George R.R. Martin Doesn’t Get Why Everyone’s Mad, and Other Statements Written by Marketing Reps

This will be the last time I write about this hack until he delivers another book. And even then, I might not bother. The ending of Game of Thrones was so bad I’m pretty well done with the whole universe. There’s no shortage of fantasy literature out there, if you’re into that sort of thing, and there’s no reason to wait for this bloated schmuck to deliver the first half of the third act of his saga. We should all let it go. Let this be the beginning.

The Independent, which is one of those Brit dailies with an extremely online presence, decided to fluff Martin at the Santa Fe Literary Festival (whatever that is). I am going to fisk it. Originals in bold, my responses in italic.

George RR Martin has spent a lifetime telling stories, so it’s strange to see him lost for words. We’re in the back room of Beastly Books, surrounded by the colourful volumes of his work that line the shelves of the charming little shop he opened three years ago in his adopted home of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sunk in a high-backed brown leather chair in front of a wall-sized mural of John Singer Sargent’s Edwardian-era oil painting Nonchaloir (Repose), the author has been playing raconteur for the last hour. 

Well, La. De. Da.

Eyes twinkling behind silver-framed glasses, he’s been telling the fantastical tale of the son of a longshoreman from New Jersey who grew up reading Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Marvel comic books, and went on to write his own bestselling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which in turn became the record-breaking, award-hoarding, television-conquering HBO series Game of Thrones.

Yeah, a working-class kid who reads books and becomes a writer. How wild, how fantastical. Who could possibly even believe it?

Is everything in newspapers just marketing now? Has it always been that way?

The runaway success of the show made Martin rich beyond even the wildest fever dreams of a lifelong science-fiction writer, but it’s his first-hand experience of the viciousness of a particular type of hyper-online fan that’s left him uncharacteristically stumped. “I don’t understand how people can come to hate so much something that they once loved,” he says. “If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it! How has everything become so toxic?”

The big bold writer who gorged on Shakespeare as a kid doesn’t understand how love can turn to hate. It’s a mystery beyond his ken. Never mind that the entire plot of A Game of Thrones (the book, I mean) hinges on a queen who once loved her husband coming to hate him. Nah, we just don’t get it. Just baffling.

Martin is regularly harangued about when he’s going to produce The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, not to mention a seventh volume still to come after that. 

Watch this be the last time Martin’s failure to deliver a book in ten years gets mentioned.

He’s also seen the virulent scorn poured by some critics and professed fans on the final season of Game of Thrones, so it’s perhaps with some trepidation that he’s returning to the televisual fray.

There’s so much bullshit in this sentence I need a shovel and a pair of trained pigs to go through it. First of all, the only people who would “Pour virulent scorn” (do you have to keep it in the fridge? does it need shaking?) would be Actual Fans, not “professed” ones. People who weren’t fans of GOT wouldn’t scorn the ending, because they didn’t watch it, because they didn’t care. Only people who loved it would have been angry at the world-breaking abomination of that Finale (Did I just figure out how love can turn to hate? Gimme my Nobel!).

And seriously, how did you write the bit about “trepidation” with a straight face? How did you manage not to at least insert “and a Scrooge McDuck-sized pile of money”, at least as a parenthetical? This guy’s not “trepidatious” about the reception of the new HBO show. He knows perfectly well there’s enough gimps who managed to convince themselves that the ending of GOT was Actually Epic, if you look at it from A Certain Point of View. He plays raconteur in a high-back leather chair surrounded by Edwardian-era paintings. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.

On 21 August, Martin will take HBO back to Westeros in House of the Dragon, a prequel show set several hundred years before the events of Game of Thrones. It tells the story of the Targaryens, whose royal dynasty was built on their power as dragonlords before a civil war tore the family apart – which means there should be enough fire-breathing and aerial battles for even the most hard-to-please fan.

Shill to me harder, Independent. I love it.

The author is wise enough not to take any of the online abuse he suffers too personally. 

Which is of course why he played raconteur for an hour with a journalist discussing it. He’s not bothered by it at all. Why, he finds the whole thing rather Amusing. Ho ho ho!

After all, the same toxicity seems to infect the discourse around many of the world’s most popular stories. “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power isn’t even on yet [it will stream on Amazon in September], but if you follow what’s going on online, the controversy about it is like World War Two. They’re dropping atomic bombs on each other,” he says incredulously of the fans who howl about any perceived deviation from the source material

Has everyone got this? Expressing negative opinion or skepticism about upcoming Amazon series is the equivalent of obliterating cities with nuclear fire. Perceiving deviation from the source material (the thing you’re a fan of) is the definition of “toxicity”.

