[upbeat music plays]
>>Female Presenter: On May 2, 2011, Nicholas Farmer was at Professor Thom's on 2nd Avenue
in New York City. Maurice, the bartender, nudged him and said, "Hey, Nick. There's the
author of Game of Thrones." They were all there to watch the HBO version of the book.
Nicholas approached the creator and a conversation ensued. He asked if he'd heard of Authors@Google
and if he'd be interested in speaking there. Friendly guy that our guest is, he said, "Have
your mother contact my publicist. It's up to him."
I turned to our Authors@Google network. The publicist was contacted and the return email
offered "July 28th at noon. Work for you?" "Yup." So, here we are today, July 28th at
noon, our first live streaming of an Authors@Google event.
Thank you all for joining us. You, the viewers, have shaped the questions we will be asking
today. And thanks to all the people here at Google that helped make this event possible.
And now, our one and only, Dan Anthony, will introduce today's guest.
>>Dan: Wow. This is awesome. We’ve got one of the largest rooms on campus and it's packed
to standing room only. About the only thing that would be cooler than this was if Joss
Whedon came rushing in the door and said he suddenly had to cast a Googler to star opposite
I think for a lot of us, fantasy, our journey into fantasy, is an individual thing. And
it's very much of our generation. As a child of the '70s, like I suspect a lot of people
in this room, my first foray into fantasy was The Sword of Shannara and I never looked
back from there.
It took me a while to get to A Game of Thrones, which as hopefully everyone knows, is the
first book in A Song of Ice and Fire. And like a lot of people in this room, I suspect
we had some of the same touch points. You know, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Terry
Goodkind, Tolkien, all the folks who really make up the backbone of fantasy.
But I think one thing we can all agree on no matter how we got here is Game of Thrones.
It's certainly not The Sword of Shannara.
But it probably helps that, as a New Zealander, fantasy is in our blood and we're used to
So, not only do we have Australians to deal with--
but we've got Orcs, Goblins, Hobbits, Dwarves, Horselords, men in leather with swords and
whips and chains. And heck, that's pretty much any Auckland nightclub on a Saturday
But what we don't have is any characters as awesome as the world's favorite Dwarf, Tyrion
Lannister. And George, that doesn't mean you can kill him off now.
And Tyrion is only one of many. And we have Arya. We have Cersei, Jaime, Ned, for the
ten minutes he was alive.
And it's not just the main characters that are really interesting. There's a whole host
of smaller characters: Davos, Bronn, Syrio. And these are all compelling and ritually
realized and possibly part of that is the way that the story is structured.
When your characters have an average life expectancy of 37 pages, you're gonna have
to have a long life cycle. But regardless, it’s given us a really rich world to get
immersed in. And now we've got the HBO series which is bringing a whole new realm of audience
to these books.
And for those of us who are readers of the books, it means that we now know we have to
get the next two books within six years 'cause they need them for season 7 of the HBO series.
But the really cool things about these books, and I think the thing that resonates, is they
are truly a world-wide phenomenon. They're in 22 languages, or 20-odd languages and I
just got back from a 'round the world trip at eight different countries, four different
continents and every country, I found people I could talk to about the books that really
got into it.
And there's something really cool about walking into some rinky-dink little book shop in the
back streets of Hong Kong, and front and center is Game of Thrones on display. But I learned
something on the trip. So, in India, it seems they censor HBO and they censor it quite heavily.
I also learned that in India, they don't like movies where the hero dies. So this leads
me to believe that in India, Game of Thrones is gonna be 23 minutes long and it's gonna
be the most unpopular 23 minutes in television history.
Ladies and gentlemen, the man who's given us one of the best fantasy series of all time,
one of the most compelling reasons to watch television today, a man who made it acceptable
for nerd to talk about fantasy in public again--
please join me in welcoming George R. R. Martin.
>>Martin: Thank you all. It's a thrill to be here. This is quite a kick for me. I'm
on my book tour now for Dance With Dragons and visiting a city a day. It's sort of a
blur where I am right now. But I've done many events. This is the first time I've done one
like this, however, where most of the audience seems to have computers in their laps.
That's sort of intimidating.
But interesting. Very interesting. So, it's--. I came out of the world of science fiction.
I wrote a lot of science fiction early in my career and I've always gone back and forth
with those science fiction writers about whether fantasy and science fiction are in fact two
different flavors of the same thing, which is my contention, or whether they're absolute
And fantasy is corrupting the precious bodily fluids of science fiction, which is the contention
of others. And I think the fact that I'm here at this campus devoted to the world of computers
and the cutting edge of tomorrow and you're all fantasy geeks, is proof that I'm right.
And it's all one big thing.
>>Dan: Thank you for coming, George. We really appreciate it. And a token of our appreciation,
on behalf of the whole project team, presented by the person who designed these fine t-shirts
that we're wearing.
>>George Martin: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
>>Female Shirt Designer: It was entirely inspired by you.
It's our take on the wonderful mythos that you created and we combined it with the Android.
So, it's an homage.
>>George Martin: Thank you. Great. Thank you very much.
>>Female Shirt Designer: Take care.
>>Dan: And we do expect you to wear it on your next television appearance.
>>George Martin: Oh, OK.
>>Dan: So, for everyone in attendance and the folks on the stream, we have taken the
most popular questions from the YouTube page--the moderated page--and from internal Googlers.
And we'll be going through those questions today. One of the guiding principles we have,
since a lot of the folks here are gonna be new to the series and know it either from
television or from just reading the first book, is we're not gonna ask any questions
that touch on content matter beyond A Game of Thrones.
