13 December 2020

Time: “George R. R. Martin on the One Game of Thrones Change He argued Against”

Did Lady Stoneheart come about because it was hard to say a permanent goodbye to Catelyn?

Yeah, maybe. That may have been part of it. Part of it was also, it’s the dialogue that I was talking about. And here I’ve got to get back to Tolkien again. And I’m going to seem like I’m criticizing him, which I guess I am. It’s always bothered me that Gandalf comes back from the dead. The Red Wedding for me in Lord of the Rings is the mines of Moria, and when Gandalf falls — it’s a devastating moment! I didn’t see it coming at 13 years old, it just totally took me by surprise. Gandalf can’t die! He’s the guy that knows all of the things that are happening! He’s one of the main heroes here! Oh god, what are they going to do without Gandalf? Now it’s just the hobbits?! And Boromir, and Aragorn? Well, maybe Aragorn will do, but it’s just a huge moment. A huge emotional investment.

And then in the next book, he shows up again, and it was six months between the American publications of those books, which seemed like a million years to me. So all that time I thought Gandalf was dead, and now he’s back and now he’s Gandalf the White. And, ehh, he’s more or less the same as always, except he’s more powerful. It always felt a little bit like a cheat to me. And as I got older and considered it more, it also seemed to me that death doesn’t make you more powerful. That’s, in some ways, me talking to Tolkien in the dialogue, saying, Yeah, if someone comes back from being dead, especially if they suffer a violent, traumatic death, they’re not going to come back as nice as ever. That’s what I was trying to do, and am still trying to do, with the Lady Stoneheart character.

Daniel D'Addario

This interview is obviously not super relevant now that the Game of Thrones TV series ended on a massive disappointment and the remaining books will likely never be finished, but I found Martin’s inconsistencies here telling. He’s criticizing Tolkien for bringing back a beloved character, while doing the same in his novels – and twice no less, if we count the resurrection of Jon Snow, which as far as I can tell from the vitriolic criticism on reddit has not yet happened in the books, but was spoiled by the TV show. He may not have liked the removal of Lady Stoneheart from the adaptation, but I think it was a good decision to remove a plot point and character that did not meaningfully impact the rest of the story.

House Martin sigil
originally found on reddit

Another reason why this criticism of Tolkien is misplaced is that Tolkien’s fantastical universe was built with a consistent set of rules in mind, around a pantheon of deities with a clear hierarchy. Gandalf was no ordinary wizard, but one of the lesser deities on a mission to Middle Earth, so while his earthly body died in the Mines of Moria, his immortal essence could return to finish his mission. This pattern is fairly common in our own mythology, where heroes travel to the underworld to defeat some evil and return more powerful than before. Martin’s universe by contrast looks like a jumbled collection of fantasy elements with no real cohesion. I can relate to his initial idea to build a realistic world, but once you start introducing dragons and people raised from the dead for no apparent purpose, you strayed too far from realism. It seems that George R. R. Martin keeps writing at this first draft he loves, but forgot about polishing and actually finishing his work.

From basically the mid-‘80s through the mid-‘90s, I was involved in television. Whenever I turned in the script in my first draft, I would always get the reaction, George, we love it, but it’s five times our budget, so… Can you go back and cut things? We can’t afford to do the special effects for the things you have, and the big battle you have where there’s 10,000 people on a side, make that a duel between the hero and the villain, and I would go back and do all of those things, because that was the job. But I always loved my first drafts, even though they weren’t as polished — they had all the good stuff.

And when I finally left television and film and went into prose in the mid-90s, I said, I don’t care about that anymore, I’m going to write something just as big as my imagination, I’m going to have all the characters I want, and gigantic castles, and dragons, and direwolves, and hundreds of years of history, and a really complex plot, and it’s fine because it’s a book. It’s essentially unfilmable.

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