word. The Iron Throne doesn’t necessarily go to who deserves it, but to who has the power to take and to hold it. But there are things in the books where I indicate what a king should be, what separates a good king from a bad king…It should be a public service position. The king’s job is the land, the people of the land, to make them prosperous, to protect them, to defend them, to provide them with justice. And that’s what the ideal king should be. There have been previous few of them in human history, sad to say.

And later, he expounded on his “secret” to creating compelling female characters, which spun into a great treatise on how to write characters in general. “I start from the basic presumption that women are people, and that they have the same basic humanity as men,” he said. “We want the same thing. We want love. We want respect. We want to succeed in the world. We want to protect the people we love…Human motivations are basically the same.”

The key to creating any character, I think, is empathy…I don’t know what it is actually like to be a dwarf, but I can imagine what it would be like. I can try to think about it and say, ‘Alright, if I was a dwarf, what challenges would I face? What sort of things would I encounter? How would I deal with it?’…If I was an exiled princess…I can think about it. I can empathize. The gift of empathy is one of the greatest gifts a writer can have. And that’s certainly true for a man writing about women or a woman writing about men. You can’t think about them as an alien species. They’re just people and you try to empathize. Fortunately, I have a large cast of female characters, which allows me to reflect in my books the same variety I see in real life. All of us have good and evil in us, men or women. There are good ones, there are bad ones, there are selfish ones, there are noble ones, there are people who are selfish on Tuesday and noble on Wednesday. We’re all like that…I love the complexity of the human race, and the fact that we’re all such puzzles…The basic humanity unites us all and it’s the basic humanity I try to create in my stories.

Amen.


 

What’s next on Martin’s agenda? Finished A Song of Ice and Fire, obviously. “I don’t think it’s time for me to quite be figuring out what I’m gonna write after Game of Thrones,” he said. He did say, however, that he needs to write “like, eight or nine more Dunk and Egg adventures,” and that he has “hundreds more pages” of material about the history of the Targaryen dynasty. “I’m gonna flesh that out and do it. And of course I’m talking with HBO about more television series.”

The Guadalajara International Book Fair is over, so Martin is likely back to work. We’ll be waiting.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Author George R. R. Martin attends HBO's Official 2016 Emmy After Party at The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Other tidbits:

  • Martin has no problem just saying “Game of Thrones” as shorthand for “A Song of Ice and Fire.” With the show as popular as it is, it’s probably easier that way.
  • Question: If Martin could change one thing about the series, what would it be? “I would have all the books done by now. I’m a slow writer. And as I get older I seem to be getting slower, not faster.” However, he has hope that, as happened with his earlier books, he’ll “see the finish line” and write the final parts of the story faster. “But so far it hasn’t done it.”

In retrospect, maybe I should have made Robb a viewpoint character in the early books. A lot of people kind of figured out that Robb was gonna die just because he didn’t have any chapters. And I don’t like to be predictable. But on the other hand, it would have made the books longer, too, so I dunno.

  • Martin on the relationship between Littlefinger and Varys: “I think Littlefinger has a better idea of what Varys wants than Varys has an idea of what Littlefinger wants. Littlefinger is an agent of chaos who likes to be unpredictable, and succeeds in that.”
  • Someone asked about the mysterious city of Asshai, and Martin weighed in. “I don’t plan to set any scenes in Asshai, at least not in the present book.” But he does point out that Melisandre is a viewpoint character, and she may “think back on some of her time in Asshai.”
  • Martin reiterates that the first idea he got for A Song of Ice and Fire was the first Bran chapter in A Game of Thrones, where he sees Ned execute a Night’s Watch deserter and finds the direwolf pups in the summer snow. “I always knew that it was the summer snow, so the thing about the seasons was there right from the beginning.”
  • Question: Who from the Seven Kingdoms would Martin pick to represent him in a trial by combat? His first pick was Ser Arthur Dayne…if he was alive. Then it was Jaime Lannister…if he had two hands. Final pick: Brienne of Tarth.
  • Question: Which character would make a good leader in the real world right now? Martin picks Tyrion, although he thinks Daenerys could be interesting if she brought her dragons. “The recent American election might have turned out very different if Hillary Clinton had dragons.”
  • Some of Martin’s favorite non-fantasy/sci-fi books are The Great Gatsby and A Tale of Two Cities. And while he loves The Lord of the Rings, he wasn’t entirely pleased with all of the decisions J.R.R. Tolkien made with it. “[Gandalf] should have stayed dead.”
  • Question: Did King Robert Baratheon ever suspect that Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella weren’t his? “No, Robert was not a real intellectual giant.”
  • Question: What did Podrick Payne do to the prostitutes in Season 3 of Game of Thrones that inspired them not to charge him? “That scene is not in the books. I know nothing.”
  • Question: What kind of audience are you writing for? “I’m writing for me. The fact that you guys like the story is great, and I’m very pleased by that. But I think ultimately you have to write for yourself…You write the kind of stories that you wanna read.”