Don’t’ ask questions. Just consume product, then get excited for next product.

“You hear controversies about some of the Marvel shows and the Marvel movies, certainly about the DC characters. It used to be if you were a fan of Star Trek, you liked Star Trek. Now it seems like half the people who call themselves Star Trek fans hate Star Trek, and the Star Wars fans hate Star Wars, and the Tolkien fans hate Rings of Power. What the hell? Now maybe it’s because it’s changing, but as a writer you’d go crazy if you didn’t change it somehow. You want to tell new stories, not tell the same stories over and over again.”

Says the guy who hasn’t finished the story he started writing in the 1990’s.

It used to be, you were a fan of {Property}, because {Property} told stories that you liked. Then the people who made {Property} ran out of stories to tell, but kept pumping product out anyway, because hookers, blow, and Southern California real estate doesn’t buy itself. And you, as a Professed Fan, noticed the drop in quality, and you made George R.R. Martin sad. How dare you.

Martin knows what it’s like to be a superfan. He grew up in the New Jersey port town of Bayonne in the Fifties, and the first words he ever had published were fan letters in Marvel comics. “‘Dear Stan and Jack, you guys are better than Shakespeare!’” recalls Martin of his heartfelt declarations of the genius of writer-artist team Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Shill. Harder.

How times have changed. “I was a big Marvel fan, and I tried some of those Marvel shows that were on in the Seventies, The [IncredibleHulk with Bill Bixby and [TV movies about] Captain America. I tried them once and I didn’t watch them again because I didn’t like them very much, but I didn’t go crazy and start writing hate mail,” he says. “I’ve got to think social media has something to do with it.”

Gee willikers, do you really think so?

All these media and content providers went all in on Social Media when it first reared its ugly head. They got cartoon-dollar-signs for eyes at the thought of the new way to Shill Organically to fans. Then they discovered that fans were actual humans and had opinions. They weren’t going to accept that Greedo shot first, or that Spock was a screaming ninny, or that the guy who made Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the right choice to make a Justice League movie. Now it’s all “toxic”.

Well, guess what George? If you don’t like fans having opinions, just ignore them. Is that really a challenge for you?

In the days when Martin discovered them, superhero comics were just one genre among many. “There were cowboy comic books and there were war comic books, and for the girls there were romance comic books – which I didn’t touch of course!” he recalls. Superheroes were Martin’s favourite, but he found himself losing interest. “The stories never went anywhere,” he says. “Superman would be there, and his girlfriend Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen his best friend, Perry White the editor of the Daily Planet, and something would happen. At the end of the story, everything would be exactly the way it was at the beginning of the story, for issue after issue, year after year.” Then along came Stan Lee, who broke all the rules. “Stan Lee’s writing was so much better than what you’d been getting,” he says. “Things happened. Spider-Man was progressing. It was so refreshing.”

Martin has been using the lessons he learned ever since. He grows animated at the memory of reading Avengers #9, originally published in October 1964, the issue that introduced a new Avenger named Wonder Man. It was soon revealed that Wonder Man was a villain, but in a second twist he ultimately chose not to betray his new friends the Avengers. Then, Wonder Man died. “That’s all Stan Lee, and you can see it all over my work!” points out Martin. “Unexpectedly killing characters, characters who are not what they seem, characters who are partly good and partly bad. Grey characters. You don’t know which way they’re going to jump when the moment of crisis comes. Stan Lee’s fingerprints are all over that.”

None of this is new. The Marvel-adding-story-complexity line could have come straight out of Marvel itself. It’s practically their Mission Statement at this point. Twists and Complexity, not baby stories! Comic Books For Grown-Ups!

Don’t worry, they’ll never make the connection.

{Several paragraphs discussing Martin’s career growth as a writer snipped here. He started small, he got bigger, good for him blah blah blah}

 He was still mostly working in television by 1991 when, during a lull in productions, he attempted to write another instalment in his long-running Thousand Worlds science-fiction series. Instead, he was struck by an image for a whole new story, in a world he’d never even dreamt of before. “I just suddenly got this vision of these direwolf pups being found in the summer snows,” he recalls wistfully. “That phrase ‘in the summer snows’ was always part of it, from the beginning. These were ‘summer snows’, which meant something had to be wrong with the climate. I started writing it, and there were castles and guys with swords.

