The epic fantasy television series Game of Thrones, which returned for a third season on March 31, has been a magnificent hit, winning award after award and attracting larger and increasingly mainstream audiences with each season – the season premiere netted the show’s biggest audience yet with 4.4 million viewers. It's been such a boon for HBO that the network announced last month a new two-year development deal with George R.R. Martin, the man behind the books that launched the series. two-year
development deal with the man behind the books that launched the series. "Valar
Dohaeris," as they say. (Translated from the fictional GOT language
High Valyrian, this means "All Men Must Serve," and it's also the title
of the season's first episode.) In this case, Martin must serve the many
facets of his inner muse and take advantage of an opportunity to reach a
massive audience with more of his ideas.
This (like many of Martin’s beyond-the-books projects) comes as bittersweet news to some of his die-hard fans who, with rabid anticipation, await his next novel. Though it's been only two years since A Dance With Dragons (Book 5 in the Song of Ice and Fire series) was released, A Feast For Crows (Book 4) came out in 2005 and A Storm of Swords (Book
3, the first half of which is the source for this season on TV) came
out in 2000. New projects, some worry, could mean even more time between
releases for the final two books: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. And the books, after all, are what it's really all about, right?
Well, we can all relax and even rejoice. Amazon recently confirmed
that Martin is not too distracted by these other endeavors and is, in
fact, actively working on the new novel.
At the risk of exasperating fans further, we do admit that we waylaid Mr. Martin for a brief telephone conversation -- during which he discussed his history with television, how the show affects the pace of his writing, which actor’s portrayal he prefers to the character he wrote, and what to look forward to in season 3. (Note: Spoilers ensue in Martin’s first two responses.)
Robin A. Rothman, Amazon Books Editor: What about this season are you most excited to see translated from your written description to come to life on screen?
George R.R. Martin: [Spoiler alert] Well,
excited and apprehensive is the Red Wedding. I don't know if you want to
write about that without spoiling things. I think it will have more
impact if it takes people unexpectedly, but certainly that's the scene
that both myself and I think most of my hardcore fans are looking
forward to with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension.
RAR: It's so graphic in the novel. You've probably seen
it already. Do you feel it captures what you wrote? Were there any
major changes to that?
GRRM: [Spoiler alert] I have not seen it.
I've been very busy writing the new books and doing other projects this
year, so I did not have a chance to visit the set. At one point I was
looking at going over there when they were filming it and maybe even
being one of the casualties, but I just couldn't find the time to get
over to Belfast, so I haven't seen any of it. I've seen no footage this
RAR: So, do you watch the show in real time on HBO like fans do? Are you watching it having special screenings and parties with friends?
GRRM: It's a combination of both. In some cases they'll send me a screener or a disc of a rough cut to look at ahead of time, but in the majority of cases I'm seeing it just as the fans are when it comes on the air.
RAR: Your process when you're working with the television people... are you hands-on with it?
Fortunately I was either very lucky or very smart to team up with David
Benioff and Dan Weiss -- the showrunners and executive producers of the
show who write most of the episodes -- and, you know, I have a great
pair of partners there. They're doing a terrific job with the show and
the show is their baby and the books are my baby. So, I'm gonna keep
writing the books and keep ahead of these guys before they catch up with
RAR: You're known for working at a comfortable pace.
You're working on a lot of projects, you take your time and you offer
really dense, detailed volumes. Has the pace of the TV series actually
put any pressure on you or changed your pace of writing?
GRRM: It had not initially, but it's starting to do so,
yeah, because they're making faster progress than I'm making. So, I had
a huge lead to begin with and I still have a pretty substantial lead
over them, but it's not as substantial as it was beforehand. [Chuckles.]
RAR: I would guess that you've had conversations with
the actors about what you feel the background of each of the characters
is, but have they in turn inspired any changes that you've incorporated
into your writing of the characters now in the later books?
GRRM: Not really, not so far. I mean there's one
particular actor who I've talked about -- Natalia Tena who plays Osha --
and as I've commented in other interviews, when I first saw she was
being considered for the role, I thought "Well, she's all wrong for this
role. I don't know why you're bringing her in. She's too young and
she's too pretty and you know she's not at all the character." But then I
saw her performance, and she was just great. She was mesmerizing, and
her Osha is much better than my Osha. So, I think when I come to write
about Osha again, which may be in this book that I'm writing now,
Natalia Tena may be in the back of my mind and I may take it a little
more in that direction. But that's really the only case. In most cases,
you know I've been living with these characters... I started writing
this book in 1991, so that's a long time, and my view of the characters
is very firmly fixed in my head.
RAR: How difficult has it been for you to reconcile the
visual constraints of the television medium and the descriptive book
elements? For instance how hideous Tyrion is supposed to be doesn't
really come across in the show and (not to spoil, but) what we're
expecting from other characters and what happens to them...?
GRRM: You know, I worked in Hollywood for 10 years; I
was there from basically the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s working on a
variety of television shows. So, I saw the process from the other side,
which has given me enough perspective. I mean, you can describe a
character in the book, but you're never gonna get an actor who exactly
meets the physical dimensions of the character. I know some of the fans
go crazy about this. "Ooooh that character had red hair in the book and
they cast someone with blond hair." But, for the most part, that stuff
In the case of Tyrion, yeah Tyrion in the books is shorter than Peter
Dinklage is and he's considerably less attractive. Peter is actually
quite a good looking guy. But Peter Dinklage is a sensational actor and
brought Tyrion to life vividly. That's what you want. You're not trying
to match an author's imaginary description of a person who never
existed; you're trying to bring a character to life by casting the best
possible actor you can in the role.
