George R.R. Martin on ‘Game of Thrones,’ That Controversial Rape Scene, and His Writing Progress
The celebrated author of the bestselling series A Song of Ice and Fire sat down with The Daily Beast on the outskirts of Comic-Con to discuss the differences between his books and the HBO series, and more.
George R.R. Martin, the burly, grizzled author of the bestselling fantasy series A Song of Ice Fire, doesn’t give too many interviews. It’s understandable. The 65-year-old native of Bayonne, New Jersey—and son of a longshoreman—is hard at work on the sixth and seventh books in his acclaimed series, titled The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, respectively, and people will not stop giving him guff about both how the books’ HBO adaptation, Game of Thrones, is catching up to them, and how his acolytes are worried he might croak before finishing things up. For those nosiest and most offensive of fans, he has two words: Fuck you.
Recently, Martin confirmed he’d be sitting out the fifth season of Thrones and not penning an episode to focus on his book-writing, but still made time for fans at the 2014 edition of San Diego’s Comic-Con, where he participated in a panel discussion with the cast and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss of Thrones, and came out in favor of Marvel’s comic book superheroes over DC ones.
“They had real conflict,” said Martin. “The Marvel characters had a depth that the more traditional DC characters did not. Spider-Man was constantly having self-doubt. He was a great hero, but he still couldn’t get laid.”
A few days after the panel, The Daily Beast was invited to venture out to Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, to sit down with the acclaimed author for an exclusive interview. Martin was out there judging a cosplay contest as part of Courtyard by Marriott's Super Hero HQ.
The most controversial scene of Thrones’ fourth season occurred during Episode 4, titled “Breaker of Chains.” In the HBO series, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) rapes his sister, Cersei (Lena Headey), next to the corpse of their murdered son, Joffrey, in the sept. Since it differentiated from the novels, thereby altering Jaime’s character irrevocably, the backlash was furious—so much so that Martin even took to his blog to address the uproar.
What do you think about the HBO series drastically altering scenes from the books, for instance the rape scene between Jaime and Cersei in the sept? It really changes Jaime’s whole character.
That scene is written somewhat different in the TV series than in the books.
I think that’s why it disappointed so many fans.
I’ve worked in television and film so I understand the necessity of adaptation. We have the biggest budget in television and we have 10 hours. I’d actually love to have 13 hours, but even if we had 13 hours we wouldn’t be able to get everything in—we’d have to cut things inevitably, characters are going to align, things are going to change. There’s a lot of drive for economy of money and economy of time, so inevitably some things are going to be changed. David and Dan wrestle with these issues every day, and you have actors and you have directors who are bringing their own vision to it.
I have a luxury that they don’t: I can present these scenes in a considerably longer length and I can present them with an internal monologue. When I wrote that scene in the book, I told it from the point of view of—I don’t even remember, is that Cersei’s point of view or Jaime’s?—Jaime’s point of view. I can go inside the head and show exactly what he’s thinking and if you just look at the dialogue, if they’d included all that dialogue it would have been a considerably longer scene. Virtually any scene, there’s always economy. You know the scene would be five minutes long and we have to get another scene that’s one minute long or half a minute long. In that case, I do wish they’d included my dialogue from the books because I think that would have been seen in a different context.
Do you feel they were trying to sensationalize it?
I don’t think they were. I haven’t discussed this with them and I wasn’t on the set when they were filming that scene. There may have been words that were shot that were never used and that were left out when the scene was edited down. I don’t think that there was any intent to really change the scene as written in the books. I think it just came across that way and you know, you’ve seen interviews with director Alex Graves where he’s talking about that scene and what he thought that scene came across as.
I thought he was copping out, personally.
You know, it was always meant to be a troubling scene. In the books, they are committing incest in a church next to the corpse of their dead son. But of course the circumstances are very different because of previous changes. In the TV show, Jaime has been home for at least weeks and possibly months. The time frame isn’t clear. In the books, Jaime is still not back from King’s Landing when Joffrey dies. He’s not there for the wedding. There’s a lot of speculation that he may be dead. He’s escaped; he hasn’t been seen. Various reports are reaching the capital, and Varys isn’t able to find him. All this is in there and then you have Cersei, who’s not a viewpoint character at that point in the books, so you really don’t know what she’s thinking. In my mind, she’s clearly thinking that Jaime may be dead. The only person she ever truly loved besides her children may be lost to her forever and suddenly there he is before her—but shockingly maimed and transformed. There is a mutual passion for each other. And it’s like if you get a cable that your husband has been killed in war, and then suddenly there he is—he’s not killed in war. That triggers something. When they changed the time frame, they changed the context of that scene.
Where do you see Jaime and Cersei headed?
Well, as for the books, I have two more to write. I’m certainly going to be dealing with Jaime. Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is in a very different place in the books than the show has reached now. They are effectively estranged now. Jaime is very angry with Cersei over the stuff that Tyrion told him—that she’s been sleeping with Lancel and the Kettleblacks and Moon Boy. And the Kettleblacks and Moon Boy don’t even exist in the series.
When do you think the sixth book will be finished?
When it’s done.