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Game of Thrones Aâ"Z
An Unofficial Guide to Accompany the Hit TV Series
By Martin Howden
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2012 Martin Howden
All rights reserved.
Fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire had been declared by many – including, damningly, its own creator George R. R. Martin – unfilmable. It was too dense, filled with too many characters and had too many subplots to weave into a three-hour epic movie. The key word was 'too', and taking anything substantial out was like a house of cards: one misplaced stumble and it would all fall down.
You also have to factor in the fans. Devotion doesn't cover it, and cutting out swathes of text just to make a movie that captured the title and not the heart of the series would see a swift and sharp reaction. And, unusually for a fantasy series, these weren't your typical readers for this genre. Martin gave fantasy a mainstream jolt, thanks to pacey plotting, readable characters and intense action scenes. He gave his characters depth, eschewing the usual fantasy staples – hero, whore, villain and witch. They were real people in a real world – at least the one that Martin had created.
But there was another solution to solving the problem of 'too'. Adapting it for TV was always the obvious option. It allowed more breathing space but would still require patience. It wouldn't all be explained, and some plot lines would be frustrating to follow at first. However, there would be rewards, as Martin's world became clearer as the series went on.
Luckily, this wasn't a new thing for viewers of the small screen over the past couple of decades, and we have HBO to thank for this – the very company that would oversee the TV adaptation of the novels into Game of Thrones. HBO is unarguably the king of sophisticated viewing, thanks to its system of receiving money through subscriptions rather than advertising, which means it is not hampered by the usual restraints that hinder other network TV shows.
Following the success of shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and many others, viewers are accustomed to immersive worlds that take time to unfold their stories. Characters are fleshed out rather than portrayed as having reached the pinnacle of human virtue. And unlike previous decades, when TV was seen as the ugly sister to cinema's handsome brother, the small screen can now be a byword for excellence, with many now preferring to while away their weekends with five- to six-hour bursts of a new world on TV box sets than going to the cinema.
A Game of Thrones' screen journey all began with a meal in 2006 between two young men and an older man, a portly looking wizard, usually dressed entirely in black. George R. R. Martin had heard it all before. These two young men weren't the first to come to him with a chance to tackle his mammoth series on the screen. Ever since the book was first published, he had been courted by Hollywood. And listen he would – ever polite, he would stifle his yawns and hold back on the eye rolling, as producers waxed lyrical about the franchise, while at the same time explaining all the scenes they would have to cut to make it into a movie. And then Martin would go home, declining the offer, despite, in his words, the 'truck loads of money' being offered. He had resigned himself to his series never being seen on the big screen.
But these two men that Martin continued to talk to long after lunch were convinced they could do the impossible.
Weiss remembers receiving a postal delivery of the books and reading some of the pages. Some pages soon became hundreds, and it wasn't long before he was doing something he hadn't done since he was a child – devouring nothing but a book, and finishing it in a matter of days. He was hooked, as was Benioff.
Benioff told entertainment website Collider, 'When the books were originally sent to us, they were sent over to consider as feature adaptations. In reading them, the very first decision we made, probably a week after we started reading the books and having more fun than we have had reading anything in years, was that these were not going to work as features because there are such massive sprawling tapestries, so many characters and so many plotlines.'
The movie version, he explained, would have to simplify everything, and 'cut it down to maybe one storyline, so that it's the Jon Snow movie, or the Daenerys movie, or whatever else, and you are probably going to end up eliminating about 95 per cent of the characters, storylines and complexities. That wasn't interesting to us. We did want to adhere as closely as possible to George's world, knowing that there were going to be certain deviations, but we didn't want to get rid of so much of what made it special.'
Benioff also explained that, unlike many other fantasy series, these were books written for adults. 'This is not fantasy written for 12-year-old boys,' he said. 'Not to say that there aren't 12-year-old boys out there who would love it, but for the most part it's a more sophisticated readership, and we wanted to keep that. We wanted to keep the sexuality of the books. We wanted to keep the profanity. To have a PG-13 movie where Tyrion never gets to say the "C" word, it just wouldn't be Tyrion any more, and we wanted that. We wanted the brothel scenes. We wanted the bloody violence. You know that someone's head gets chopped off and you are going to see blood spurting out. You don't want to not do that because it's a PG-13 movie, and you only get two blood spurts per hour.'
Martin's meeting with Benioff and Weiss tickled him, and he came away thinking that maybe, just maybe, he had found his – admittedly small – band of warriors willing to risk it all to win their version of the Iron Throne – to adapt A Song of Ice and Fire.
Having flirted with the idea of a film, they too knew that it would have to be a TV series, and they pitched it to the only real network in town – HBO.
On 18 January 2007, Martin announced the news that fans of the book had been waiting for – HBO had optioned the series. 'Yes, it's true. Winter is coming to HBO,' he said, adding, 'A Song of Ice and Fire should be in very good hands. I am thrilled to be in business with HBO.'
