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January 16, 2012

‘Game of Thrones’: George R.R. Martin’s Season 2 anxieties

Posted in: TV

"A Song of Ice and Fire" author George R. R. Martin answers fan questions at Comic-Con 2011. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Peter Dinklage accepts his Golden Globe for best supporting TV actor for his performance as Tyrion Lannister in "Game of Thrones" on Jan. 15, 2012. (Paul Drinkwater / NBC / Getty Images)

Peter Dinklage shows off his Golden Globe on Jan. 15, 2012. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Lena Headey, who plays Cersei Lannister in "Game of Thrones," arrives at HBO's Golden Globe Awards after-party on Jan. 15, 2012. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

Jason Momoa, who plays Khal Drogo in "Game of Thrones," poses with his partner Lisa Boneta at the HBO Golden Globe Awards after-party on Jan. 15, 2012. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images)

"A Song of Ice and Fire" author George R. R. Martin, left, arrives at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 18, 2011. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Roxanne McKee, Emilia Clarke and Amrita Acharia in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Nickolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime Lannister in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Sean Bean, back, Miltos Yeromelou, left and Maisie Williams in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

Isaac Hempstead Wright as Bran Stark, left, and Kit Harington as Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloan / HBO)

This post has been corrected, as detailed below.

Like a graybeard king, George R.R. Martin sat near the center of the ballroom at the 69th Annual Golden Globes and watched the royal court of Hollywood pass by his table Sunday night and, yes, in a room packed with lithe starlets and square-jawed leading men it was easy to pick out the only plump fantasy novelist in the room.

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“It is another surreal thing,” said Martin, the grand mythmaker behind HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”  “But this is not my first Golden Globes. I was here before. It was years ago but it was nothinglike this. It was one-tenth the size. It wasn’t so completely crazy and with the stars who are here now and the coverage, it’s a different thing.”

Those previous visits to the Globes were in the late 1980s, when Martin was a writer/producer for “Beauty and the Beast,” the acclaimed live-action fantasy series that starred Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton that was twice nominated for best television drama (it lost to “L.A. Law” in 1988 and to “thirtysomething” a year later). The show was an important stop in Martin’s career (he got his first Emmy nominations for it, for instance) but it’s on his mind lately for less than pleasant reasons. Martin recently went on the record with his concerns about The CW’s plan to reboot and “modernize” the series. On Sunday night, he was thinking about a perilous parallel between “Thrones” and “Beauty”: What happens when a key actor leaves the show.

“Linda Hamilton decided to leave ['Beauty'] after the second season, and so we killed off her character right at the beginning at the third season and the ratings just went through the floor,” Martin said. “People hated it and the  show was done after that.”

The sharp edges of that memory are back now as “Game of Thrones” ramps up toward its second season premiere on April 1.  That’s because the show is moving forward without Sean Bean, who was viewed as the most bankable star of the show and, early on, was the face of the show in its marketing and promotional materials. Bean’s character, Eddard Stark, was killed off in the ninth episode of the first season and while that didn’t surprise anyone who read Martin’s books, it did shock many fans who have come to Martin’s kingdoms through the cable series.

“We’ve only had one episode after Sean’s character died and, well, we’ll find out how it affects things,” Martin said. “It was a big shock to a lot of people and it was interesting to see the response to it. It’s something I did, you know, 16 years ago when the book came out. So it wasn’t a secret, of course,  but I could see the shock of it in the emails I got and on the blogs and the headlines. Time will tell how it affects the show, but hopefully the rest of the characters and their stories have become compelling to people… but I have to admit I worry about it a little after the experience with ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Linda Hamilton.”

Martin’s concerns may be misplaced. “Game of Thrones” didn’t win the Golden Globe for best drama on Sunday (the winner was “Homeland,” the fascinating Showtime series), but in that intensely competitive category the nomination alone speaks to the show’s foothold with critics. And while Bean will certainly be missed, on Sunday night on the Globes stage it was Peter Dinklage who represented the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and he picked up the award for best supporting actor in a drama series, a trophy that he can put right next to the Emmy he won in September.

"A Song of Ice and Fire" author George R. R. Martin, left, arrives at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 18, 2011. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

If anything, the first-season decapitation of Stark gives the HBO series a rare aura of reckless fate — how many shows on television are willing to kill off their central character at a moment of peak success especially if (unlike Hamilton on “Beauty and the Beast”) the actor is plenty happy with the job? Dinklage, backstage after winning on Sunday, underscored that very fact and promised that there will be more heads rolling this spring.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Dinklage said. “I mean, we killed the protagonist, and I think that’s a really smart narrative. Writing has gotten so formulaic in television. You got to push the envelope and challenge people’s expectations, and I think we do that. You never know what’s around the corner. In Season 2, we’re not done killing off people, and it’s amazing the characters we choose.”

Sendak's "Hobbit"? Tale of a lost epic

The HBO series was created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, but they have been persistent in their celebration and citation of the source material and the result is a new level of celebrity for the author, who has just released a sample chapter from “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth book in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, which is the basis of the HBO series. On Sunday night, some big-name stars came by the HBO table to meet the writer but even more flattering are the number of fantasy television shows that are now in the pipeline.

“It was ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films that led the way but ‘Game of Thrones’ and the success of it have opened things up for fantasy on television and you’re seeing that with the shows about contemporary fairy tales, for instance,” Martin said. “Those are fine but I’d like to see something that is more like a second-world fantasy, as Tolkien called it, something that is epic. That’s what I find interesting.”

If you want to revisit the first season — or figure out what all the fuss is about — click on the photos below and join us in our epic interest of this most interesting epic.

[For the record, 7:40 p.m. Jan. 16: An earlier version of this post said the sample chapter released was for the fifth book in the series, "A Dance with Dragons." The sample chapter is for the sixth book, "The Winds of Winter."]

– Geoff Boucher

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