In 2006, screenwriters D.B. Weiss and David Benioff approached George R.R. Martin, the author of the acclaimed A Song of Ice and Fire series, to see if he was open to a television adaption.
That meeting spawned the creation of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series; now the most popular series the network’s history. But many fans of the show don’t realise what Weiss and Benioff had to do in order to secure Martin’s trust.
In a Q&A back in 2013, the story was told of how the three of them sat down for a lunch that was eventually dragged into a five hour meeting. Martin recounted, “I did ask them a few pointed question to determine whether they had actually read the books, and they gave me the right answers.”
When asked to specify what they were grilled on, Weiss elaborated:
He asked us, “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?” We had discussed it before, and we gave a shocking answer. At that point, George didn’t actually say whether or not we were right or wrong, but his smile was his tell. We knew we had passed the Wonka test, at that point.
This is an impressive anecdote, given that a many readers of the books typically miss the hints given for Jon’s true parentage, and it’s unlikely that many casual show watchers would have the slightest idea of the truth.
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Jon Snow is presented in the story as a bastard of Winterfell; born as the product of an affair between Ned Stark and a woman he met while off at war. But throughout the books and the show, many hints were given that this may not be the truth.
First, there is constant reminder that Ned is a fiercely honorable man who takes oaths very seriously. Is that the type of man who would father a bastard and then raise him as his own, bringing shame to his wife? Then there are the stories about Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and then-prince Rhaegar Targaryen. The history told in Westeros says that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, sparking the war that eventually left the Targaryens in ruin and Robert Baratheon as king.
But there is evidence that Lyanna was actually in love with Rhaegar, and ran away with him so they could be together. In the first book, A Game of Thrones, Ned has a flashback where he remembers seeing Lyanna “in a bed of blood”, and her last words are “Promise me, Ned.” What could she have been asking him? This is where Jon comes in. It is highly likely that Jon Snow is actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Ned promised to raise him as his own, in order to protect him from the enemies of the Targaryens that were now in power.
This theory is all but confirmed, through many hints from George R.R. Martin himself as well as cast members of the show. But the fact that Weiss and Benioff were able to correctly guess this, when only three of the current five books was released, is quite astounding. It’s no wonder that Martin trusted them to adapt the series – they knew what they were doing.
In their recent interview with Variety, Weiss explained again how their initial meeting had gone and expanded on how things could have ended differently.
I think with us, he understood that we didn’t have to fake anything. We had become instantly and genuinely obsessed with his books to the point where we knew lots and lots about the minutia of them — and then he asked us the question about Jon Snow’s parentage. Maybe if we had gotten it wrong, he would have let us do it anyway. It was still obvious that we love this, and that we wanted to do it more than anything in the world, and that we would respect it and honour it. I think getting (the answer) right probably helped.
Who knows what would have happened had Weiss and Benioff not been as obsessive as they were, but fans should be relieved that the show was put in the hands of such dedicated and creative writers.
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