I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this, but: Have you ever regretted the scene?
Martin: No. Not as a writer. It’s probably the most powerful scene in the books. It cost me some readers, but gained me many more. It’s going to be hard for me to watch it [on the show]. It’s going to be a tough night. Because I love these characters too. And in a TV show you get to know the actors. You’re also ending that relationship with an actor that you have affection for. Richard Madden and Michelle Fairley have done an amazing job.
What do you say to readers who are upset about the scene?
It depends on what they say. What can you say to someone who says they’ll never read your book again? People read books for different reasons. I respect that. Some read for comfort. And some of my former readers have said their life is hard, their mother is sick, their dog died, and they read fiction to escape. They don’t want to get hit in the mouth with something horrible. And you read that certain kind of fiction where the guy will always get the girl and the good guys win and it reaffirms to you that life is fair. We all want that at times. There’s a certain vicarious release to that. So I’m not dismissive of people who want that. But that’s not the kind of fiction I write, in most cases. It’s certainly not what Ice and Fire is. It tries to be more realistic about what life is. It has joy, but it also had pain and fear. I think the best fiction captures life in all its light and darkness.
One of my favorite elements of the scene is you introduce this idea of “salt and bread.” We accept that as readers — Okay, in this fantasy world, people don’t harm each other once they eat a host’s bread and salt in their home. Then you break your own rule. It’s like you’re smacking the reader upside the head for being so dense — “Of course they’re not going to follow that silly rule ALL the time!”
It was stolen from history. Hospitality laws were real in Dark Ages society. A host and guest were not allowed to harm each other even if they were enemies. By violating that law, the phrase is, they “condemn themselves for all time.”
What about the Red Wedding itself? Is that based on history too?
The Red Wedding is based on a couple real events from Scottish history. One was a case called The Black Dinner. The king of Scotland was fighting the Black Douglas clan. He reached out to make peace. He offered the young Earl of Douglas safe passage. He came to Edinburgh Castle and had a great feast. Then at the end of the feast, [the king’s men] started pounding on a single drum. They brought out a covered plate and put it in front of the Earl and revealed it was the head of a black boar — the symbol of death. And as soon as he saw it, he knew what it meant. They dragged them out and put them to death in the courtyard. The larger instance was the Glencoe Massacre. Clan MacDonald stayed with the Campbell clan overnight and the laws of hospitality supposedly applied. But the Campbells arose and started butchering every MacDonald they could get their hands on. No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.
The Black Dinner:
* Changed to one of Frey’s young wives in TV version
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