George R.R. Martin reveals the real-life event that inspired the Wall


George R.R. Martin has said before that the Wall, the 300-mile long barrier that separates Westeros from the horrors to the far north, is inspired by Hadrian’s Wall, a structure built around 122 AD that effectively marked the northern end of the Roman empire. Still, A Song of Ice and Fire is a multilayered series, and it has multilayered inspirations. While in Chicago to receive an alumni award from the Medill School of Journalism, Martin revealed that the Wall has another inspiration: the great Chicago blizzard of 1967.

That event occurred when Martin was a freshman studying journalism in Chicago, and it left a lasting impression on him. “The coldest winter was in Chicago, let me tell you about cold,” he said to a student who asked him if the winters of Westeros were comparable to the famously brutal Chicago winters. “There was so much snow that winter, you couldn’t see, all snow, all ice, and it was so very cold.”

During the blizzard, 23 inches of snow fell over the course of 35 hours. Photo: Chicago Tribune.

It sounds like Martin is shifting into Old Nan mode here, telling his story to what can only be a rapt audience. He continued:

"It was like the trenches during World War I, but they were trenches of ice. I remember walking through the trenches and the tunnels of ice, the wind blowing so you couldn’t even see. It’s an experience that never left me."

That does call to mind certain descriptions of the bitter Northern cold from Martin’s books. Anyway, Martin said that this was where the Wall began to form in his mind when he began to write A Song of Ice and Fire years later.

John Kass, who listened to Martin’s story and wrote it up for the Chicago Tribune, pulled a few other interesting quotes from the author. For example, here’s what Martin had to say on balancing writing with his newfound celebrity status. “I never had an assistant. I just want to write. But now I have five assistants and I need two business managers, and all these demands, and all I really want to do is get up in the morning, have breakfast and sit down to write.” He also told a slightly disturbing story about a couple of over-ardent fans.

"I was at a book signing and a reader asked if they could cut off a piece of my beard. That was too much. A few seconds later, here comes the guy from the other side of me, trying to trim some of my beard, and I said, ‘No!’ That’s a little freaky."

Martin also discussed which characters from his books he’d like to see on the show. “Lady Stoneheart,” he said simply. “It was a major storyline in the books.”

And also, “Arianne Martell. Her character wasn’t included.”

Still, Martin acknowledges that he has a much bigger canvas to work with than the showrunners. I’m sure that won’t stop fans from lobbying see their favorite characters from the books onscreen, but it’s good to keep in mind.

Finally, Martin fielded the inevitable question about Jon Snow’s potential return. “No comment on that,” Martin said. “I’m just saying, read the books.” Will do.

Next: Filming continues in Riverrun, while an old enemy is seen in Belfast

H/T Chicago Tribune