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Few people are happy to see Game of Thrones come to an end, even if millions of viewers around the world are excited to see how the story wraps up. Firmly in the former camp: George R.R. Martin, the award-winning author who first introduced the world to Westeros in 1996’s A Game of Thrones, the first book in the ongoing A Song of Ice and Fire odyssey.
More than 20 years after the first novel’s arrival, David Benioff and Dan Weiss’ televised version of events prepares to wrap up. Meanwhile, Martin’s odyssey continues. Almost eight full years have passed since the publication of the fifth novel, A Dance With Dragons, and still no sign of The Winds of Winter, the sixth of seven planned entries in Martin’s saga about Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) — assuming those characters survive long enough to make it to the end of Martin’s tale. (As it stands, Jon Snow is still dead in the books, butchered and betrayed at the hands of the Night’s Watch; no telling if Martin’s story will resurrect Lord Snow, as on the show.)
Fans who consider themselves loyal to the books above the show will proudly tell you (and anyone in earshot) that A Song of Ice and Fire is richer and denser than Game of Thrones, filled with more twists and turns and characters than even the HBO drama’s sprawling canvas allows — a contributing factor in its ongoing nature. Individual book readers have their respective bones to pick with the adaptation, and what Benioff and Weiss chose to sideline on their quest to televise Westeros. (For my money, I choose to die on the Strong Belwas hill.) As the architect of the Ice and Fire universe now widely known as Thrones, Martin is one of the most vocal champions of fidelity to the books, to the point that he openly questions the need to close the story out after eight seasons and 73 episodes. While it’s the end of one major chapter, it may be the start of a new one, as Martin and HBO are conspiring ways to open up the world of Westeros with five potential “successor” spinoffs, including one that’s gearing up for production.
Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter presents a quick and candid conversation with Martin, who was speaking on the red carpet at the New York City world premiere of the final season. Beyond offering his thoughts on the current state of Thrones, Martin revealed some information on the upcoming pilot he’s working on with showrunner Jane Goldman and a cast led by Naomi Watts (little is known about the plot, except that it takes place thousands of years before the main Game of Thrones series), some insight into his approach as a writer and why he kept away from working on the final season of the HBO drama. And no, before you ask, there’s no update on when to expect The Winds of Winter. At this point, one knows better than to ask Martin his least favorite question on what’s already a loaded occasion.
Here we are, at the final season premiere. How are you feeling?
I don’t think it should be the final season. But here we are. It seems to me we just started last week. Has it been longer than that? The time has passed by in a blur. But it’s exciting. I know it’s an end, but it’s not much of an end for me. I’m still deep in writing the books. We saw five other sequel shows in development. I think I’m going to be hanging around Westeros while everyone else has left. (Laughs.)
I don’t think anyone’s going anywhere. How exciting is the prospect of the pilot that’s currently coming together? We’re seeing casting news come out. What can you share about how it’s taking shape?
It hasn’t started shooting yet, but they’re getting very close to that. They have a great director and an amazing cast. I’ve been following along closely. I have my fingers crossed. It’s different. It’s definitely very different. It’s set thousands of years in the past. You’re looking at a whole different era of Westeros. No dragons, no Iron Throne, no King’s Landing. It will be interesting to see what the fans make of that.
The logline for the pilot tells us, “it’s not the story we think we know.” Years ago, you released The World of Ice and Fire, which covers a lot of history of Westeros and beyond. If we were to truly data-mine the book, would we have a clue about what you have up your sleeve for the pilot?
(Pauses.) You might find a sentence or two in The World of Ice and Fire. You certainly won’t find 12 pages. A lot of this is based on that line or two, and Jane then took it and came up with something.
You have described yourself as a gardener when approaching your stories. What has it been like to start planting the seeds of new characters for this series, folks who could sprout to life like Jon Snow and Daenerys?
I do it all the time. If you read my book that came out in November, Fire and Blood … boy, I invented a ton of new characters. I wish I was 30 years old instead of 70. I would have more time to write many, many more books about all of these characters. But it is what it is! That was a history book in format, so I just told the stories as summary narratives.
So many characters have come and gone [in Game of Thrones]. You have ruthlessly murdered many.
Not you specifically! But you’re the architect of some truly great deaths.
I’ll point out that David and Dan killed many more than I did. I can name 20 characters who are dead on the show but are alive in the books. Whether they will die in the books or not? Who knows.
When can you sense that a character has run their course?
With the major characters, I have had the beats of this planned out since 1994 or 1995. Sometimes, the minor characters, you’re writing a scene about a viewpoint character and then you need someone for him or her to play off of. You add a new character. Sometimes, that character comes alive in a way I hadn’t planned. But there he is, in that scene, and he moves in a new direction. That’s the whole gardener approach. The major characters, though, I know the major strokes. Not with some of the people who have barged in afterward.
How involved were you in the final season of Game of Thrones? Are you mostly keeping focus on [The Winds of Winter]?
Yeah, I’ve been in isolation. My loyal staff — I have a couple of them with me — have chained me to the typewriter. They’re making me eat healthy food. (Laughs.) It’s horrible!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage. The final season arrives April 14.