PORTRAIT

A Game of Thrones: A Tolkien In the TV Room

George RR Martin
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As Game of Thrones kicks off Season Six, George RR Martin struggles to finish the series on which the TV show is based

EARLIER THIS YEAR, an odd thing occurred. George Martin, the so-called ‘Fifth Beatle’, passed away. But the tributes pouring in online were directed towards another individual. Turns out, many people assumed his namesake, the fantasy writer George RR Martin, had died. The writer, who readers have long worried will not be able to complete his epic saga, A Song Of Ice and Fire (on TV as Game Of Thrones), had to come online later that day to reassure fans that reports of his death were ‘greatly exaggerated’.

The other George Martin isn’t a small name. He may not have been as popular as The Beatles, but he was the producer of that iconic British band. The mistaken identity incident, however, is an indication of the kind of sway George RR Martin has come to establish over us, through his books, and now on TV.

Game of Thrones, the television avatar of his most ambitious and ongoing work, has become a global phenomenon. Last year, each episode averaged more than 20 million viewers globally. This is not counting the millions who make it the world’s most pirated TV show as well. This season’s premier, simultaneously telecast in 194 countries, has gotten more than 10.7 million viewers already. Talk and speculation over the fate of its many characters has reached fever-pitch. Last year, many of the episodes of the show were leaked online before release. But this time the show’s creators have been very careful, allowing only Barack Obama, a fan of the show, to be allowed an earlier viewing. David Benioff, one of the creators, explained, “When the Commander-in-Chief says, ‘I want to see advanced episodes,’ what are you gonna do?”

Last year, the episodes of the show were leaked online before release. But this time the show’s creators have been very
careful, allowing only Barack Obama, a fan of the show, a special early viewing

George RR Martin, or GRRM, is a distinctive figure in contemporary literature. Usually dressed in a blue open shirt and dark denims held up by braces, with a dark blue cap and his candy-floss beard, Martin is known to be a comic book nerd. Born to a dock labourer in New Jersey, he used to devour comic and fantasy books. He taught journalism for a bit, wrote fantasy books, and later TV scripts. It is said that TV producers would often ask him to scale down his ideas for budget reasons. He eventually quit TV in 1994 to begin work on a book as big as his imagination which he had begun to conceive three years earlier.

Martin is a modern-day JRR Tolkien. He has conjured up an entire medieval world, filled with not just a wide variety of people, but with dragons, witches and zombies. There are sub-plots within sub-plots—multiple threads that span out in different directions.

The sixth season of the TV show now brings about a curious predicament. For the first time, a TV show will move ahead of its source material. Between 1996 and 2000, Martin published three books of the series. Since then, for the last 15 years, he has been able to publish only two. He was supposed to finish his sixth book before the current season of the TV show went on air, but he has once again missed a deadline.