So, even if your question got bumped up, unfortunately, we may not be asking it today. So with that,
we have a question from Jigger444.
"You mentioned you had trouble cutting down some of the Arya chapters for A Dance with
Dragons. Would you ever post the unused material on your website?"
>>George Martin: No, probably not. [chuckles] I do save everything. When I cut material,
I do save it because I may find a place for it later. And there are things that I cut
out of the second book that I find a place for in the fourth book. And that sort of thing
is constantly going on.
But I'm still carrying forward with material that I cut from the first book. Some of it
as short as a single, pithy sentence that I particularly liked, but no longer fit and
others half chapters that I took out. And maybe I'll find a place for that, but I have
a feeling that much of that and more will still be in my files when the whole series
But I don't know if I ever want it getting out there. [audience laughs] It's taken out
for a reason. There's one chapter from the new book, from Dance with Dragons, that I,
this does go beyond Game of Thrones, but I'll be vague. There's this Tyrion chapter that
drove me crazy all through the decade, it seemed, that I worked on, on Dance with Dragons.
That was precursor for Feast for Crows where I kept putting it in and taking it out and
putting it in then taking it out. And then I put it in as a dream sequence and I took
it out. Then, I made it a series of recurring dreams, each one going slightly further. So
I put it in seven chapters. And then I took it out of those seven chapters.
It's one of those chapters that I think is, by itself, is a terrific chapter. I liked
the way it came together. It's vivid. It's kind of spooky. It's got some really great
visual imagery in it and it leads me absolutely down a dead end, where if I take that path
I'm stuck on a detour and so, I had to take it out.
That chapter I may, I don't know, publish at some point down the road, but not most
of the other material.
>>Dan: Great. So the next one is a multi-part question. And it came up a lot on the public
site and there are also some Googler questions around it as well. "Have you ever," and this
comes from somebody whose name I can't pronounce in Vancouver.
[audience chuckles] "Have you ever been influenced by some of
the crazy theories your fans come up with for mysteries in the books? Have you ever
changed an aspect of your story based on fan feedback, or if one of their theories is better
than what you originally planned?
>>George Martin: No. But I am concerned about that possibility, which is one of the reasons
I don't tend to read the fan boards. I mean, when the first fan boards started occurring
and they started theorizing and analyzing books in such detail, and I'm going back now
to the mid-'90s, really, when the first boards appeared.
Dragon Stone coming out of Australia that Peter Gibb ran, I think was the first board
I was aware of. And a couple others came up after that. I was very flattered and I did
read all the theories. And then precisely this point occurred where it says, "You know,
what if they're guessing the things that I haven't revealed yet? What if they guessed
them correctly? How does that affect me?"
Do I then say, "Oh, my God? They figured it out already. I'd better change it. Or do I
just ignore it and plow ahead? And what if they come up with better ideas than the ones
I had? Do I steal them?" And I didn't like any of these possibilities.
So I said it would be better for me to try to keep my distance and not go on these boards
and try to--. Somehow, it was a futile effort because people also write me emails and people
come to public forums like this. And they come up to me at signings and whisper their
theories in my ear.
And things like that. So, I am aware of some of the speculation out there, but I try to
keep my distance from it precisely because I don't wanna be impacted. I mean, it's one
of the drawbacks of the whole internet culture in this world that you guys have created--
that something that previously maybe one reader in a thousand would have guessed, but you
still had the other 999 who would have no inkling until you reveal it in a book. Now,
that one person in a thousand puts it on an internet message board and everybody sees
it and they say, "Oh, yeah, yeah. That's right. Now I see the clues. I got it."
And pretty soon, half the readership, or at least the internet savvy portion of your readership,
knows it. But what do you do then? Do you change it and come up with something goofy
and outlandish that you haven't lead the, that you haven't done the foreshadowing for,
that you haven't laid the foundation for just in order to surprise people?
I mean, sure. I could have like, aliens come down and--
that would certainly surprise the hell out of everybody. No one is predicting that, but
it would ruin the series.
So, basically you can't let yourself be influenced by this stuff. And I try not to.
>>Dan: Great. So, Rita Meyer, who is a Googler asked--as a sub question--"With the books
now being adapted for a successful TV series that you also write for, do you think this
will have an influence on the decisions and choices you make in the novels?"
>>George Martin: Well, once again, no. I hope not. The novels are novels and the TV series
is the TV series. And they're two different beasts. The TV series is very faithful so
far. I do write for the series.
I do one episode per season. I'm also co-executive producer on the series. I have great relationship
with David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who are the show runners and the main writers on the
series. But ultimately, that's their baby and the books are my baby. And--
[George Martin clears throat]
there is the possibility, that as faithful as we've started out and as faithful as we
intend to be, that changes will come into effect--what I call the "butterfly effect."
Which I'm sure, being the audience you are, you all understand because you've read Ray
Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder."
You step on a butterfly in the Pleistocene and it seems very minor, but suddenly you
return to the future and all of human history has changed because of that butterfly. A small
change can produce large changes later on. And that's a question on the show. I mean,
we've already seen in the first season, as faithful as it was, at least two significant
One character, who has his tongue torn out with hot pincers, who later in my books that
doesn't happen to him and he's around and gets involved pretty seriously in some stuff
in Book Three. He's not gonna be around to do that. So, David and Dan are gonna have
to remove that stuff or create a new character or somehow address that problem.
Similarly, the great scene in Book One or in the first season where Khal Drogo confronts
the man Mago, the Dothraki bloodrider and rips out his tongue. Terrific scene. Completely
made up by largely Jason Momoa and by Dan and David. It doesn't happen in my books.
Mago is still alive in the books and still has yet to be dealt with, so these kind of
butterfly effect things may produce changes down the road. But I mean, what am I gonna
do? Go back and retroactively rewrite Book One? Maybe I should.
That throat scene was great, but [laughs] no. I can't let myself be affected. I am aware
what they're doing in the show. I advise Dan and David whenever they're about to hit the
butterfly effect and sometimes they change according to that and sometimes they plunge
So, the two beasts are the two beasts and each one is separate from the other.
>>Dan: OK. So, coming from Tinanti in Slovenia, "What was your favorite and--well now we know
this--what was your favorite and least favorite scene in HBO's Game of Thrones?"
My favorite scene--. Well, this of course, I suppose everybody's seen this series now,
so I don't have to worry about giving things away. But, my favorite scene had to be the
end of Book--, end of Episode Nine, the execution of Ned. I thought they did that very powerfully.
It was not precisely as described in the books, but it was certainly moving and evocative.
The director did a great job on it. The script writers did a great job. They added a wonderful
grace note, which is when Ned is being led up to the stairs where he sees Arya and he
says to Yoren of the Night's Watch as he passes him he says, "Baylor," to set in motion Yoren
saving Arya, which is not in the books.
In the books, Yoren just spots her on his own and takes his own initiative. But it was
a great idea to give that little moment, that one last heroic act by Ned. So, I love that.
I love what they did with that moment. But there are a lot of great scenes that I love.
The final scene with Dany , the season closing episode, which I was in.
Considerable trepidation about because you know, how good were the dragons gonna be?
That's a big CGI thing. [clears throat] And it's a reality of television today that television
has become so good and the technical standards have become so good that a large portion of
the audience is judging us on the basis of what they're seeing on major motion pictures.
So, we always have to run the risk of if we do CGI, people will say, "Well, it's not as
good as what I saw in Lord of the Rings, or in the latest big budget science fiction picture."
And that's so frustrating 'cause of course those shows have immensely more time than
we do and they have budgets that are ten, twenty , a hundred times our budget.
And there was a time when the audience made that distinction. They did not expect [clears
throat] a chase scene on an episode of TJ Hooker to match what they would see in Bullitt
or The French Connection where a major motion picture cop scene at the time. But now they
do expect it and it's a challenge for our special effects guys and our technical guys
to live up to.
We have a very sizable budget for a television show, but it's still a television budget and
it's not a feature film budget. So, we're always having to wrestle with that. Least
favorite scene. You know, I don't know that I really have one.
I suppose my least favorite scene that actually appeared on camera would be the hunting scene
where Robert is boar hunting 'cause there was like a Robert and Renly and Barristan
were tromping through the woods alone and I talked to Dan and David and said, "You know?
There should be like, a hundred other guys and horses and tents."
And when the king goes hunting it's not like, "OK, I walking through the woods with a spear
And they don't disagree with that. I mean, they said, "Yeah, we would've liked all that
stuff too, but once again, it's budget. We had an hour to shoot that scene and our horse
budget was exhausted for the season."
So, there you are. So, the reality is--. I mean, the great thing about writing books,
as I do now, is that my budget is unlimited. I can write anything that I can think of and
I'm limited only by the size of my imagination, and by the size of the imagination of my readers.
[clears throat] But when you translate it to television and
film, you have the realities, not only of the budget, which I had mentioned, but also
the shooting schedule. You have to keep on schedule and if have a lot of trouble getting
a scene you were supposed to shoot in the morning, they give you less time to shoot
the scene in the afternoon.
But you can't slop over to the next day or you start getting a rolling effect and you
fall further and further behind your shooting schedule. And then, you're more and more over-budget
and it becomes a mess. So, all of that impacts, too. And this is all the kind of "behind the
scenes" technical stuff that really the viewers should not have to worry about.
It's the viewers should really just have to view the final product. But, nonetheless,
for those of us concerned with behind the scenes stuff, it's a reality of life. The
actual thing--. I mean, for the most part I loved all the scenes that were in the books
that they translated to the TV show.
I think they did all of those great. I also loved the vast majority of the new scenes
that they did. If I have any quibbles with the show, and they are quibbles, a very minor
thing, it was the missing scenes, the scenes that weren't there at all.
As I watched the show, frequently I would find myself thinking, "Oh, OK. Now they're
getting up to this scene that's really good. I can't--. Oh. They didn't have that scene."
They skipped over that scene. And some of them were scenes that I had seen the actors
do in auditions. They had been scenes that had actually helped the actors get their roles.
So I really expected them, 'cause I already knew, "Oh, the actor will do this great. I
already saw him do it in audition, sitting in a room in front of a curtain and now I'm
gonna get to see him do it in costume on the set." And then, oh. It's not there.
So, I would've loved to have two more hours to have a 12 episode season instead of ten.
And of course to have an extra 50 million dollars.
But who of us wouldn't want an extra 50 million dollars?
>>Dan: They did do a great job. As a fan, when you're only complaint is that Syrio has
hair and one guy looks like Orlando Bloom, you're doing really good.
>>George Martin: We get a fair amount of people who are upset about no purple eyes, too. I
get "Why aren't their eyes purple?" Well, try wearing purple contacts and see how you'd
>>Male Presenter: So Dan, we have some Googler questions that were collected through Google
Moderator and we'll kick off with one of these right now. This one's from Peter in San Francisco.
He writes, "The sex, nudity, violence, and gore in the HBO series--so, continuing with
our previous question--has been very much like the books.
It preserved a similar feel. Could you please discuss the creative process around the inclusion
of this mature content? Was there any pressure to tone it up or down?"
>>George Martin: Well Chris, there was no pressure on me 'cause I'm hardly involved.
I mean, I am basically a consultant who writes one episode per season. And so, whether there
was pressure on Dan and Dave to go one way or another, I really don't know. If so, they
didn't share it with me.
We did make some decisions early on that we wanted to include that material and the biggest
one is where we took the show. When Dan and Dave and I decided that we would do this project
together and I attached them, we discussed this at some length and said, "We have to
HBO was our first choice and pretty much our only choice. If HBO had said no, or they weren't
interested, yeah, we could've gone to another couple other cable outlets, but I think we
were all agreed right from the beginning that we weren't gonna go to traditional networks,
ABC or CBS or NBC, or any of those, simply because they would've made us remove all of
Everything would have been gone and much toned down violence, no sex whatsoever, just sort
of a few hints of sex, and certainly no inappropriate sex.
And a fantasy series, they would have slotted us as an 8 o'clock show. I mean, I've been
through this in my Hollywood years. I worked ten years in Hollywood from the mid-'80s to
the mid-'90s and I worked on a couple shows, Twilight Zone, the Twilight Zone revival and
Beauty and the Beast.
Both of which were 8 o'clock shows, despite the fact, on both shows, we kept saying, "We
don't wanna be an 8 o'clock show. We wanna be like a 9 o'clock or a 10 o'clock show because
the standards and practices--the censorship things--are a little looser there. And you
could do a little more material."
And you know the network guys would promise us, "Well, we know that. We really think of
you as an adult show, not a kiddie show, but we have no room on the schedule, so we'll
put you as an 8 o'clock show, but we'll treat you as a 9 o'clock show."
And then we would be put as an 8 o'clock show and those guys, who were the programming guys,
would suddenly no longer be around and instead, we'd be dealing with standards and practices
guys, who were censors who would say, "I don't care what programming told you. You're an
8 o'clock show. And these are our 8 o'clock standards."
So, we made a decision right away, we're gonna go with HBO. HBO has that kind of stuff whether
it's a 7 o'clock show, an 8 o'clock show, 5:30 show, they don't care.
You're signing up for HBO. You're paying a subscription. You know what you're getting
and what you're getting is something you can't get on the over-the-air networks. So that's
part of it.
And then the other big decision we have to make to keep all that material was the ages
of the characters. In the books, Dany is 13 years old when all this begins. And I was
drawing, although my books have fantasy, they're not historical fiction in a strict sense.
They occur in an imaginary world and in imaginary kingdoms. They're very heavily based on real
medieval history. And of course, I've done a ton of research on real medieval history.
And basically in the Middle Ages, they did not have our concept of adolescence, of this
teenage year, in-between, where they're adults but they're not adults and we have different
ages where we're allowed to vote at this age and we're allowed to go war and die at a different
age and we're allowed to drink at another age and have sex at a different age, depending
on which state we're in.
All of that stuff. They had child and adult. And the difference between them was the onset
of sexual maturity. And we still have, in our cultures, remnants of this older structure
in our ceremonies, the Jewish bar mitzvah, the Catholic confirmation ceremony, which
I went through it at 13, reaffirming as an adult the vows made for me , made by my God
parents at baptism.
The Catholics once considered 13 adulthood. And I promise you that even when I went through
my confirmation ceremony, my parents no longer did not consider me an adult even after I
went through the rite of passage. So, these things are just remnants now, but they weren't
remnants in the Middle Ages and they're not in the books.
We have a very different way of looking at things. So, I was using that based on historical
precedent. But there was no way that was gonna fly in our present environment. We couldn't
do that. If we had cast a 13-year old Dany , there could have been no sexual stuff whatsoever
And even if we had cast like a 17-year old actress playing a 13-year old, there are some
very stringent laws in like, the United Kingdom. You can't do that even if you have an actress
whose past the age of consent playing someone who is under the age of consent.
You cannot have a sexual situation. It goes against the whole child pornography thing
and stuff like that. So, we have a 22-year old actress playing a 17-year old Dany, instead
of a 17-year old actress playing a 13-year old Dany. And we did that deliberately so
we could include this material.
So, I think that speaks to the fact that we did think it was necessary to the story we
wanted to tell and all that. Of course, once you make that change, you have to make all
of the other changes and you have to age up the other characters because Dany's birth
ties to the--.
You know she was born posthumously, nine months after the Battle of the Triton and the fall
of King's Landing and so the ages of the other characters has to be adjusted accordingly
and it becomes a whole, once again, the butterfly effect. And so, the whole thing is a tapestry
and you can't just change one string without the whole thing unraveling.
So, Dan and David made this whole series of changes. But a long answer to a short question,
I guess. [audience chuckles]
>>Dan: Good answer, there. So, I know you've got the prequel novellas out there, but DNJ
Sid and Lisa in San Diego asks, "Would you ever consider writing a prequel to the Song
of Ice and Fire series once it's finally done, such as the back story of Lyanna and Rhaegar
, or Ned and Robert? I'd love to see how it all started."
And by the way, when you're answering the questions, feel free to correct the pronunciation.
It's happened a few times.
>>George Martin: OK. I don't have any plans to do any of those stories, but I never rule
anything out. If I get an inspiration or one of those stories suddenly takes hold in my
imagination and won't let go, sure.
Maybe I'll do something like that. One of the things I've been trying to do with the
series is to tell these stories. Tell the stories of Robert's rebellion and some of
the stories of the history of Westeros in successive revelations and flashbacks and
people remembering things.
So, at the same time the story is moving forward, it's also moving backward and gaps are being
filled in and you're learning. You hear about this event in the first book and hear a little
more about it in the second book. And then the third book, you heard about it from a
different person who has a very different version of what happened from the previous
versions you've heard.
And there's this hole in it which gets filled in the fourth book. So, I hope by the time
it's all finished, I will have expanded backwards as well as going on forwards. And many of
the gaps will have been filled in and you'll know more about the whole Robert and Rhaegar
and everything like that.
But it's not quite the same as telling the story about them, I realize. I still have
two more gigantic books to write, though. So,--
>>Dan: And six years to finish them.
>>George Martin: Right. Yes. I'm very fast, so--
I don't know what I'm gonna write after that. Whatever seizes me. I mean, I like to do different
things as a writer. This has been a huge project. Certainly the biggest thing I've ever done
in my life or career, but I've done other things and hope to continue to do other things.
As much as I love Ice and Fire and fantasy, I also love science fiction. I wanna do more
science fiction work. I wanna do more short stories. I love doing those. Wild Cards, which
is a series I've been working on even longer than Ice and Fire. I've been, in the beginning
of Wild Cards, I wrote a lot for it as well as editing it.
Now the series is still ongoing. Mostly I edit these days 'cause I don't have time to
write for it. But I'd love to go back and write some more Wild Card material, about
some of the characters for that. So, what will I feel like writing after those six years
are done? Who knows?
Whatever I feel like writing on that particular day. There was someone at the podium I think
who had another--.
>>Female Shirt Designer: Hi. So, we have another question. It is, "Given HBO's history of completely
changing story lines--I'm looking at you, True Blood--how did you get them to stay so
true to your complex-as-all-hell novels?"
>>George Martin: Candy and chocolates.
You know, it's David and Dan really. David Benioff and Dan Weiss are the show runners.
I don't have any veto power. I signed a pretty standard contract where I gave them rights
to adapt this into a television series and I got certain titles and agreed I'd write
one script a year and a large dump truck full of money.
And they can have the aliens come down next season. [ audience chuckles] They can turn
the whole cast into vampires.
And I'm powerless to stop them, but I don't think they will do that. They love the books
and they seem committed to telling my story in a different medium. And I knew all that
before I signed any of the contracts.
I mean, when these books started hitting the New York Times Bestseller List, which was
as early as "A Clash of Kings" I was approached by other people who wanted to adapt them,
many for feature films. And I had meetings with those people and heard their plans.
How were they gonna fit this giant thing into feature film? "Well, we're gonna make it all
about John Snow and drop all these other characters." Or, "We'll make it all about Dany and we'll
drop all these other characters." They had various schemes of how they would do it.
Or, "Well, we'll just make the first book up to this point and then we hope that the
movie will do well enough to order a second movie." And none of these really appealed
to me. So, I said no, which is--. It's always said that no is the sexiest word you can say
in Hollywood. The more you say no, the more they want you and--
I guess it was true 'cause they kept coming. And eventually, David and Dan came and we
had a wonderful meeting that lasted like most of a day. We met for lunch and we were talking
and getting all animated about how we were gonna do the series over lunch in a crowded
restaurant in Los Angeles.
And little by little, it emptied out and pretty soon we were the only people there drinking
our seventh cup of coffee and iced tea and still talking about it. And then, more hours
passed and we're still talking and the restaurant dinner crowd is coming in and then they're
setting up for dinner.
I think we closed out the restaurant that night. So, it was one of those classic meetings
that you only get once in a while. But I had a great feeling about them. I mean, if you're
J. K. Rowling, you can go into a situation where every studio in Hollywood wants you
and you can set very stringent terms where you get to approve everything.
But if you're not J. K. Rowling, and virtually nobody is J. K. Rowling, except for J. K.
Rowling, then you can't do that. And you have to find people that you trust and put your
faith in them and in the understanding of the story. Which is something that I think
I also understood a fair amount of that because of my ten years working in Hollywood in the
effect that I had seen the other side of the process.
Sometimes, I think some of my fellow novelists who have not worked in television and film
are very naive about this process. They get an offer and there's the dump truck full of
money and they sign it, they cash the check and then they’re not involved in the series.
They may get invited to premiere and they come out of the premiere looking like all
of their children have just been gassed [audience chuckles] and with a stunned look on their
face 'cause everything has been changed. And it's, some of them get very upset and start
writing angry editorials and things like that.
I haven't heard of anyone except Alan Moore actually returning the check however. So,
I think there's a certain, I don't know, hypocrisy there. It's not a secret that Hollywood does
change things and maybe they change too many things.
When I had my writer hat off and I put on my reader and my fan boy hat, I get upset
as anyone and I can go on for a long time about how they change things in Spiderman
and the Fantastic Four in ways that I don't approve of.
But nonetheless, you gotta know the job is dangerous when you take it, you know?
>>Dan: Good. This one's for the nerds. So, DanFoley182 in the UK asks, "Is it possible
to warg into a dragon?"
[George Martin laughs]
>>George Martin: Well, we'll have to see about that, won't we?