29 Comments

  • This article is long overdue, and appreciated. It is nice to hear GRRMs answers to a lot of these questions.
    I know he says there are things the show has changed from the books he likes, but I am more interested in which change D&D made that bothers him the most. The fans say “Lady Stoneheart” or fake Aegon being left out, but I bet his answer would be enlightening.
    But, thankfully, the questions asked here were better than most in other interviews.

    • I don’t think he would answer that question, though. I’m sure he’s been irritated by some of the changes in the show, but he’s too much of a professional to make that known, at least not while the show is still on.

  • Remember that the show runners HAD to make changes. The books use POV perspectives. In other words, we get the internal musings of characters even as they deal with others. You can’t do that on television.

    How would we know what Theon was planning if he didn’t talk to someone? Or Tyrion?

    Also, recall that the first four seasons were relatively close to the first three books. But Martin’s writing style changed markedly. Everything slowed down in terms of the main plot of “Who will take the Iron Throne.”

    We don’t even know if Tyrion will meet Danaerys in the sixth book. We don’t know if Jon Snow actually did come back from the dead.

    We have to realize that characters had to be cut because we could have had a much slower ten or twelve season show…which might have already been canceled.

    • Yeah, it couldn’t have been easy adapting the sprawl of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons for TV. We sometimes get down on Benioff and Weiss for making mistakes, but they had a hard job.

      If I had to guess, I say that Jon Snow will come back from the dead and Tyrion will meet Daenerys in The Winds of Winter, but you never know.

    • by good storytelling.

      in the last few episodes of Breaking Bad S4, you didn’t see Walter White telling anyone that he was gonna poison Brock. That was never on TV. At the last scene, the flower was shown. that is good TV. Because it told the story the way it went down, naturally and organically, trusting the audience to figure it out by themselves (failing that, we have the Internet). Not babbling around because you failed to tell a story with visuals.

  • He gave a lot of ambiguous and vague responses to each questions. He must have one generous publisher that been waiting on him to finish the sixth book.

      • It will be hard to see a lighter side to the whole story even after the war (if the living win). They will be in the aftermath of a massive war with tens of thousands dead and it will probably still be winter.

        The lightest part I think of the whole story was Episode One and even that was pretty grim laying out the story when Ned chops off the blokes head.

        I am pretty grateful about not being born in medieval times as it must have been a full on crapfest.

      • I’m trying to decide which angle you’re coming from… Are you simply implying that you believe books 4 and 5 were essentially one long book that he split in two (in a goofy non-chronological manner)?

        • That’s exactly what happened, but he added to Dance, which is why the timelines come back together.

  • Question: Did King Robert Baratheon ever suspect that Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella weren’t his? “No, Robert was not a real intellectual giant.”

    Well that kills my fan theory once and for all. I always thought Robert knew about Jaime and Cersei but just didn’t care. It gave him an excuse to drink and party.

    • Robert was a drunk and brothel visitor way before he married Cersi. He had the same attitude in the books, and had two illegitimate children. No wonder Lyanna ran for the hills.

      • I would have headed for the hills as well, rather than marry something like Robert Baratheon.

  • George R.R. Martin says the book is dark because “winter is the time when things die,” implying that lots of our favorite characters will die in The Winds of Winter. This aligns perfectly with the show actually.

    Despite how “upbeat” Season 6 felt, it did kill off a TON of characters. And let’s not forget that Martin hasn’t yet killed off many of the characters the show killed off prior to season 6, such as Jojen, Stannis, Shireen, Selyse, Mance, Myrcella and Selmy. If in addition to those, the novel also kills off Margaery, Tommen, Doran, Rickon, Summer, Hodor and everyone else the show murdered this season (plus maybe some of the characters that aren’t even in the show), it will be a pretty grim book indeed, I think.

    • The thing that would suck about that is…..we’ve already seen it. How would the books (if ever released at this point) matter?

  • Question: Did King Robert Baratheon ever suspect that Joffrey, Tommen, and Myrcella weren’t his? “No, Robert was not a real intellectual giant.”

    You know… I had always thought it would’ve been funny if Robert Baratheon revealed to Cersei that he knew about her and Jaime, didn’t give a sh*t, and then said something along the lines of, “Everyone deserves to be happy, even you.” Then Cersei inquires as to what makes him happy and he lifts the glass of wine with a smirk on before sipping. :P

    Not too drastic a change but imagine if we all had suspected Cersei of being behind Robert’s murder and it turned out if was just his own drunken fault (or someone else’s). Then again, I’m not a writer and am going to shut up now. :P

  • I wonder if those dark chapters are a sept being blown up, someone holding a door, Stannis inviting his daughter to a bonfire, Ramsay getting to know his dogs a little better, Dani being a captive of the Khals etc etc