What can George R.R. Martin’s original outline tell us about the ending of Game of Thrones?

It’s pretty common knowledge that, before George R.R. Martin published A Game of Thrones way back in 1996, he sent a three-page letter to his publisher outlining how he thought his series would go down. This was back in 1993, and it should go without saying that a lot changed between then and now. For one thing, Martin originally envisioned A Song of Ice and Fire and a trilogy. Five books, 23 years and seven seasons of television later, that dream is firmly in the rearview mirror, but with the end of HBO’s Game of Thrones coming around the corner, we thought it might be time to look back at Martin’s original outline and see if it has any clues that could point us in the right direction.

A LOT changed for Martin in the process of writing. Just to give a couple examples, in the original outline, Sansa bears Joffrey a son, Catelyn is killed by White Walkers, Jaime takes the Iron Throne by killing everyone ahead of him in line, Daenerys kills Khal Drogo as revenge for him killing Viserys, and Arya is part of a love triangle involving Jon and Tyrion. (I hope that last one doesn’t disturb your sleep.) And all of this was supposed to happen in the first book! What’s more, Martin had already completed 13 chapters of A Game of Thrones when he sent in this outline, so assuming he didn’t go back and rewrite things, his outlook shifted drastically not long after this.

Still, in the broad strokes, the outline is pretty true to what ended up getting written. Martin’s narrative strategy certainly emerged intact. “All three books will feature a complex mosaic of intercutting points-of-view among various of my large and diverse cast of players,” he wrote. “The cast will not always remain the same. Old characters will die, and new ones will be introduced. Some of the fatalities will include sympathetic viewpoint characters. I want the reader to feel that no one is ever completely safe, not even the characters who seem to be the heroes. The suspense always ratchets up a notch when you know that any character can die at any time.”

Oh, we know.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: George R. R. Martin attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

And even though the specifics changed, the bird’s eye view of the plot is more or less the same. Martin envisioned three main conflicts: in Westeros, the Starks and the Lannisters fight over the Iron Throne. This was supposed to be “the backbone of the first volume of the trilogy, A Game of Thrones.” In Essos, Daenerys Targaryen gets ahold of dragons and invades at the head of a Dothraki army. “The Dothraki invasion will be the central story of my second volume, A Dance with Dragons.” And in the far North, the White Walkers bear down on the lands of the living, with only the Night’s Watch standing between them and human extinction. “Their story will be [sic] heart of my third volume, The Winds of Winter.”

The final battle will also draw together characters and plot threads left from the first two books and resolve all in one huge climax.

That last line is as close as Martin gets to talking about the ending he has in mind. And indeed, we’ve heard from the showrunners that at least one episode of the final season will be “wall-to-wall action,” something to eclipse anything the show has done before. “[W]e’ve been building toward this since the very beginning,” said producer David Benioff. “[I]t’s the living against the dead, and you can’t do that in a 12-minute sequence.” Expect something truly spectacular, and hopefully worthy of Martin’s considerable imagination.

There’s something else worth mentioning, although it does require us to revisit that cringe-inducing Jon-Tryion-Arya love triangle idea. In the outline, as in the books, Tyrion eventually abandons the Lannisters after being falsely accused of murder. However, rather than joining up with Daenerys, he makes common cause with the Starks. That’s where he falls “helplessly in love with Arya Stark.”

His passion is, alas, unreciprocated, but no less intense for that, and it will lead to a deadly rivalry between Tyrion and Jon Snow.

Now, obviously, this doesn’t end up happening in the books or on the show, and thank goodness for that. However, there could still be a Jon-Tyrion rivalry forming. As we all know, Jon and Dany had sex in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the final episode of the show’s seventh season. While they did the deed, there was a shot of Tyrion in the hallway outside their room, looking forlorn.

Now, you could interpret this shot in many ways, but one is that Tyrion is into Dany and is upset that she’s chosen someone else. That would kinda-sorta preserve Martin’s idea from the original outline. And hey, given that Dany and Jon are actually aunt and nephew, it even keeps the incest angle inherent in a Jon-Arya romance. So…yay?

Speaking of incest, Martin’s outline also addresses the issue of Jon’s secret Targaryen identity, saying that Jon and Arya’s passion for each other will “torment” the both of them “until the secret of Jon’s true parentage is finally revealed in the last book.” We probably didn’t need an outline to tell us that the secret of Jon’s ancestry will become known in the final stretch of the story, but if you wanted proof, there it is.

Finally, because this is always fun, here’s a list of other changes from the original outline:

  • Robb was originally slated to die in battle, not at the Red Wedding. But before he went, he would “maim Joffrey Baratheon on the battlefield,” which would have been fun.
  • Near the end of the first book, Catelyn, Arya and Bran would flee Winterfell after it burns and to Castle Black, but Jon and Benjen would be unable to help them on account of the Night’s Watch vows. This would lead to “a bitter estrangement between Jon and Bran.”
  • There’s no mention in the outline of the Baratheon brothers, Cersei Lannister, Melisandre, the Greyjoys, Dorne, and a lot of other things Martin must have added as he went along.

Any clues I missed?

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