Usually when Hollywood gets its mitts on an epic sci-fi novel saga like George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, that's enough for its readers to break out into a cold sweat fretting about how the books are going to get adapted from page to screen.
However, in the case of Game of Thrones (the title of the first book in Martin's series, which also serves as the name of the television series based on Ice and Fire) the worry was quickly abated with just a few potent words: HBO, 10-hour series, Sean Bean. And George R.R. Martin's listed as a series producer and episode writer.
With Game of Thrones set to premiere on April 17, the excitement from Martin's fans and general sci-fi aficionados alike has been ramping up with each new teaser trailer and one-sheet image revealed, but Martin's seal of approval has been the most compelling enticement of all.
In an exclusive interview, Martin says while he initially had "mixed feelings" about A Song of Ice and Fire being adapted into any visual medium, it was the passion and reverence for the mythology by executive producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss that finally persuaded him it was the right path.
"Yes, there are changes and compromises, but they are minimal," Martin asserts. "I do very much have the sense that David and Dan, and the other people at HBO, are trying to take my story and bring it to the screen, which, you know, is not always the case. In some cases they purchase a book and people they bring in change everything."
If anything, Martin says he's amazed that the budget-busting world of Westeros, the fictional land where the saga is set, is being brought to life so richly. The author laughs, "All the problems I created for them with my casts of thousands and giant battles and huge set pieces that are the set pieces of fantasy are their problems to realize it."
Citing how much visual effects have changed television production since his days writing episodes of the rebooted Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast, Martin admits, "It's a whole new world. I haven't seen any complete Thrones episodes yet, but I know they have some great special effects people working on this, and I'm hoping it looks fantastic."
As for behind the scenes, Martin confirms he's been part of the show's development since he sat down to lunch with Benioff and Weiss in Los Angeles more than a year ago. "Hopefully I've added something to the process, but it's very much their show," he adds.
Asked what he's most excited for fans to see, Martin says the terrific cast is really a sight to behold. "When we started talking about this before it was even greenlit, Sean Bean was always our first choice for Eddard 'Ned' Stark and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister. Those were the two characters that we knew we had to get [those actors], and we were delighted when we got both for the parts. Some of the other actors I hadn't heard of, but I've been watching their tapes and have seen some of their work and mostly have been blown away by the performances that I've seen. But one of the biggest triumphs is the three kids we got. Maisie Williams [as Arya Star], Sophie Turner [as Sansa Stark] and Isaac Hempstead-Wright [as Bran Stark] are just amazing talents. It was very hard, and we looked at hundreds of kids," the author says of the audition process. "The truth is that it's hard to find good kid actors. Mostly kids are used in sitcoms, which means they are good at being cute, but these are serious dramatic roles for children. They have to do grief and fear and capture three very distinct characters. We really lucked out, and Nina Gold, our casting director, deserves all kinds of credit for finding them, because these kids had hardly done anything before."
As for his scripting in the series, Martin confirms he's penned episode eight. "David and Dan did the initial breakdown and decided what would be in each episode. We then discussed which episode I would write, and I settled on episode eight. I was a little trepidatious when I began writing it, because it had been a decade since I had written a screenplay, but I remembered how ... like riding a bicycle, or sex," he laughs.
Teasing what fans can expect from his episode, Martin sighs, "Well, as usual I put in a montage that would have cost 10 times the budget of the entire episode. I wanted all the Lords Bannerman of the North assembling and going to eight different castles, with the Lords arming up and riding out. It read beautifully, but to produce it would have bankrupted them, so I knew writing it my poor montage would be done. I always write my first draft for me to be read, and then later I make the cuts for the more producible cut." However, he promises plenty of other tasty material still remains.
Game of Thrones premieres Sunday, April 17, on HBO.