George R.R. Martin is responsible for creating the masterpiece that is Game of Thrones. The series based on the novels that he started writing back in 1991 has grown into a television phenomenon that continues to leave people on the edge of their seats. With 2 more books to be released, as well as two more seasons, it is clear that fans are not going to get sick of the chase for the Iron Throne anytime soon.
But why not take a look at the man behind the novel. Find out what scene from the iconic series came to his mind first, and inspired the entire thing. Do you know which element of the series he deemed to be drastically different from the books? Or why he so often decides to yank our hearts out by killing beloved characters? (Because it may not seem like it, but there's a reason for it.)
Included is a ton of background information on the series, including why he placed Daenerys where he did, and what the original plan for the series was. You'll even get to hear his thoughts on the infamous Red Wedding and what he hopes to tackle next. Included are quotes from the man himself, because shockingly, the man often has a lot to say!
Here are 15 unbelievable things that you didn't know about George R.R. Martin.
15 It Could Have Been A Movie
George R.R. Martin was fortunate that when movie studios came asking for the rights to his series, he turned them down. It was after the success of The Lord of the Rings that many studios came asking, but they would not lock in for 3 movies, and Martin felt the story was too big and intricate to try and cover on the big screen. Having worked in television before, Martin also didn’t believe it would work on a regular television station because of all the sex, beheading and other graphic elements.
He went into a meeting with David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (two of the big showrunners) with the attitude that the show couldn’t possibly be done, but why not meet with them.
It also helped that they wanted to put the series on HBO, as Martin was a fan of Rome, Deadwood and The Sopranos and knew that graphic content could be successful.
What “started out as a lunch meeting, turned into a dinner meeting, and they said the same thing, then I suddenly knew we’re on the same wavelength here," as it was clear to both of them that the television series was the way to go. Martin also has a history in television screenwriting (more on that below) which helped ensure that this was the right fit.
Given how many book franchises have failed on the big screen (*stares at Eragon*), everyone should be ecstatic he was patient enough to wait for the right opportunity.
14 He Was A Huge Comics Fan
Comic book movies may be all the rage now, but Martin has been a fan of Marvel comics since his youth and he has the proof! When one of the first comic book conventions came to New York in 1964, Martin was literally the first person to register for the event.
Martin also wrote to the editor of the Fantastic Four, and in 1963 had his first ever fan-letter published, in issue #20. Martin opens his letter to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, stating “F.F #17 was greater than great. Even now I sit in awe of it, trying to do the impossible-that is, describe it. It was absolutely stupendous, the ultimate, utmost! I cannot fathom how you could fit so much action into so few pages….You were just about the World’s worst mag when you started, but you set yourself an ideal, and by gumbo, you achieved it!”
The magazine responded, “we might as well quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words.”
Martin went on to write different fanzines and in 1965, was able to win the Alley Award (an award given to comic fandom) for a story he wrote entitled “Powerman Vs. The Blue Barrier.”
13 His Thoughts On The Throne
George R.R. Martin must have a pretty strong opinion on the television series. After all, it’s definitely helping enhance his legacy in ways he could not have imagined when he first started writing the series.
That doesn’t mean he loves every element of the show though. When talking about the look of the Iron Throne, Martin talked about how it differs greatly in the television show from how he described it in the books. The photo above is a design done by Marc Simonetti, to which Martin said “here’s the Iron Throne. Somebody finally nailed it.”
When talking about the difference, Martin says “The main difference is scale. The Iron Throne that’s described in the books is gigantic. It’s huge. There’s actually a scene in the show where Littlefinger talks about the thousand swords of Aegon’s enemies, and says, “Well, there’s not really a thousand swords. That’s just a tale we tell ourselves”….But in the real one, the one in the books, there really are a thousand swords! Maybe two thousands swords!"
You can understand why that would have been hard to fit onto a television screen.
12 When He Decided To Focus on Writing
George R.R Martin was a talented writer long before he picked up a pen and started talking about dragons and Westeros. Martin was an English and Journalism instructor at Clarke University from 1976-1978. It was in late 1977 that author Tom Reamy passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 42. Reamy only wrote one complete novel, Blind Voices, that came out after he passed away.