RAR: Speaking of your history with television, you left television writing to write books full time. What prompted that?
Well, books were always my first love. I sold my first story in 1971
and I didn't start getting involved in writing for television until
1985-86. So, I had 15 years ahead of time where I was strictly a writer
of prose and I'd always loved that best. Television and film was
exciting, and I'm glad I'm back in it and all that. But there are good
things about it; there are also frustrating things about it. I never
liked the politics of it.
I worked 10 years out there. My first five years I was on Twilight Zone and then I was on Beauty and the Beast,
and that was a very exciting time. Writing scripts for a show that was
on the air -- you write the script and it goes on and millions of people
see it. But then I got into what's called development the second five
years where I was writing feature films, where I was developing pilots
for my own show, and none of those ever got on the air. And I could only
take so much of that; after about five years...
I mean, I was making more money than ever before because that's just
very, very well-paid out there. But emotionally I couldn't take this
repeated thing of working on a project for a year and then, for whatever
reason, the studio decides not to do it or the network decides to pick
up some other show instead. And these characters have become real to
you. You want to tell their stories, you want to see what people do, and
you never get to do that, and I found that very frustrating. So, going
back to prose where I could tell my stories and I knew my stories would
reach an audience... whether it was a big audience or a small audience
-- big is better, but small is certainly better than people in a room.
RAR: Now that you're back in television on your terms,
how does that feel to be out from under the burden of other people's
decision-making to actually be the decision-maker?
GRRM: I'm really not though. We have to put this in
perspective. Yes I'm involved with the show. It's based on my books and
they're doing quite a faithful job. However, David Benioff and Dan Weiss
are the showrunners. They're working on the show 7 days a week 24 hours
a day, you know? They're dealing with all the problems. They're
approving the set designs and they're doing the location scouts and
they're watching dailies everyday and they're in the room with the
editors making necessary cuts and they're in all the casting sessions
deciding what actors to hire.
This was the stuff that I was involved with when I was doing development and when I was even on Beauty and the Beast
as a supervising producer, but I'm not in that position on this show.
I'm back in Santa Fe, New Mexico and I'm writing books. Once a year I
write one script [this season it's episode 7, May 12], and when I can I
visit the set and hang around for a week or so and meet some of the
actors and watch them film, but I'm not involved in the day-to-day
So, in some ways I have the best of both worlds, and it's very good.
Sometimes I get the urge, like an old warhorse, "Boy I would love to be
more involved in the show." Maybe when I finish the books -- if I can
finish the books and they're still filming -- maybe I'll do more in the
last season of the show and I'll go out and do some of those things and
be on the set for six months at a time, but I can't do that right now.
My main responsibility is to finish the books.
RAR: Those things that you made that didn't see the
light of day, those still exist. Has there been any talk -- with the
success that you've had in the last few years -- of bringing those
things to light finally?
GRRM: Yeah there has been. We've had a number of
conversations, me and my agents are bringing them out. It's not a simple
situation, though, because I was paid for those scripts. I was under
contract to various studios and producers. So, the rights situation is
not clear. I don't actually own those scripts; the people who paid own
those scripts. It's not necessarily like a book where you can just turn
around after the rights expire and resell it. The rules in Hollywood are
a little different. But, it is a case of, you know, these are my unborn
children and I would love to get them out in some sense and let people
see them. But whether it will ever happen, I don't know.
RAR: When you're not writing the story, have you ever
been asked to or have you thought about adding show-exclusive main
characters? I know there have been peripheral ones like the Spice King,
but has that ever been a conversation? Is it a consideration at all?
GRRM: Well, you know they have added a few characters,
Ros, the famous red-headed whore, is a stand-in perhaps for three or
four minor prostitute characters in the books; she herself doesn't
exist. But no, I think that David and Dan want to do as faithful an
adaptation as possible. So adding a really major character would I think
perhaps change things too much.
RAR: There do seem to be an increasing number of deviations from the books -- not so many in Season 1 but more in Season 2...
I think that's a process that's likely to continue, and some of that is
just the nature of the process. I mean, when you make... Everything is
related to everything else. So, if you make a small change in Season 1,
it could lead to a really big change in Season 4 because the thing that
was supposed to happen didn't happen and the guy who was supposed to
come in never appeared and it was just a line in that book but now
you're in this later season and you don't have him set up. So,
everything gets magnified and you have to deal with it.
RAR: Those of us who read the books tend to be pretty evangelical about them toward people who have only watched the show...
GRRM: I love that!
RAR: But from you, what do you say to convince a show-watcher that reading the books is crucial?
GRRM: Well, the show is great but the books are more
so. I mean, there's more detail, there's more characters. Everything you
like about the show, the books have more. They're richer in that sense.
And if you want a rich, immersive experience, the books are like that.
But I don't just say that about myself. I mean, maybe it's because I
grew up as such a voracious reader. I love television. I love film. But
books are my first love and they're my great passion. I think the book
is always better. I don't care what movie you're talking about, the book
is almost always better than the movie or the television show.
Season 3 of Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.
What are you most looking forward to seeing this season? Share in the comments below (but please, no spoilers for those who might not have read all the books -- or at least warn others if you can't help yourself!)
And if you’re a George R.R. Martin fan looking to get to know the author beyond Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire series, you can find his other work here. Check out these three to get started: