A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | Study Guide

George R.R. Martin

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A Song of Ice and Fire (Series) | 10 Things You Didn't Know


First published in 1996, George R.R. Martin's incredibly popular A Song of Ice and Fire series has become one of the best-selling fantasy epics of the 21st century. A Song of Ice and Fire is notable for drawing in fans with complex, detailed plots and a beautifully crafted medieval world, as well as keeping them on edge with the sudden deaths of beloved characters. Iconic characters such as the noble lord Ned Stark, the clever dwarf Tyrion Lannister, and the indomitable Queen Daenerys Targaryen, have been brought to life on screen in the critically acclaimed television adaptation, Game of Thrones, which began airing in 2011.

Many of the characters of A Song of Ice and Fire have achieved a particular following among fans. Martin encourages this fan behavior by allowing readers to choose who they want to "win" the series' conflicts, presenting his narrative from the points of view of a variety of characters, chapter by chapter. This is in sharp contrast to traditional fantasy narratives, in which a "hero" is designated from the start.

1. Martin's inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire came from his childhood pet turtles.

The bloody, brutal, and politically complex conflicts described throughout A Song of Ice and Fire had an unlikely source of inspiration: the author's pet turtles. As a child, the only pets Martin was allowed to keep were tiny turtles, which he housed in a toy castle. The castle, however, was not big enough for the both of them—so Martin would invent territorial feuds between the turtles. This imagined reptilian drama would later inspire the violent plots of A Song of Ice and Fire. As he observed them, Martin would craft intricate backstories for each turtle. He recalls:

They are killing each other in sinister plots ... I started writing this fantasy about who was killing who, and the wars for succession.

2. Martin originally intended A Song of Ice and Fire to be only three books—each much shorter.

Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series was initially intended to be much shorter and more succinct than it turned out to be. The author noted that he originally planned to write a trilogy, with each book totaling about 800 manuscript pages. Martin stated that the story quickly became something much larger, explaining:

Initially I knew it was going to be big but I didn't know just how big. When I was still in the very early stages I was projecting three books of about 800 pages—manuscript—that would have been bigger than anything I had done, which would have seemed like a lot. Well, the first book was 1100 pages, the second 1200 pages and the third one 1500 pages in manuscript and I'm not done ... I've already exceeded my initial expectations.

3. A "professional language creator" developed the Dothraki tongue for the TV series.

Whereas English writer J.R.R. Tolkien created a full Elven language for his Lord of the Rings series, Martin only alluded to other languages in the fictional universe of his novels. When the series was adapted for the HBO Games of Thrones television series, however, the directors realized they'd need to flesh out the "foreign" tongues for the screen. David J. Peterson, who specializes in crafting fictional languages for fantasy and science fiction programs, designed a full vocabulary for the show's Dothraki and High Valyrian languages.

4. A conflict in the A Song of Ice and Fire series was based on a medieval war in England.

A Song of Ice and Fire's first major conflict is referred to as the "War of the Five Kings," in which various factions take up arms to win the Iron Throne after the death of King Robert Baratheon. Martin's inspiration for this convoluted war came from medieval England—an event known as the "Wars of the Roses." This three-decade-long 15th-century battle was the result of a feud between the royal houses of York and Lancaster, each of which used a different colored rose as a symbol. Descriptions of the battles from the Wars of the Roses feature the same level of gruesome violence as in A Song of Ice and Fire's conflicts, and the level of complicated political intrigue mirrors that of Martin's fictional universe.

5. People started naming their babies "Khaleesi" after Danaerys Targaryen.

The popularity of A Song of Ice and Fire—particularly after the 2011 premiere of Game of Thrones on HBO—skyrocketed to unprecedented levels. Parents even began naming their children after Martin's fictional characters, including "Khaleesi," the Dothraki title of Queen Daenerys Targarygen. Reports indicate that in 2012 alone, 146 babies were named "Khaleesi" in the United States, causing it to surpass more traditional names such as "Nadine" and "Betsy" in popularity. In addition, 1,135 babies were named "Arya" in 2013, after Arya Stark of Winterfell, and 43 children were given the name "Tyrion" after the clever Tyrion Lannister.

6. The actor who played the blind Aemon Targaryen for the television adaptation was legally blind himself.

In A Song of Ice and Fire, Aemon Targaryen is the blind, aged scholar living at the Wall in the North and assisting the Night's Watch. In the televised adaption Game of Thrones, the character was played by Peter Vaughan, an accomplished British actor who was partially blind himself. Vaughan was in his early 90s when he appeared on Game of Thrones, which makes sense considering Aemon Targaryen is supposedly one of the oldest living individuals in the fictional world of Westeros.

7. The actress who plays Sansa on the TV series adopted her direwolf.

Sophie Turner, who stars as Sansa Stark on the televised adaptation Game of Thrones, was sad to see her character's pet direwolf, Lady, killed off in the second episode of the show. In later seasons, the show's direwolves are computer-generated, but they were portrayed by large Northern Innuit dogs in the first season. Turner explained her decision to adopt Zunni, the dog who starred as Lady, stating:

Growing up I always wanted a dog, but my parents never wanted one. We kind of fell in love with my character's dire wolf, Lady, on set ... We knew Lady died and they wanted to re-home her. My mum persuaded them to let us adopt her.

Zunni's grand-puppies also made cameo appearances on the show as direwolf pups.

8. Martin doesn't mind killing off major characters.

All fans of A Song of Ice and Fire have come to realize that any character—regardless of narrative importance—can die at any time in Martin's brutal universe. This twist was made shockingly clear when Ned Stark, the protagonist of the first novel, was beheaded in the capital city, King's Landing. Martin is a firm believer that no character should be "safe" merely because of his importance to the plot or popularity with fans. The author explained:

We've all read this story a million times when a bunch of heroes set out on adventure and it's the hero and his best friend and his girlfriend and they go through amazing hair-raising adventures and none of them die. The only ones who die are extras. That's such a cheat. It doesn't happen that way. They go into battle and their best friend dies or they get horribly wounded. They lose their leg or death comes at them unexpectedly.

9. Each season of the television adaptation requires an insane number of costumes.

The television adaptation Game of Thrones is intricately detailed, requiring a great deal of effort to bring Martin's world and stories to life on screen. Each season of the program requires up to 3,000 costumes for main characters, extras, and soldiers in the show's epic battle scenes. Since new regions of Martin's world are constantly being introduced, new costumes often need to be designed from scratch. A single season of Game of Thrones can also require 100 different filming locations, as well as up to 4,000 special props.

10. Martin lost a bet and had to add a character flying the banner of the Dallas Cowboys in A Dance with Dragons.

Martin was forced to add a notable character to his fifth novel in the series, A Dance with Dragons. The briefly mentioned knight "Ser Patrek of King's Mountain" is included as a result of Martin losing a football bet. Martin, a lifelong New York Giants fan, lost a bet to his friend Patrick St. Dennis—a fantasy football webmaster—who rooted for the Dallas Cowboys. As a result, Martin had to incorporate his friend in the novel as a knight carrying a banner reminiscent of the Dallas Cowboy's logo.

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