Martin has said in interviews that his passing caused him to re-evaluate his own life and as a result ended up becoming a full-time writer. Martin said “we weren’t super close. I knew him from conventions and I’d admired his writing. But Tom’s death had a profound effect on me, because I was in my early thirties then. I’d been thinking, as I taught, well, I have all these stories that I want to write, all these novels I want to write, and I have all the time in the world to write them, ‘cause I’m a young guy, and then Tom’s death happened, and I said, Boy. Maybe I don’t have all the time in the world. Maybe I’ll die tomorrow.”
That’s not to say that he only had successes though; his fourth novel, The Armageddon Rag which came out in 1983, was a huge commercial failure causing Martin to state that the book “essentially destroyed my career as a novelist at the time.”
Martin then went on to work in Hollywood on The Twilight Zone, Max Headroom, and he even wrote 14 episodes of the 1987 series Beauty and the Beast which was an updated real-life version of the iconic fairy tale.
11 Seven Is His Ideal Book Number
George R.R. Martin has been open in the past about how when he started writing, he didn’t know how big it was going to get. Ideally, he thought he would cap it as a trilogy, which just seemed to be the style of fantasy writers at the time. The three books were to be titled, A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter, but in ’95, Martin says, “it became apparent that I already had fifteen hundred manuscript pages on A Game of Thrones and I was not even remotely close to the end. So my trilogy, at that point, became four books. Then, at a later point, it became six books. And now it’s holding steady at seven books. Hopefully, I will be able to finish it at seven books.”
He went on to say that in 25 years, or 100 years, or whenever it is someone sits down and opens up all 7, that they’ll read it from beginning to end as it is not a trilogy, but “it’s one long novel. A really, really long novel. It’s one story.”
10 Why He Placed Daenerys Where He Did
One of the biggest things that helped fans understand the scope of Game of Thrones was when one of the primary characters, Daenerys is introduced on a different continent than Winterfell. When talking about his decision to do this, Martin said he took inspiration from Tolkien and how he opened up Lord of the Rings at Bilbo’s birthday party, but then everything starts to open up more as more characters get introduced.
“Everything in A Game of Thrones begins in Winterfell. Everybody is together there and then you meet more people and, ultimately, they’re split apart and they go in different directions. But the one departure from that, right from the first, was Daenerys, who was always separate. It’s almost as if Tolkien, in addition to having Bilbo, had thrown in an occasional Faramir chapter, right from the beginning of the book.”
There aren’t many franchises out there that would be smarter to take inspiration from than The Lord of the Rings.
9 The Role Of Walter White
When it comes to looking for influential media, why not look at one of the greatest television series of all time? Martin was once asked his opinion on the series (and the episode Ozymandias in particular) and he stated the show was amazing, and that “Walter White is a bigger monster than anyone in Westeros...I need to do something about that.”
Now to be fair, Walter White definitely ended up becoming an incredibly awful and selfish person, but it’s not like Ramsay Bolton or other characters in Game of Thrones are exactly warm and cuddly. And call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure Joffrey was not exactly the most loved guy around. Also, given that Martin isn’t done completing his series, who knows what type of diabolical things he may have under wraps. Put Walter White in Westeros though, and you may have an incredibly strong candidate to try and take the throne.
8 Where His Imagination Came From
George R.R. Martin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey and he has two younger sisters. His father was often unemployed during his upbringing, meaning that Martin’s life was fairly constricted to the 5-block radius that surrounded his house. While this may have seemed like a downfall, it ended up being one of the keys to his inspiration. When talking in an interview, Martin stated “I had this desire to see the world. I couldn’t see any of it but I saw it in my imagination, and that’s why I always read books, and I could go to Mars or Middle Earth or the Hyborian age.”
Martin would write stories about a mythical kingdom that was populated by his pet turtles. The turtles would die though, which Martin deemed was because they were killing each other off in sinister plots.
Martin also remarked how he used to often look at ships coming into town that would carry flags from places all over the world, which only served to further his imagination.
7 Why He Kills People
There is no doubt that Martin has helped make a name for himself by not being afraid to kill off prominent characters in dramatic ways. This became even more evident when Game of Thrones started airing on television. When talking about his reasoning for this, Martin stated that he was tired of people going into movies or television shows with the expectation of how the storyline is going to go.
People go “O.K., if Tom Cruise is the star, Tom Cruise is not going to die in the first scene, you know? ‘Cause he’s the star! He’s got to go through. Or you’re watching a TV show and its name is Castle. You know that the character Castle is pretty safe. He’s gonna be there next week, too, and the week after. You shouldn’t know that, ideally. The emotional involvement would be greater if somehow we could get past that. So that’s what I try to do, you know.”
