‘Game of Thrones’ Book Proposal Shows How Much the Series Changed — for the Better


British bookstore chain Waterstones posted and hastily deleted George R.R. Martin’s book proposal for A Game of Thrones yesterday, as sent to publisher HarperCollins in 1993. Of course the proposal is now available in perpetuity on the Internet, and the hard copy is reportedly on display at HarperCollins’ new London offices. The document has already attracted notice for how dramatically it departs from the final product as published so far; the book series supposedly still has two volumes to go, and Game of Thrones is still going strong on HBO. It’s also remarkable for how much of an improvement the changes are over Martin’s original vision for the series.

[Book and show spoilers unsurprisingly follow.]

The plot point that is (understandably) getting the most attention is the romance between supposed half-siblings Jon Snow and Arya Stark. Though Martin’s characters notoriously aren’t incest-shy, “Their passion [would have continued] to torment Jon and Arya throughout the trilogy, until the secret of Jon’s true parentage is finally revealed in the last book.” And if Arya, who’s nine years old at the start of the series, as a love interest isn’t strange enough, the proposal also includes a love triangle with none other than Tyrion Lannister, the character who is arguably the closest thing the series has to a moral center.

Of course, the actual A Song of Ice and Fire gives both Jon and Tyrion other love interests — though as careful readers/Internet-savvy fans probably know, the bit about Jon not actually being Arya’s half-brother is likely still true. In a more interesting twist, though, Arya is mostly desexualized; her androgyny is a major plot point even before she joins the Faceless Men, a group of shape-shifting assassins who erase all traces of their original identity, including gender. And what little sexuality Arya has displayed, as in Martin’s most recent sample chapter from his next book, she uses as a weapon. She is, in other words, a more developed, and more unique, character than the Arya in the book proposal.

The same goes for Daenerys, whose original rendition kills her warlord husband in revenge for her brother’s death, then simply “stumbles on” the dragon eggs that become her biggest asset. What’s missing is the complex relationships with both Viserys and Khal Drogo that Dany develops in the books, relationships that are deeply influenced by her latent desire for independence. And of course, current Dany doesn’t get her dragons by chance — their birth is a direct consequence of Drogo’s death, Dany’s first and most significant lesson in the price of power.

Even the series’ trademark scene is missing from the proposal. Rather than suffering a gut-wrenching (and perfectly soundtracked) betrayal at the Red Wedding, proposal-Robb dies a conventional battlefield death, while proposal-Catelyn dies north of the Wall, at the hands of the Others. A Song of Ice and Fire didn’t just get more complex, and thus more interesting, at the level of individual characters; the plot also transformed over time into a much darker version of a fantasy epic, one where heroes die at the hands of alienated former allies as well as clear enemies.

Both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones stand perfectly well on their own, but reading the proposal highlights what an achievement they are, and not just because the books have grown from the three Martin originally proposed to at least seven. Though the complicated narrative structure and the Starks’ bad luck were there from the start, much of what makes the series stand out wasn’t added until later — which means book six might just be worth the wait.