Martin on His ‘Game of Thrones’ Inspiration

Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin describes the realities of human nature that george rr martinunderpin the success of the book series that spawned a hit television series.


You can also watch the full version of this interview.

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: The land of Westeros is the mythical setting for the blockbuster book and mini-series that is Game of Thrones.

It’s an epic fantasy, but one of the reasons for its runaway success is its central themes are deeply rooted in reality – power, lust, love, family, duty, disgrace and honour are timeless pieces of the human puzzle. And the man behind books and the mini-series it spawned is a great storyteller. I spoke with George R.R. Martin earlier today.

George Martin, welcome to 7.30.

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN, AUTHOR: I’m glad to be here.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Is your life a testament to the fact that there is actually a value in daydreaming?

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Actually, yes, I think it is, I think it is. I’ve been daydreaming and nightdreaming my entire life, from my childhood in Bayonne, New Jersey. I grew up in the projects in Bayonne, New Jersey. My father was a longshoreman. We didn’t have much money. Didn’t even own a car. I lived in a world that was five blocks long. But, Bayonne, New Jersey, my hometown, was a peninsula and there was a deep water channel right across the street from me where the big ships would go from Newark Bay to New York Bay with all the different flags – Australian flags and New Zealand and Scandinavia and China and Liberia, and I would dream about being on those ships and where they were going. And at a very early age, I started reading comic books and then science fiction and fantasy books and then books of all sorts.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well take us to Game of Thrones. When did you first start imagining this world?

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: 1991. I remember it very vividly. It was the summer of 1991. I was working a lot in Hollywood at the time. I’d been on a couple of shows as a writer-producer on Twilight Zone Revival, on Max Headroom, on Beauty and the Beast and I was doing development, trying to come up with my own concepts for pilots. But I didn’t have any immediate assignments in the summer of ’91, so I said, “Let me write a novel. It’s been four or five years since I had my last novel out.” And I started this science fiction novel that I’d begun – been planning for years. And it was going pretty well. I was, like, 40, 50 pages into it when suddenly the idea for the first chapter of Game of Thrones came to me, the chapter where they find the direwolf pups in the summer snows. I knew right from the beginning that they were summer snows, that phrase was one of the germs and that there’s something wrong in this world with the seasons and that these direwolves were important and that each one would have a connection with one of the children of the leading family and I started writing that chapter and it just poured out of me in about three days, and by the time I’d finished it, I knew what the second chapter would be and I went on to that and then the third chapter and so on and so forth.

I like grey characters. I like people who have both good and evil in them ’cause I think real people have both good and evil. There are very few pure paladins in the world and there are very few totally evil people. We all have the capacity for heroism in us. We all have the capacity for selfishness and evil in us.

How do you play this Game of Thrones, this cut-throat game? Do you play it according – clean and noble, according to the rules that you’ve been taught? You do that, you could very well lose your life and you could lose the lives of people that you love and your family or your children, because the other people that you’re playing with are not playing by the same rules. So then do you compromise your principles and get down and dirty with them and play it in the rough and mean way that you think might be necessary to win? Well then maybe you survive a little longer, but what have you become in the end? I mean, these are issues that I think are very much worth talking about, not only in fiction, but of course we see this reflected all around us in the real world, the constant struggle of ideals versus Realpolitik.

CHRIS UHLMANN: The series is very true to the book.

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Yes, very much so.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And you’ve got a lot of control over what happens with the series.

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: I wouldn’t say I have a lot of control, but I have a voice. I write the books, David Benioff and Dan Weiss are the showrunners. They write the majority of the scripts. I do one script per season. …

… I’ve been very excited and pleased about what it’s done. And among other things, of course, it’s getting me millions of new readers through the books, ’cause the people who watch the show then go out and buy the books and I’m all in favour of that.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Now of course on the books, the question all your fans want to know is: when will the next one be out?

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: When will the next one be out? Well that’s a good question. December. But it’s a book called Dangerous Women that I edited with my friend, Gardner Dozois, and it does have an Ice and Fire novella in it, a novella I wrote called the Princess and The Queen, about a Targaryen civil war 150 years before the events of the main books. So, that’s – that will have to appease them until I finish the Winds of Winter, which is still a ways. I mean, these books are enormous; they take me a long time to write. Someone asked me at Supernova this weekend, “What’s the hard part of writing?,” and my answer was, “The words. The words are hard.” (Laughs)

CHRIS UHLMANN: So, look, you began your life as a daydreaming boy. Does your life seem like a daydream now?

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: A little bit, yeah, a little bit. But it’s worked out pretty well and I don’t think I’d change much of anything.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Well George Martin, thank you very much for speaking with us on 7.30.

GEORGE R.R. MARTIN: Oh, my pleasure. I was thrilled to be here.

CHRIS UHLMANN: And I told my teachers that daydreaming wasn’t a waste of time. And you can see an extended version of that interview on our website later this evening.

You can also watch the full version of this interview.