>>Dan: Fusion, also from England, asks, "How do you decide the characters that get to be
a POV character? I read somewhere you resisted adding a character as a POV for a while until
finally giving in. And so, I wondered the kind of decisions you have to make in that
regard. Are there certain traits that a POV character needs, or do they just need to be
>>George Martin: Well, I try to give each of my POV characters a story. And I had an
occasional POV character who only lasted a chapter and then dies. So, in that case, it's
a very short story.
But it's nonetheless a story. It should have the semblance of a beginning, a middle, and
an end. Even if it's not connected to the main story of the books, it should have a
certain "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" sort of thing. I mean, that was their
story, which was off to the side of Hamlet's story, but both part of the larger story.
I try to resist having POV characters who are just there to be a pair of eyes. If a
battle is taking place, or someone is being murdered and I don't have a POV character
there to see it, I tend to present that as a report that someone receives or a rumor,
rather than just switching into third guardsman on the left--
so I can have him see that. 'Cause I don't like that as a reader and I don't like that
as a writer. But one of the criteria--. So, I guess one criteria is do they have a story
and what is the story of the POV character? Another thing though is the thing of a pair
of eyes. And sometimes you need--.
The question is, is it important to present this thing on stage to dramatize it and have
the reader actually go through it, or is it sufficient that we just hear about it, hear
a summary? Do you need full dramatization, or is summary narrative sufficient? And if
we need the scene to be brought out then we may need a POV character there.
And can I get any of my existing POV characters there? I mean, I've talked--. Those of you
who read my not-a-blog will know that with Dance With Dragons, one of the things that
I've wrestled with for a long time was what I call the Meereenese Knot, which I can't
go into in any great detail without the spoiling of tremendous things, but five years from
now, maybe if the next book is out or something and everybody has read this book, I will talk
more about that in more detail.
But a lot of it simply had to do with a number of POV characters being together and some
important events coming on, which some of them would see from one viewpoint and some
from another and some wouldn't really know what was going on. So, how do I get these
particular sequence of events to cross with what point of view?
And I would write something from one point of view and it wouldn't quite work, so I'd
write it from a different point of view and that wouldn't work either and I'd try splitting
it. I finally solved that problem in part by introducing a new point of view, who was
much more centrally located, but he'd been a character who'd been there all along and
he was deeply involved in the thing.
And it all fell into place once I introduced that. So, you can have that kind of breakthrough.
But I do need to kill a lot more of my point of view characters--
because there have gotten to be an awful lot of them.
>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER: Who? [laughter]
>>George Martin: So, which ones will die? Well, you'll just have to keep reading to
find it out.
>>Dan: And I think the character you’re referring to is the one who was asked about.
>>George Martin: OK. Next.
>>Dan: Another Googler question.
>>MALE #1: OK, so this question is asking if you could take back one thing you wrote
in any of your books, what would it be?
>>George Martin: One thing I wrote in any of my books? Well, I would take back the little
one-page thing at the end of Feast for Crows where I say that the next book will be out
within a year.
[laughter and clapping]
That one has gotten me into no end of trouble. All I could say is I meant it at the time.
I mean, I was splitting off 500 pages from a 1500 page manuscript, so I only had to write
another 500 pages. I can write 500 pages in a year. I've done it before.
Of course, the book tended, turned out to need an extra thousand pages, not 500 pages,
and I would up rewriting almost all of the 500 pages that I was pulling out. So, I turned
out to be a lot more than 500 pages. And even that being said, yeah I can write 500 pages
in a year.
In a good year. I've had good years in which I've written entire 500-page novels start
to finish. But that's not to say I could do it every year, regular as clockwork. I am,
unfortunately, a slow writer and have always been a slow writer.
But I'm a slow writer given to delusions of optimism that I can be a faster writer [chuckles]
under certain circumstances. Sometimes I am, but more often I'm not.
>>Dan: Great. So, we had a whole bunch of questions around this, so we had to pick one
of the most popular ones and go with it. BTFabian1 asks, "I'm just curious. Several authors I
read have discussed how hard it is to sometimes kill off certain characters."
Which clearly is not an issue here. "You've certainly killed plenty off in your career,
both in and out of A Song of Ice and Fire. Which character was the toughest to kill off?"
>>George Martin: Well, I won't mention any character names, but the Red Wedding was the
hardest thing I ever wrote. And those who read the books know what I'm referring to.
That chapter occurs about two-thirds of the way through Storm of Swords, but it was actually
the last thing I wrote for that book.
When I reached that chapter, I couldn’t write it. I skipped over it. I wrote all the
aftermath and the other things. I wrote the other wedding. There was someone else that
dies. That one was easy and fun to write.
[laughter and clapping]
'Cause everybody wanted to see that little shit die.
Actually, I'm being glib. I should say, yeah, that was an easier chapter to write. But even
at the moment that that particular little shit does die, I tried to write it so that
you would feel a moment of empathy for him in his dying and bring home the point that
this, too, was a human being who was scared and terrified and then dead.
But only after everything else was finished, did I go back and force myself to write the
actual Red Wedding chapter, simply because it was so painful to write. I invest a lot
in these characters and particularly viewpoint characters. I live inside their skin, so it's
a little like killing a part of yourself or smothering one of your children.
But sometimes it has to be done for the service of the almighty god of the story.
And the story always comes first.
>>Dan: And related to that, do you ever find that it would've been more expedient had you
not killed a character off later on?