Inspiration strikes in the oddest places, and the seasons of Westeros is a damned interesting hook. Always was. I maintain that the books are good, because they mix a hook with a pretty good grasp of how medieval culture worked.

I wrote it very quickly. In three days, I had finished the chapter, which is fast for me. As you may know, I’m not usually reckoned one of the fastest writers in the world!”

hahahahahahahahahahaha so funny let’s give him another chance you guys

Martin likes to describe his writing style as that of a “gardener”, in contrast to an “architect” who plans out their stories well in advance. The world of Westeros and the story of Game of Thrones grew together organically as he tended them. “The Wall and the Night’s Watch, where did all that come from? I don’t know,” he says. “I was gardening, and suddenly something was sprouting at the end. It took me over, pretty much for the whole of the summer of 1991.”

Heard this line before, too, always from the mouth of someone defending Martin’s lack of progress. Oh, you just don’t understand, he’s not a kind of writer that writes! He’s the kind of writer that putters around with words and ideas, and a book appears somehow!

I say, whatever, as long as it works. It’s not working anymore. You’re not working anymore. You’re exploiting the work you’ve already done and playing raconteur with journalists to insert marketing fluff to get disgruntled fans to give the new HBO series a try. You’re a less self-aware Don Draper.

A Game of Thrones, the first novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, was published in 1996. By the time the third book in the series, A Storm of Swords, came out in 2000, Martin had been living with his characters for the best part of a decade, so you can imagine how cut up he was about having to kill off so many of them off for the novel’s notorious Red Wedding. “I finished the entire book, except for the Red Wedding,” recalls Martin with a grimace. “That was such a painful chapter for me to write, losing some characters that I had come to know and love. Nine years I’d been with these characters, and now I was going to kill them horribly! That was difficult.”

Still going back to that well, are we? The Red Wedding isn’t shocking anymore. We saw it. We read it. We get it. Our expectations were totally subverted. it’s fine. No one cares.

The Red Wedding was in the third book of the series, and the third season of the show. The show had eight seasons. The book series has five books. Nothing else really to talk about, is there?

Martin’s philosophy is that death should be difficult. Difficult to write and difficult to read. “It’s a horrible chapter, and it upsets people,” he says. “It makes people angry, it makes people sad. People throw the book against the wall or into the fireplace. When it was on TV, it had the same effect on tens of thousands, if not millions, of people. To my mind, that’s good. We’re talking about death here!”

Too often, Martin believes, death is trivialised by being reduced to a mere plot point or inciting incident. “We all in our real lives have experienced death,” he says. “Your parents die. Your best friend dies. Sometimes, in a really tragic situation, your children die or your wife or husband dies. It’s terrible. It affects you. It makes you angry, it makes you sad. In our entertainment, television, film, books, over the centuries as it’s evolved, death is often treated very cavalierly. Somebody is dead, we’ve got a mystery, and the detective has to figure out who did it. We never consider who the corpse is, or what his life was like… what it’s going to be like without him. If I’m going to write a death scene, particularly for major characters, I want to make the reader feel it. That’s what the Red Wedding, I think, successfully accomplished. People felt that death.”

In no other fantasy author’s series is death treated as difficult. Tolkien made Boromir and Theoden’s demise a jolly lark. Robert Howard was famously “whatever” about it, imbuing it with no dread or consequence.

Who does this fraud think he is?

In any case, he argues, his reputation as a gleeful mass-murdering character-assassin has been woefully exaggerated. “Star Wars kills more characters than I do!” he argues. “In the very first Star Wars movie they blow up the entire planet of Alderaan, which has, like, 20 billion people on it, and they’re all dead. But you know what? Nobody cares. Everybody on Alderaan is dead. Oh, OK. But we don’t know the people on Alderaan. We don’t feel their deaths. It’s just a statistic. If you’re going to write about death, you should feel it.”

How does someone make a statement this obtuse and be taken seriously?

No one who died on Alderaan was a character. We didn’t see them. We didn’t know them. We saw a planet explode. A PLANET, you point-missing buffoon. The bad guys have a PLANET-KILLING machine, something orders of magnitude more powerful than any other weapon. The entire plot of Star Wars revolves around escaping from and then destroying the Planet-Killing Machine. The whole “billions of deaths is a statistic” idea is voiced by Obi-Wan, albeit in a memorable and poetic way. What part of this do you not get?

