How The 'GOT' Fandom Impacted The Story In Major Ways
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Elio and Linda Antonsson are Game Of Thrones pros. And I mean professional in the literal sense. They're getting paid to be superfans of the franchise. They know the series' lore well enough that they've helped write some of it, and have taken on the job of acting as George R.R. Martin's spare brains, keeping the many details of his fictional universe straight. That got them the job of co-writing the companion historical book The World Of Ice And Fire: The Untold History Of Westeros with Martin. We called them up in their Switzerland home to untangle the weirwood roots of their journey.
Superfans Helped Cast Game Of Thrones
Elio and Linda started Westeros.org in 1999. Initially it was just supposed to be a Song Of Ice And Fire text-based game called Blood Of Dragons. (Don't worry, if that's what you really wanted, they eventually made that too.) But the project spiraled into a catalog of all the books' twists, turns, and lore, as well as a forum for fans to keyboard-joust over topics like how to speak Dothraki. Elio explains, "The idea had been that this site was going to be a resource for our prospective players. But through our involvement in the early community, the Dragonstone Forum, where I was a moderator, we started realizing that we could use this website as a place to collect information, because that was what people were interested in."
Westeros.org's unique trait was that they tracked down and documented every little word Martin ever said. It was basically the intellectual equivalent of stalking. This led to the birth of the "So Spake Martin" collection. "The idea [behind that] was it's a collection of correspondence that George has had with fans, interviews with various places, online chats, all from the late '90s, early 2000s. And we realized, hey, these are going to get lost."
Elio and Linda did such a good job of keeping an archive of Martin's ideas that Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss joined the site while they were planning the show. They mined the brains of the biggest Ice And Fire nerds on the planet to help them cast their new series. "They hung out for a while, they answered some questions, and asked for ideas, like, 'Anything you guys want to see happen, any actors you want to see?' Jason Momoa, who played Drogo -- they didn't know anything about him, and they started looking at him thanks to fans at Westeros.org pushing pictures of him and saying, 'Look at this guy, he could totally do it.' Charles Dance, same thing, everyone was saying he should be Tywin."
Today, Elio maintains that the site is very much focused more on the books (he himself stopped watching the show after season five). Plus, he and Linda have been very critical of the show's direction and how it's spoiled aspects of the books.
These Fans Helped George R.R. Martin Keep His Story Straight
Anyone who's run a D&D game (we're going to guess that's 100 percent of the people reading a 2,600-word article on Game Of Thrones) knows how hard it can be to keep the lore straight for a fantasy world of your own design. George R.R. Martin has written a whole library's worth of Westeros stuff. But his memory for what he's written is no match for that of his fans. Elio tells us about correcting him on some details for his short story The Hedge Knight.
"It takes place about 90 years prior to the novels, when the Targaryens were at their height, and the heir to the throne died in the course of the story, at the age of 39. Well, with that piece of information, I was able to figure out that the timeline for the Targaryen dynasty that George gave in A Game Of Thrones doesn't work, because he gave the age of the king at his death as 18, and he was succeeded by his brother. So I did some math, and let's say there was no [age difference] more than a year apart, and none of them had a kid earlier than when they were 16 years old, so there was no way to fit this Targaryen prince." Rather than take this correction as an insult and Red Wedding Elio's entire family, Martin "was glad to be told about it, and he fixed it eventually by revising the details of the Targaryen kings published in the back of A Game Of Thrones."
Now, we could bet money that such a tiny plot hole wasn't a major impediment to most people's enjoyment. But the internet exists, and that means there are still thousands of superfans who will catch shit like that and probably send Martin vaguely threatening mail for getting the genealogy of House Wiggedtypotkins wrong.
"George gave all this detail to this famous and legendary Stark called Theon, the Hungry Wolf, and ends up putting him way back in Stark history. He's going around killing Andals when the Andals were invading Westeros, and according to legend, sailed a fleet across the Narrow Sea to take the fight to the Andals in their homeland. And I said to George, 'Does that really make sense that he's one of the oldest Stark kings, when at the end of A Game Of Thrones, when they're in the crypts and Bran is being asked by Luwin to name the statues of kings, he mentions Theon the Hungry Wolf? What sense does it make for a king that lived thousands of years ago to have [his statue] right at the entrance next to people like Rickard, Bran's grandfather? It doesn't make sense."
Elio offered some ideas to fix this problem, but Martin didn't bother, because he didn't think anybody but Elio would catch it. This broke Fantasy Author Rule #1: Never underestimate the obsessiveness of fans. As Elio predicted, somebody on the forum did catch the error and pointed it out, and Martin wound up having to issue a correction. It's not the first time Martin has been surprised by his fans, either. For example, he doesn't get why Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper, became so popular. "And I told him, 'George, of course you managed to make him really popular. He stands out.' And he didn't think [Oberyn] was a bad character, but he didn't quite see what was special about that character."
Because who could have predicted that a pansexual poison-happy fuck-prince would've developed a fanbase?