>>George Martin: No. Not really. Not really. Sometimes my readers write me and they wish
I hadn't killed off a particular character, but there was a reason for all of the major
I mean, a lot of minor characters die, too. And sometimes, I don't even remember they're
dead, you know?
I'm saying some Night's Watch expedition leaves out and it has Fred, Bill, and Sam on it.
And Elio of Westeros points out "you actually killed Bill two books ago." Oh, damn. I forgot
He died in a fenz attack, but fortunately I have fans who have sharper eyes than I who
will point out this stuff. But the major character deaths have all been planned or all a part
of the story and I don't regret them.
>>Dan: Hopefully this means Syrio will pop back up again. Can we have another Googler
>>Female Shirt Designer: OK, so this next question is, "In your books, there are several
religious systems, such as The Seven, The Drowned God, The Faceless Man, The Old Gods,
etc. How do you come up with such a detailed, yet entirely distinct, doctrines? Are there
any that aren't detailed in the books?
>>George Martin: Well, yes. To start with the last part first, yes, there are many religions
that are not detailed. You can see some of them in Arya's Brava’s chapters, where she
visits--, passes through the Islands of Gods and I throw in references to 17 different
obscure religions that I'm probably never gonna reveal in much detail.
But some of them are, of course, little tips of the hats to other fantasy authors and mythos'
that I admire. I mean, there is both a Roger Zelazny homage and a H. P. Lovecraft homage
on that Isle of the Gods for those who are sharp enough to see them. I do that kind of
shit all the time.
The Three Stooges are in Book One if you're sharp enough to find them. [chuckles] The
major religions that actually play a significant role in the story are somewhat based on real
religions, or real religious systems.
Although, I don't believe in just doing a one to one transformation where I'm gonna
take like, Islam and file off the serial numbers and call it Mislam or something.
And pretend it's the same. I take certain tenants of the religions, but I maybe take
part of this and part of that and I meld them together and I think about it and I add a
few imaginative elements.
But certainly, the Old Guards of the North with the trees worship, I mean, that's based
on animism and traditional Pagan beliefs of Wicca and various other Celtic systems and
Norse systems. I meld it into a construct of my own. And with the fantasy element of
the Weirwood trees added as a central element there, the faith of The Seven is very loosely
modeled on the medieval Catholic Church.
But again, with different elements. I mean, of course the Catholic Church, which I was--.
I'm no longer a practicing Catholic, but that was how I was born and raised, has the whole
concept. The heart of the Trinity, which was explained to me as it's three but it's also
one, which kids can never get.
It's like, "OK, we have three gods." "No, no. You don't have three gods. You have one
God. He has three parts." "OK." So, we don't have three. We just have one. It's like the
shamrock that was held. The three-leaf clover. So, I did that except I made it seven instead
I have the whole where we have the seven gods, we have seven personas, instead of Father,
Son, and Holy Ghost. We have Maiden, Mother, and Crone, which of course I took from Paganism
as the traditional female thing. I hobbled the male side together and then I added The
Stranger as the God of Death, who's also the center of the Cult of The Faceless Men.
I mean, I think worship of death is an interesting basis for religion because after all, death
is the one universal. It doesn't seem to matter what gods you pray to. We all die in the real
world and in fantasy worlds. So, if there was one culture where you did not die, I suspect
that would be, that God would become very popular.
They will promise us eternal life, but whatever. [audience chuckles] So my faith with its hierarchies,
its High Septon, and its Septs and its orders of essentially monks and priests and so forth
is loosely based on Catholicism. And then you have the Red God, the Lord of Light from
across the sea, which has a certain Zoroastrianism elements to it with the fire worship and so
forth and the duality .
The Albigensian Crusade, -the Cathars, who are exterminated by the Catholics and the
Great Albigensian Crusade. But they had the fundamental belief, a dualist religion, that
there were two gods, a good god and an evil god. And the world we live in was created
by the evil god, which when you look at the world, particularly the Medieval world, it's
If, you know, what kind of good god would create that kind of crap, you know? What kind
of good god sits around saying, "Hmm, leprosy. Good idea."
"Let's give them leprosy. Hmmm." So, the Lord of Light. So, all the religions are based--.
This is my general philosophy, I think, for fantasy is base it in reality, but then get
a little imaginative to it and rework the elements and put this with that and add your
own touch to it.
And, but the grounding it in reality, I think, give it a certain verisimilitude, plausibility
where just entirely made-up religions that are unconnected to anything, it's much more
difficult to make them plausible.
>>Dan: OK. Amon Shin in Maine asks, "If you lived in Westeros, which house would you like
to be part of, or in which area would you like to live?"
>>George Martin: Well, you know, there's something to be said for being an honorable Stark, but
you're kinda cold all the time and--
poor and so forth. And you have a lot of land, but there's not a lot of stuff on it, you
know? On the other hand, if you're in Lannister, you have a nice house and all the gold you
want and all of that stuff.
So, there's a lot to be said for being a Lannister. I don't know. Maybe I could probably see me
being a Lannister.
And I would always pay my debts.
>>Dan: Great. Let's take another Googler question.
>>MALE #1: OK, so this question asks, "How do you keep all the secrets of the book-to-come
to yourself? Are you dying to tell people what you know, or do a few people already
>>George Martin: I'm not dying to tell everyone what I know. Eventually, I will have to yield
up on my secrets. But actually, if anything, maybe I hold on to some of these things too
long. I don't know. There's always the question, "When do you reveal something? How long do
you draw it out?"
