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Martin talks about new series Game of Thrones

Published: 
Saturday, June 11, 2011
The battle between good and evil reigns…
George RR Martin.

There’s something about fantasy writers that demands two R’s in their middle names. JRR Tolkein, George RR Martin, the 62-year-old latter readily admits his debt to the former. He started writing sci-fi and fantasy stories in the 1970s with mixed success, paying his way writing pilots for TV. In 1996 A Game of Thrones, the first volume of his seven-book epic A Song of Fire and Ice was published—drenched in his trademark melancholy and cynicism. HBO picked up the TV rights in 2007 and the first season stars Sean Bean, Lena Heady, Mark Addy and Peter Dinklage. Here’s what the author and co-executive producer of the TV series had to say about it.

George RR Martin: It’s been pretty exciting all the way. First it was: ‘Can we sell this to HBO?’ David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) pitched it. They liked the pilot; we got a series order…so it’s gratifying to see it become real. And sometimes I have to pinch myself a little. I worked in Hollywood for ten years, in-between my book writing. Roughly from the mid-80s to the mid-90s I was on a couple of shows, initially Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast and after that I did five years of development. I wrote about five or six pilots for television series. And I wrote a number of feature films and I think I did some pretty good work here. I was proud of it, but none of it ever went all the way. I learned at a certain point that Hollywood will break your heart. Don’t believe in anything until it actually happens, but when it happens it’s very sweet. David and Dan have done an incredible job, and we’ve put together this amazing cast and terrific directors.

Q: How much involvement did you have in the production?

GM: My title is co-executive producer. I write one script a year for the show, so I wrote episode eight of this season. And I’ve been involved with the casting and various other discussions. I don’t have any veto power, but we have a great relationship, they consult with me, and sometimes they listen to me and sometimes they don’t. But I definitely feel I’m part of it.  If I could only clone myself, I would write three or four episodes instead of just one, and be on the set every day like David and Dan are for the usual requisite 27 hours a day. But unfortunately then the books wouldn’t get written. I’m way late with this fifth book and I have two more books to write beyond that. So the present situation is working well for me.

Q: David and Dan reference things like The Sopranos and The Wire. What was your inspiration for the novels originally?

GM: Well, certainly epic fantasy was one of the great influences. I’m a huge fan of Tolkien. I first read him back when I was in New Jersey, at a very early age, and it just blew me away. It’s a book that I re-read every few years just for pleasure. I wrote fantasy short stories back in the 70s, and always intended to do something in the field.  But I also like to mix and match genres and if you look at my history as a writer you’ll see a lot of that, where I’ll take a science fiction and horror and weave them together, or I’ll take a mystery story and a fantasy story and mix something like that. In the case of this, I wanted to mix the traditions of epic fantasy with those of historical fiction. History is amazing. If you read popular history, the ones full of stories - that’s what I love. I’m always reading those and saying to my wife, ‘You can’t make this stuff up; this is amazing. Look at these things that have happened here.’

Q: Have you liked what you’ve seen of the casting and the footage?

GM: Completely.

Q: Most of your characters are very morally ambiguous…

GM: Well, much as I admire Tolkien, he did things in Lord of the Rings that were brilliant in and of themselves, but in the hands of the Tolkien imitators who have followed him these things have become terrible clichés. One of them is this question of good versus evil, where there’s a Dark Lord and he has minions who are usually dressed all in black and they’re very ugly and they have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I think the battle between good versus evil is within the individual human heart. We all have the capacity for good in us, we all have the capacity for evil, and I’ve always been attracted to grey characters rather than black and white characters. You read about these people who perform a heroic act and then the next day or the next year, ten years from now, perform a horrible act.

And it’s the same person. So is that an evil person because they did an evil thing? Does that discount the good act? The questions of redemption and character change are very interesting to me and that’s what I’m exploring. And that’s one of the things I’m proudest of about these books—the characters I’ve created are very grey. On the fan sites and the Web sites and e-mails, I see people debating whether they like this character or that character. And that’s the way we debate about real people.

Q: With fantasy there’s always a lot of violence. Why do you bring sexuality to the genre?

GM: Well, sex is a huge part of life—it’s a huge part of human nature, part of history and people’s motivations. I think excluding sex is excluding a very important part of human nature. Critics will talk about whether it’s gratuitous sex. I’ve balked at that word “gratuitous.” What does that mean? What is gratuitous feasting and gratuitous heraldry and gratuitous descriptions of the clothes that people wear? I reject all of that. My goal as a writer is to create a vicarious experience, to put them in the book, to get that transcendent moment where it’s not like you’re sitting in a chair reading but you’re living the book and it’s happening to you. I wanna give my readers a feast, and I want them to taste the food, and I wanna take them into the bedroom and show them what’s happening in the sex scene, whether it’s a great transcendent, exciting, mind blowing sex, or whether it’s disturbing, twisted, dark sex, or disappointing perfunctory sex (laughter), or whatever is happening there.

Q: There are some pretty spectacular locations—Belfast quarry, shipyards, Malta…

GM: When we shot in Morocco (pilot), we were using the Kingdom of Heaven set that Ridley Scott had built, the walls of Jerusalem, which is an amazing set. It looks like a real medieval walled city surrounded by rotting siege towers and trebuchets. When David Benioff told me that we would be reshooting the footage in Malta instead, I said, ‘You know, we are going to lose that great Ridley Scott set that he built there for the walls of Jerusalem,’ and David said, ‘Well, it’s true that Ridley Scott built some fantastic sets, but he doesn’t have anything on the knights of Saint John and the fortifications that they built in the middle ages,’ (laughs) so I am really looking forward to seeing those on film…

George RR Martin is author of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire and co-executive producer for the TV series Game of Thrones.