In other words, don’t bank on anybody from the House of the Dragon cast making it all the way to the end of the season.

No one who watches is going to be surprised. They’re expecting people to die randomly now. They’re expecting sudden horror and episode-ending cliffhanger shocks. It’s like a slasher film now.

The new show hits HBO two weeks before Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, and as an avowed Tolkien disciple, Martin will naturally be tuning in to both. 

He’s always avowing how much he loves Tolkien, right before he makes mid-wit criticisms of the man’s work. We’re all supposed to say “Gosh, Martin is a fan of Tolkien, too? He’s JUST LIKE ME BESTIE! He’s going to watch the Amazon series? I’ll watch the Amazon Series, too, so I can be as good a fan as Martin! Thanks, The Independent!”

“It’s kind of a weird deal, as you know. Amazon bought Tolkien, but they didn’t actually get any of the books,” he explains. “They didn’t get The Lord of the Rings, they didn’t get The Hobbit, they didn’t even get The Silmarillion. I don’t think they got Farmer Giles of Ham or Leaf by Niggle, but they got the appendices, I guess, and they’re constructing a Second Age story about that. There’s a lot of myth about that, so it’ll be interesting to see what they did.”

This is actually worth pointing out. Christopher Tolkien was still alive when this deal was inked, so Amazon was dealing with someone who protected his father’s legacy. The downside of that is Amazon is going to play around with the least-set-down portion of Middle-Earth’s history. The upside is we can all just ignore it as uncanonical.

Martin points out that when he was a kid, the TV schedules were packed with Westerns, so there’s surely room for more than one epic fantasy. “I know a lot of articles, the minute the dates were announced, it’s: ‘Oh, the battle for fantasy supremacy. It’s Rings of Power versus House of the Dragon, who will win?’ I don’t know why they always have to do that,” he says. “I hope both shows succeed. I’m competitive enough. I hope we succeed more. If they win six Emmys – and I hope they do – I hope we win seven. But nonetheless, it’s good for fantasy. I love fantasy. I love science fiction. I want more shows on television.”

I predict neither of them are going to do particularly well. House of Dragon is going to be a GOT prequel, and it will suffer from prequel problems. It would have to be brilliant to overcome the hostility against GOT’s ending in the minds of many. I don’t think it will be brilliant. Plus, Martin’s published books laying out the history of these events. If the showrunners break canon, nerds are going to let them know.

As for Rings of Power, they’re planning on sexing it up. In other words, they’re going to run entirely against the spirit of Tolkien’s work. They’re exploiting it. The fans know it. This show is hosed.

Martin says he’s already seen a few rough cuts of House of the Dragon, and couldn’t help being taken back to late 2010, when he travelled to Europe to watch Maisie Williams and Sean Bean film the scene where Arya Stark talks to Ned Stark while balancing on one foot at the top of a flight of stairs. It was his first visit to the set of Game of Thrones; his first glimpse of the show that would take over TV, and his life“It was magical,” says Martin. “It was like: here are my characters, they’ve come to life. They’re saying the things they said. The scene is pretty much as I imagined it when I wrote it. There’s nothing like that.”

S H I L L

H A R D E R

Whether the show’s fans will take as passionately to House of the Dragon remains to be seen. Martin’s ready to roll the dice. “We’ll see if they accept House of the Dragon as they did Game of Thrones,” he says. “It’s different characters. It’s a different time. It’s the same world. It’s a different story. This profession is a gambler’s profession. You tell your story, and then you see whether they’re standing up and applauding or whether they’ve brought some rotten fruit to the theatre that they’re going to now pelt you with. If it is rotten fruit, you’ve just got to duck and run backstage and invent another story to tell the next time. That’s what I do. I’m a storyteller.”

Gosh, you mean in times past audience would react unpleasantly to unsatisfying entertainment? With humiliating violence, even? And entertainers just had to suck it up if they failed to please the groundlings?

Huh.

So like, if that’s true, then there isn’t really a mystery about what makes fans mad and how they can change their opinions on a dime and that means that none of this is real and oh, I’ve gone cross-eyed, I’ve lost all perspective I’ll just watch House of Dragon and Rings of Power it’s all so incredibly dense and complex you guys it’s like Stan Lee I love Stan Lee gone but not forgotten you guys true fans only here…

They’re never going to stop. They’re never going to listen. The only winning move is to let it go.

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