However, Martin, a veteran of TV, was quick to warn excited fans that a 'long and winding road awaited'. He added, 'A television series does not spring up full-blown overnight, of course. You won't be watching Game of Thrones on HBO next week, or telling TiVo to record it next month. Maybe this time next year you'll be seeing Tyrion and Dany and Jon Snow in those HBO promo spots.
'HBO liked it, I've been told, and they're doing a budget on it now, but they still haven't given it a green light. Of course, the writers' strike has hit now, so there's no telling what's happening in Hollywood. But HBO is what I've wanted for this from the beginning. The book series will be about 10,000 manuscript pages when it's all done, so the story's just too big for even a series of movies. And there's a lot of sex and violence, which is one reason I couldn't look too seriously at the broadcast networks. HBO can do it the way it would have to be done. I've got my fingers crossed. It's all in HBO's hands now.'
He should have heeded the warning himself. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be a year later at all – and, indeed, a frustrated Martin told his fans via a blog post in June 2008, 'A Game of Thrones remains a script in development, not a series in production.'
In another blog post, he added, 'From the start of this, I've told myself, "Don't get too emotionally invested in this, or you will be devastated if it doesn't go." Wise words, those. I'm a smart guy. But easier said than done. I've failed. I am totally emotionally invested, and if HBO does indeed decide to pass, for whatever reason, I will be gutted. So let's all hope I am soon doing the happy dance instead.'
Originally, 12 hours were expected for each series, which was then pushed down to 10. David Benioff – who described the series as The Sopranos in Middle Earth – and D. B. Weiss had a plan for them to adapt a novel per series and for the two of them to write all the episodes bar one each season – with Martin tasked with the remaining one. However, that wouldn't be the case, and other writers joined the team.
While Martin would write an episode per season, he didn't spend much time on set. Calling a writer on to the film set, he said, is as 'useful as nipples on a breastplate'.
The first season finally premiered on 17 April 2011, marking both the end, and indeed the start, of years' worth of sweat and tears. Benioff admitted that it was a 'scary process' working on the show, forging ahead with a wildly ambitious project, while trying to ignore the insistent nagging in his head that there might not be an audience, knowing that all this work can be for nothing when adapting a hit book doesn't translate into viewing figures.
Martin was nervous as well, telling the Guardian, 'They did great stuff with historical drama in Rome, the western in Deadwood, the gangster thing in The Sopranos. They've redefined each of these genres, took it to a new level. So they thought, "We could do that in fantasy, too." Right now, it's more excitement I'm feeling, but I do have moments of, "Oh God, what if it's terrible, if it's a flop?" I worked out of Hollywood for 10 years – on shows including The Twilight Zone, as well as a handful of pilots that never saw the light of day, and I had my heart broken half a dozen times, so I know all the things that can go wrong.'
Luckily, that wasn't to be the case, and Weiss and Benioff breathed a sigh of relief when the first two seasons proved there was an audience for mainstream fantasy.
Martin himself has said about the adaptation of his series, 'I like the fact that David and Dan are doing a faithful adaptation, so, when the scenes are the scenes from the books, I like those. And I like almost all of the new scenes, not from the books, that David and Dan and the other writers have added.'
But he admitted he missed the scenes that are left out, 'the scenes from the books that are not included in the TV show that I wish they would have included. As I watch a show I'm always thinking, "Oh, this is coming next," and then that scene isn't there. But I understand the necessity for that. We have 10 hours and that's all we have. You cannot put every line of dialogue, every incident, in the TV show. You have to cut to the chase. I do rather wish we had more than 10 hours. Not a lot more: 12 hours per season would be ideal ... If we had had those extra two hours, we could have included some of those small character scenes that would have helped develop the characters more and flesh them out; develop their depth and contradiction and be a little subtler. But we don't have 12 hours; we have 10. And, given that, I think the television show is extraordinary.'
The second daughter of Eddard and Catelyn Stark, nine-year-old Arya is a tomboy. Singing songs about queens and worrying about who she will marry isn't something that Arya does. She likes to play with the boys, learn about dragons and sword fight. Realising this, her half-brother, Jon Snow, gives her her first sword, which she calls Needle.
She is taken, along with her father and sister, Sansa, to King's Landing, and it soon becomes clear their lives are in danger. Realising he can't quell his feisty youngster, her dad finds a sword instructor for her. She loves her lessons with the eccentric Syrio Forel. He teaches her in the flamboyant Braavosi style but ends up defending her for real following the death of her father.
Arya manages to escape from the castle and lives off the street looking for food. She is found in the crowd during the execution of her father by Yoren, a member of the Night's Watch. He forces her to look away when her dad is beheaded, and then chops off her hair so she can pass as a boy.
