In the 1980s George RR Martin wrote for television on Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. He went on to write the novella Nightflyers which was adapted into a 1987 feature film.
In 1991, he began his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which is projected to run seven volumes. The first volume Game of Thrones was published in 1996, and is now coming to HBO, starring Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Mark Addy, Emilia Clarke and Aidan Gillen.
It tells the story of two powerful families who are engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game for control of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. As betrayal, lust, intrigue and supernatural forces shake the four corners of the Kingdoms, their bloody struggle for the Iron Throne will have unforeseen and far-reaching consequences.
George RR Martin spoke at the TV Critics tour about finally seeing his epic tale made into a TV series.
What is it about this kind of genre that makes a certain group of people such fervent and avid fans?
Well, fantasy and science-fiction fans are very intense. They love their favorites with a great deal of passion. I think part of it is the fact that there’s relatively little of it out there.
Television is full of lawyer and medical shows, situation comedies, but fantasy is something that’s been largely restricted to books for a long time, and the readers of those books who have their favorite series, and some of them are readers from my series, are really hungry to see some good fantasy brought to television.
I think the success of The Lord of the Rings movies shows that there is an enormous appetite out there for fantasy when it’s well done. And Peter Jackson, of course, did it superbly with The Lord of the Rings.
Projects like these usually go to the SyFy Channel, were you surprised this ended up on HBO?
For my mind, HBO is associated with quality, and I wanted this to be quality production. HBO was always my dream for this. I remember our very first meeting with [writer/producers] David Benioff and Dan Weiss, I said, ‘We gotta go to HBO with this.’
Can you talk about how much control you have as an executive producer?
I don’t’ really have any control. I have a very good relationship with David and Dan, and we consult and we talk, but ultimately, they’re the showrunners, and the ball is in their court, and sometimes they listen to me, and sometimes they don’t. But for the most part, it’s been great.
You shoot this in Ireland with a primarily British cast. Do you have any thoughts on why British accents seem to fit with fantasies?
Most written fantasy, even if it’s set in an imaginary world, is inspired by the history of the Middle Ages, and it’s full of castles and lords and swords and knights and all of the other trappings that we associate with England. So that seems natural.
It would be hard to do it with a bunch of actors who had thick southern accents!
With this cast, were these the images you had in your head for these character or were you surprised by some of the casting choices?
I was part of the casting process, although I was not physically present. David and Dan sent me computer links to all of the auditions by actors, so I would watch those and weigh in with my opinions and thoughts on who I liked and who I didn’t like.
I had a voice in that process from the first, which meant a lot to me.
Some of the choices were surprising, but, then you see the actual performance and for the most part I think this is an extraordinary cast. I’m not going to claim I was familiar with the work of every actor we’ve cast. After all, we have 742 of them, but as I watched their auditions and I checked the credits, it’s just an extraordinary group of people.
The three kids that we got for the three major children’s roles are amazing, and they come from nowhere. The world is going to fall in love with them.
Do you have a desire to write for television again now that you’ve seen what can be done?
It was fun writing an episode [for this]. It had been ten years since I wrote a teleplay or screenplay, so when the time came for me to sit down and do my script, I thought, ‘Boy, I hope I still know how to do this.’ What do you know, I did. So that worked out pretty well.
The biggest challenge was actually mastering the new software, because screenwriting programs had changed in the ten years that I had been out of the game. There’s part of me that would love to be more involved, that would love to write several episodes per season and be there every day on the set with these guys.
On the other hand, I still have the books to finish, and the books are 1,500 pages long and take me years. And I have a mob outside of my house with pitchforks and torches that are already very irritated about book five being late, and after that, I have books six and seven.
So as much as part of me would like to be part of the process, I think I better stay where I am and finish the books, because the real scary thing is if these [fans] catch up with me.