A couple months back, A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin stopped by The Emmanuel Center in London to talk with writer Dan Jones about his work. The interview happened in August, but some excellent video of the event went up just recently. Ready for an hour-long deep dive into all things Game of Thrones, A Song of Ice and Fire, Fire and Blood, The Winds of Winter, and more? Settle in and hit play:
Predictably, there’s a lot here we’ve heard before, but also predictably, Martin is an affable public speaker and it’s still interesting. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
- These days, it’s hard to think of Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire as anything but a towering success, but there was a time when it was just another new fantasy book on the block. I liked Martin’s account of how important word of mouth was to the success of A Game of Thrones back in 1996, and how the series’ popularity grew slowly and organically over time, only really becoming a sure-fire forever hit around the time of A Feast for Crows.
- Speaking of A Game of Thrones, Martin talks about the first pangs of inspiration. In the summer of 1991, he wrote the first Bran chapter. The writing came easily, and even though he had to put that story away for three years to do Hollywood stuff, when he came back to it, it was like he had never left, which was rare for him. “And we sold it, and the rest is imaginary history.”
- According to Martin, that first chapter came to him pretty much fully formed. “I knew that it was the summer snows, and that put me on a line to the unsteadiness of the seasons.”
- Martin returned to his well-worn analogy of the architect — writers who plan their books out step by step ahead of time — vs the gardener — writers who get ideas and write them and see where they go. “Obviously, I don’t think any writer is 100% architect or 100% gardener, but I’m at least 97% gardener. And I think I have that in common with [The Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien]…He said the tale grew in the telling, and indeed it did. It grew to something much bigger than he thought when he started out, and mine has done the same thing.”
- However, he admits that gardening can have its issues. For example, sometimes he’ll follow a story thread only to realize it doesn’t really go anywhere and he’ll have to rewrite or even remove chapters. There’s one Tyrion chapter from A Dance with Dragons he loved but couldn’t use in the book because it didn’t have any purpose. “Maybe someday when I finish the book I’ll publish that chapter as its own little standalone.”
- One of the best things about A Song of Ice and Fire is the prehistory, all the events that happened before the main story kicks into gear. Martin didn’t know any of it when he started writing. He made a map when he realized he was going to need to know where different castles and such are located, and when he started referring back to prior rulers he made a list of Targaryen kings and queens complete with dates so he wouldn’t contradict himself.
- By this point, A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t really one novel but really “11 intertwined novels,” as Martin puts it, each with their own main characters and antagonists and conflicts. The details can be hard to remember. “My fans, like you people and even more obsessive people elsewhere are always eager to point out where I’ve made a mistake. I have particular trouble with the color of people’s eyes, and rather famously I have a horse who changes gender between the first and second books. It’s hard to do a search-and-replace for the sex of a horse. But these errors do sneak in.”
- “The hardest scene I ever wrote was the Red Wedding scene in A Storm of Swords.” He actually skipped over that part to write the rest of the book before returning to finish it.
- Yes, Martin plans to do more Dunk and Egg stories, perhaps nine by the time he’s done. “I have pretty well their entire lives in my head, and of course all those things will become more detailed as I write them. But first I have this book The Winds of Winter. I have to finish that, and then I can write another Dunk and Egg story, and then I write A Dream of Spring, and then I write another Dunk and Egg story. At some point in there I have to write the second part of Fire and Blood, so I have my work cut out for me. Why am I talking to you here? I should be home writing.”
- For the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, Martin wrote one episode per year. Each of those took him about a month to write, and that was when he was essentially just transferring what he’d already written in book form so it would work on TV. As the show diverged from the books more, Martin decided that the labor involved to write new scripts would be too much of a drain on his time, so he stepped back.
- Martin refers to Fire and Blood, his history of the Targaryen dynasty, as “the GRRM-rillion,” a take on Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. Part 1 of Fire and Blood is already out, apparently at the urging of his publishers. “The GRRM-rillion is almost complete…and it includes material in it that is going to be the basis of some of these successor shows, so maybe we should get it out first before the shows, and they agreed, so they said, ‘Yeah, finish that one and then go back to Winds of Winter.'”
- Speaking of those “successor shows,” Martin said that, in addition to the pilot for Bloodmoon, which is already in the can, there are “two other pilots that are in active development in some stage, and hopefully in the near future one or both of them will be greenlit to shoot a pilot, and we may get more than one Westeros show on the air.”
That last bit is interesting. This interview was given in August, when we already knew about Bloodmoon but before we learned that HBO was considering making a Game of Thrones prequel series based on Fire and Blood. What do you think that third one is about?