Eventually, George R.R. Martin Hired Them
Elio and Linda just started talking to Martin over the internet one day. Since it was the '90s and only about 50 people used the internet, they were able to build the kind of personal relationship that people just don't get with famous authors anymore. Now, if GRRM responds to a random fan, there's at least a 50 percent chance that person is planning to attack him for the murder of [insert character here].
But Elio and Linda met Martin well before the height of his fame. And in 2004, they journeyed from Switzerland to Santa Fe to meet with him. It turns out he had more to offer them than autographs -- he had a book deal. "He said 'I have several publishers [interested].' They wanted him to do a world book, because a lot of other fantasy authors had done them. But he said he didn't have time to do it, so he asked if Linda and I would want to. And that was the first we ever heard about it."
The publishing world moves even slower than the army of the dead, so it wasn't until a year later that George emailed them again and told them the deal to write an encyclopedia of Westeros was official. "2006 is when we signed the contracts, and we met our editor and George at the Anaheim WorldCon, and discussed ideas. [The publishers] trusted George to know what he was doing by inviting two fans who had no formal publication history to write and structure the bulk of it."
Keep in mind, the TV show wouldn't even be conceived until the same year the contracts were signed, so it's not like there was a raging demand from the public for all the secrets of Westeros yet. But now that the Garcias had the chance to make good use of their obscure knowledge, they set out to type every single complicated-ass Targaryen name.
Of course, no book comes together without a few speed bumps in the Kingsroad. And as they wrote, the Garcias hit on a difficulty that they should have seen coming: waiting on George R.R. Martin. (For those of you keeping track, the next book in the series has been overdue for roughly 47 years.)
"We started working in 2006, and it wasn't published until 2014 for various reasons, the big one being George. George wanted to have some role to some degree, but he got so delayed on the fourth book he said, 'I can't work on it now, I gotta jump straight into the fifth book.' And that one took a long while. It was after Dance With Dragons, late 2012, when he jumped in."
Martin looked at their 90,000-word manuscript and said, in essence, 'What about all this stuff you didn't include because I never wrote it down anywhere?'
"And he said, 'Well, the problem is all the notes are in my head.' He'd occasionally take breaks to get back to the sixth book, but there'd be days when we were writing and there'd be 8,000 new words about the history of the Ironborn or something, almost on a daily basis. His wife Paris told us George was like a man possessed with this stuff, he would toss and turn in his bed thinking about his ideas, then he'd get up at the crack of dawn, have his morning coffee, and go straight to his office to start writing."
In spite of (or perhaps because of) Martin's insanity, they cherish him: "We love what George has created, we love so much of the novels, the world, the details. That's what keeps us going." And when you keep going long enough, you get certain rewards ...
If You Fan Hard Enough And Long Enough, You Get To Write Canon Of Your Own
Since Elio and Linda were going to be writing the first encyclopedia of the Song Of Ice And Fire world, they were going to have the power to basically invent and add canon. They were obviously limited by what Martin was willing to give away. "He didn't want to be absolutely 100 percent factual, especially when it came to the secrets of the story, because he wanted to get those out in the novels."
To get around this in A World Of Ice And Fire, Elio and Linda created Maester Yandel (the name's a mix of Elio and Linda's names). He's the in-universe narrator and author of the book. To give Martin some wiggle room and keep the audience guessing about what was real, they made him a bit untrustworthy as a source. This made sense because Maester Yandel has his own biases and political opinions. This also gave Martin the freedom to add or change things later without technically retconning anything.
"We made up names of maesters, names of books they wrote, we had bits and pieces of things, like Songs Drowned Men Sing, which is a collection of tales of the Ironborn. George very kindly allowed us to throw in a couple nods to our game, because it takes place in the historical period between Daeron the Young Dragon to Baelor the Blessed, so there's a couple bits in there referring to our game."
That's all basically any nerd's mental wet dream, which is like a regular wet dream, but with more cerebrospinal fluid. Elio, Linda, and Martin also took it as an opportunity to show some love to longtime fans of the series. "There are also references to a couple of fans who passed away. There's a Michael Manwoody, a moderator on our forum, he was a professor of economics and people loved him, and he passed away. He picked the name as his handle on the forum because he might have found it amusing, but it is a Dornish family, and George came up with a really nice story with us about who this Michael Manwoody was, which was appreciated."
Other things the trio put in were a lot less subtle. Like Muppets. They made Muppets canon in Westeros: "When George wrote the Dance of the Dragons material, he touched on the Tullys of the time period. And there was an Elmo ... and there was a Kermit ... and there was an Oscar. And obviously George hit on one of the names and thought, 'Hell, I'll make the rest of them Muppets as well.' Someone did point out though that those three Muppets are red, blue, and green, and those are the three forks of the Trident [River]. So maybe that was a little joke about that, but at the time, we did suggest to George, 'Do you really want to have all these Muppet names? Maybe Kermit's okay, but do you really need to have Elmo and Oscar as well?' And George said 'Yes. Yes we do.'"
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