Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin

Updated: 11 Oct 2011
Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin

Time Out KL talks to George R R Martin about bringing medieval fantasy to cable TV and rehashing Tolkien.

'A Game of Thrones’ – also the first volume of George R R Martin’s seven-book epic ‘A Song of Fire and Ice' – was published in 1996 and the fantasy story now makes it to the telly. With Sean Bean, Lena Heady, Mark Addy and Peter Dinklage buttressing the series, the plotlines are well-seasoned with emotion and chicane.

How much involvement did you have in the production?
My title is co-executive producer. I write one script a year for the show – so I wrote episode eight of this season (season one). 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.

(Creators and executive producers) David and Dan reference things like ‘TheSopranos’ and ‘The Wire’. What was your inspiration for the novels originally?
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. 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. In the case of this, I wanted to mix the traditions of epic fantasy with those of historical fiction.

Most of your characters are very morally ambiguous…
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.

Game of Thrones

And redemption and character change intrigue you?
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 websites and emails, I see people debating whether they like this character or that character. And that’s the way we debate about real people. No one ever questions whether Sauron was really misunderstood [laughs], let alone the Lesser Dark Lords that you get from some of the Tolkien imitators who have followed.

With fantasy there’s always a lot of violence. Why do you bring sexuality to the genre?
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. I want to give my readers a feast, and I want them to taste the food, and I want to 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 [laughs], or whatever is happening there.

There are some pretty spectacular locations – Belfast quarry, shipyards, Malta…
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 r otting siege towers and trebuchets.

In terms of the plot do you have a particular ending for this series?
Yes. The two books are not written but I know the ultimate destination, I know the broad route by which I’m going to get there and I know the principal landmarks but it’s in the writing, it’s in the journey of writing that I find those details that make it come alive.