They are eventually captured, and taken to Harrenhal and made servants. During her journey there, Arya rescues a man named Jaqen, who tells her he will kill three people for his life and the two other lives that she saved. At this point, she had already created a hit list of people that had wronged her. Arya eventually escapes Harrenhal, and finds out that Jaqen can change his face. He gives her an iron coin in case she ever needs him again.
During her journey, Arya is discovered by the Brotherhood Without Banners, but she ends up being captured by The Hound later. His plan is to reunite her with her brother Robb in turn for a reward. However, they end up at the location where the events of the tragic Red Wedding take place. As her brother and men are being slaughtered, The Hound has to knock Arya out to ensure her safety. He takes her to the Vale of Arryn, which is ruled by her aunt Lysa.
She eventually heads to Braavos to use her coin, and is initiated into the guild of the Faceless Men – the shadowy group of assassins that Jaqen was a member of.
Following her training, Arya drinks some milk, which blinds her the next morning. Taking on the guise of a street urchin, she becomes better at lying and detecting the lies of others. She regains her sight after passing a test.
After she kills her first target, Arya is told she will begin her proper apprenticeship.
Arya is played by Maisie Williams. She had grown up loving drama but always thought of herself as a dancer. When she was 10, she enrolled at Susan Hill's School of Dance. Williams said about her time there, 'After I had been there a while, Sue suggested I attend a talent show in Paris. I came away from this with an agent and an audition with Pippa Hall, a children's casting director, for Nanny McPhee 2.'
During the audition process, Williams met Eros Vlahos (who plays Lommy Greenhands). 'I didn't get the part but did get down to the final two,' she said. 'At the time I was really disappointed, but I now realise that I did well to get that far. My agent, Louise Johnston, then put me up for an audition for Arya. I have to say that at first I wasn't too keen, I was still thinking about Nanny McPhee 2. But all auditions are good experience, so I went along and after the first audition in London I knew I wanted to be Arya!'
She was to have three auditions in total for the part. 'The first audition was in London at the end of June; it was very quick, recorded on video with lots of others all auditioning for Arya, Sansa or Bran. I was thrilled when after a few days I got a call back. The second audition was much longer; I had to do the same scene (a Kingsroad scene not used in the actual series) about five times with three different girls auditioning for Sansa, one of whom was Sophie Turner. We immediately got on well and both wanted each other, and ourselves, to get the parts so that we could meet again. I also did an Arya and Gendry scene from book two. The final audition was a screen test with David Benioff and Nina Gold at the beginning of August. I really enjoyed it and I thought it went quite well.
'We were packing up to go home from [a family] holiday in Scotland a few days after the final screen test when Louise, my agent, called and asked to speak to me. I knew there was good news when Louise asked to speak to me before she spoke to my mum; bad news comes from Mum, good news from Louise. I was so excited, I couldn't believe it. Then a few days later we found out that Sophie was playing Sansa. I WAS SO EXCITED! It was a dream come true! It took a while to sink in but it was the best thing ever!'
A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
A Song of Ice and Fire is, according to the book series' author, George R. R. Martin, his 'magnum opus'. 'It's the biggest thing I have ever done and it's the most ambitious book I have ever done,' he said.
He began the series in 1991, while he was writing another book. While writing, an image of things called 'direwolves' suddenly blazed in his mind, and that image would quickly spread itself – until in no time at all he would have the first chapter in his head.
'Then I wrote the second chapter, the third chapter and suddenly I knew I was deep into this,' Martin said. 'At first I was thinking, "Is this a short story" or "Is it a novella?" "No, it's going to be a book; it's going to be a trilogy."'
In 1991, he had already settled on the book being a trilogy. 'Trilogies in fantasy have been very much in style since Tolkien, Martin explained. 'But then Hollywood stuff came up, and I put it in the drawer for a couple of years while I did pilots and so forth. When I picked it up in '94, I sold it as a trilogy. But then, over the course of finishing that first book, it rapidly became apparent that I wasn't going to get to the place that I wanted to by the end of all these thousands of pages.
'So then I started talking about four books, and by a certain point in the process I started talking six books. I skipped right over five – I never ever thought it would be five. I don't write things in blood, but seven feels right. Seven gods, seven kingdoms, seven books – there is a certain elegance to that that I would like to retain. That being said, the main thing is to tell the story – not to rush the story or to squeeze things.'
Part of the appeal is that each chapter takes on the perspective of another point of view, thus changing the characters from hero to villain and vice versa, as we hear people's inner thoughts. 'We all have reasons for the things we do, even the things that might look evil from the outside,' explained Martin. 'Sometimes they're based on mistaken assumptions or innate selfishness or psychological compulsions, but they're still reasons. Some of my science-fiction stories dealt with this theme of telepathy. If we could read other's minds, would that lead to universal love and understanding or would it lead to universal revulsion?'
Excerpted from Game of Thrones Aâ"Z by Martin Howden. Copyright © 2012 Martin Howden. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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