There is no doubt that Martin has kept everyone on their toes. As a fun fact, this was also why Wes Craven cast Drew Barrymore as the first actress people see in the first Scream movie and why she was used in the movie posters, only to last under 15 minutes.
6 He Hates Deadlines
George R.R. Martin hating deadlines is definitely not the most ideal thing, especially when you consider the entire world is waiting for his next book. It definitely takes away a sense of enjoyment when you are working on a deadline, and Martin remembered how when he first started out he would go to his agent and say “'Look, I finished a novel. Here, go sell it.' And, thankfully, he did. But nobody was waiting for it. No publication date had been announced that then had to be changed because I didn’t deliver on time and all that. So I could write these books on my own leisure, and there’s part of me that misses that day.”
Martin said he hopes that once he completes his 7 books, perhaps he’ll be able to go back to working at his own pace. Lord knows he doesn’t need the money!
5 The Importance Of Speaking With His Heart
Martin discussed in an interview how when 1971 was just starting out, he had a few stories that were getting published about political issues and other public matter situations that he admitted did not have a lot of depth to them. While they may have been successful, what was huge for Martin was that “in the summer of ‘71 I started to write stories that almost hurt to write, that were painful to me, and those are the stories where you’re almost exposing yourself, you’re exposing your vulnerability as a writer. If you don’t ever come to that point, you’re never going to be a great writer.”
Westeros may seem like a far cry from reality, but it’s clear that Martin is not afraid to inject himself and own sense of personality into his novels.
4 He Hates Fan Fiction
I know you might love writing your own stories about the characters in Game of Thrones, but don’t expect Martin to give you any praise for your work. When asked if he would ever allow fan-fiction (such as spin-offs on his universe), Martin stated “Not while I'm alive, but eventually I will not be alive because Valar Morghulis - all men die. I don't think my wife, if she survives me, will allow that either….[we get people] who didn't actually know the writer and don't care about his wishes. It's just a cash cow to them. And then we get abominations to my mind like Scarlett, the Gone with the Wind sequel.”
While some people have attacked Martin for this stance, thinking it’s selfish to not "share Westeros," I’m definitely not going to blame Martin for wanting to keep some ownership over the biggest thing he’s ever accomplished.
3 The First Scene He Wrote
When you have a series as huge as Game of Thrones, one thing that people want to know is what idea helped start it all off back in 1991. Martin was in an interview where he said “the first scene that came to me was chapter one of the first book, the chapter where they find the direwolf pups. That just came to me out of nowhere. I was actually at work on a different novel, and suddenly I saw that scene. It didn’t belong in the novel I was writing, but it came to me so vividly that I had to sit down and write it.”
He went on to say that by the time he had finished writing it, he immediately had to start on the 2nd chapter in which Catelyn would tell Ned that the king is dead.
2 His Thoughts On The Red Wedding
Above you read about Martin’s thoughts on why it is he loves to kill off his characters, but that does not always mean it was an easy decision. Martin admitted in an interview that he made himself finish the entirety of A Storm of Swords and it was only once the book was written that he added in one of the most infamous scenes in the series.
“The Red Wedding was tremendously hard to write…. I loved those characters too much. But I knew it had to be done. The TV Red Wedding is even worse than the book, of course, because [GoT creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] turned it up to 11 by bringing in Talisa, pregnant with Robb's child, none of which happened in the book.”
At least there are no doubts that he helped create one of the most influential television moments of all time.
1 When He Knew It Was More Than Just One Book
As you read above, Martin knew that he had to start writing the series when he had the scene of the direwolf come to his mind. But that’s just one scene, how did he know that it was going to become a huge series? Martin explained that when he started,
“I really didn’t know what it was. Is this a short story? Is this a chapter of a novel? Is it all gonna be about this kid Bran? But then, when I wrote the second chapter and I changed viewpoints – right there, right in the beginning….The minute I went to a second viewpoint, rather than having a single, solitary point of view, I knew I’d just made the book much bigger. Now I had two viewpoints. And once you have two, you can have three, or five, or seven, or whatever. Even by the time I was three or four chapters in, I knew it was going to be big.”
Given the depth of the characters he’s shown, and the fact that he’s still not done introducing names to Westeros, you can imagine Martin is still pretty blown away by the scale that the series grew to.
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