And the books are full of little puzzles and enigmas and reversals and how do you place
those? You don't want to give it away too soon, but if you stretch it out too long,
everybody's gonna guess it anyway. So, at what point is that? But, I kind of like having
the puzzles and you need to keep at least some of the puzzles till the end.
So, but then again, you can't keep them all to the end, otherwise you end with a final
chapter that's just one guy endlessly talking about "well there's this, and then there's
this and the explanation to this is this."
It's a very boring and not very good chapter. So, David and Dan know a few things, a few
important revelations. So, eventually if I am hit by a truck or something like that,
they would know a few things, but they don't know all by any means. And my editors know
a few things and have guessed a few things.
I suspect that some of the fans probably know more than anything else. I mean, I'm gonna
be doing the concordance. The Ice and Fire concordance is the next project in the World
of Ice and Fire, which is under contract at Bantam and Random House.
And I'm doing that with Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson of the Westeros site. And I swear
they know Westeros better than I do. I mean, the Elio's knowledge of it is just absolutely
When I'm writing the books, I sometimes call him up and say, "I'm about to introduce this
character. I think I mentioned him in Book Three. Did I ever say what color his eyes
are?" And within a half hour, I get "blue-grey, page 314, second book."
Oh, Very good. [chuckles]
>>George Martin: I hate eye colors. Everybody should have the same color eyes. I'm constantly
getting screwed up on eye colors.
>>Dan: Just make them all purple.
>>George Martin: Yeah. [chuckles]
>>Dan: So, we probably have time for one more question. And I think the next one's such
a good one we should probably use a Googler one.
>>Female Shirt Designer: The question is, "The women in leadership roles seem particularly
challenged. Can you share your insights about women in positions of power?"
>>George Martin: I don't know if I have any particular views about women in positions
of power. Although, I think it's more difficult for women, particularly in a medieval setting,
than for men because in addition to all the usual problems of having power, they have
the additional problem of that they're a woman and a lot of people don't want them in a position
of power in what is basically a patriarchal society.
So, that is a challenge to all of my queens or would-be queens. And once again, I'm drawing
from medieval history on that. You can repeatedly see some of the women who assume positions
of power, be it Cleopatra in Ancient Egypt, or the Empress Maude during the great English
Civil War, the war between Steven and Maude, who was essentially rejected simply because
she was a woman.
And even though her claim to the throne was very clear cut and was endorsed by her father,
the King, and yet they turned to a cousin instead simply because he had a dick.
Well, to be fair he was also charming and she was sort of difficult. But nonetheless,
there is that additional challenge. But one thing that I'm trying to get at in the books--a
political aspect if you would--is to show that this stuff is hard. I mean, I think an
awful lot of fantasy and even some great fantasy falls into the mistake of assuming that the
good man will be a good king.
That is, all that is necessary is to be like a decent human being and then when you're
king, of course, everything will go swimmingly. And even Tolkien, who is the, I think, my
respect for Tolkien is second to none and all modern fantasy flows from Tolkien, but
there's an unspoken assumption in his books there that Return of the King.
Aragorn is the king now. Everything will be hunky dory. The land will prosper and it'll
be wonderful and the crops will be good and there will be justice for all and the enemies
will be defeated. And you never actually get into the nitty gritty of Aragorn ruling. And
what is his tax policy?
And how does he feel about crop rotation?
How does he handle land disputes between two nobles, both of whom think that they should
have this particular village? So, they take turns burning it down in order to establish
this claim that--.
These are the hard parts of ruling and be it in the Middle Ages or now, and of course,
it's not enough to be a good man to be an effective ruler. And it never has been. If
it has been, Jimmy Carter would be the greatest President of the 20th Century. I mean, he's
clearly, I think, the best human being to be President in my lifetime.
But he not a particularly effective president. For all his decency and his humanity and his
compassion and his undoubted intelligence. I mean, the man was a nuclear engineer in
the Navy. But nonetheless, he failed at it. And there are some examples of medieval kings
in history who were terrible human beings, but they were nonetheless very good kings
for their country.
So, it's complicated and it's hard. And I want to show not just with the women, but
you see in my books repeated examples of both kings and the hand of the king, the Prime
Minister if you would, trying to rule. And whether it be Ned Stark or Tyrion Lannister
or Tywin Lannister or Daenerys Targaryen, in the latest book, Cersei Lannister in the
book before that.
And trying to deal with some of the real challenges that affect anyone trying to rule the Seven
Kingdoms or even the city like Meereen. And it's hard. We can all read these books or
look at history as, "Oh, so and so was stupid. They made a lot of mistakes. Look at all these
stupid mistakes they make."
But these kinds of mistakes are always much more apparent in hindsight than when you're
actually faced with the decision of "My God, what would I do in this situation? How do
I resolve the thing? Do I do the moral thing? But what about the political consequences
of the moral thing? Do I do the pragmatic, cynical thing and just screw the people who
are screwed by it?"
I mean, it's hard. And I wanna get to all of that and be it a male ruler or a woman’s
>>Dan: So everyone. That brings us to about time. Thanks everyone in the room for coming
along. Thanks for submitting your great questions. Thanks everyone on the stream for tuning in.
And George, thank you so much for taking the time out to come in, answer the questions
>>George Martin: It's my pleasure. It's been a thrill to be here and to take place in this
high-tech computer things. I think you should bring some of these strange machines of yours
to Westeros so they could probably entirely replace the whole thing of tying messages
to the legs of ravens.
>>Dan: Great. Thanks, George.
>>George Martin: Thanks.
[upbeat music plays]