We may have to wait a bit longer for George R.R. Martin to produce
fanatics lining up around the corner (or at least scurrying to their favorite online retailer) when it’s released on October 18. In honor of the 20th anniversary of the book series that launched one of the most popular TV shows in the world, Random House has put together a massive illustrated version of Martin’s first novel,
. It’s a gilded hardcover that’s 896 pages long, includes a new introduction from professional nerd John Hodgman, and is filled with 73 illustrations (old and new) to head off each chapter, plus eight richly detailed color plates. The volume is fit for a king (though, preferably not Joffrey) and
has an exclusive look at 10 of its images—as well as the story behind how the new edition came together.
, it’s not easy to surprise Anne Groell. She’s been editing Martin’s sprawling fantasy series since the very beginning and has had a hand in all the graphic novels, history volumes, and various published off-shoots that
, she was surprised when her author kept rejecting an artist’s rendering of the famed Iron Throne.
“Oh, no. That’s totally not right; that’s sort of what HBO did,” Groell recalled Martin saying of an early effort by Tammy Patterson. “Mine is much bigger and more tangled.” After several rounds of rejections, a frustrated Groell leaned into her familiarity with the novels. “I ended up going through all the books and pulling every description of the Iron Throne that talked about how it was big and hulking and bestial. I sent all of this to George, and I said, ‘O.K., tell me what I’m missing.’
“He finally said, ‘It’s 10 to 16 feet off the ground, with steps going up to it like a slide.’ I said, ‘O.K., nowhere in the books does it say that!’ It’s what I like to call the ‘invisible-head syndrome,’ that authors always think you can see into their head and see the vision that they’ve got. But if it’s not on the page, you’re not going to see it.”
Martin has since pointed to Marc Simonetti’s depiction of the throne (above) as what he wants his readers to see when he writes about the seat of power, which was made from a thousand melted-down swords gathered from Targaryen enemies. It’s just one example of how the new illustrated edition can root readers more firmly in the world Martin has created—you never know which details he forgot to include.
The Simonetti illustration is several years old; in fact, many of the images in the book have been re-purposed from old
. But Groell balanced familiar imagery with some surprising new paintings.
“I made a list of all of the images we [already] had that were relevant to just
Then I went through the book, chapter by chapter, and tried to figure out, ‘Where would our existing art be able to go? Then, what does that leave me?’” Though it’s an action-packed book, not
inspired an iconic scene. “O.K., this is a chapter about politics,” Groell explained. “We had an illustration of crossed swords and hands, and I was like, ‘Why not? Let’s do swords!’” Working with Martin and his assistant, Raya Golden, Groell picked eight “iconic scenes from the book”—the discovery of the wolf pups, Jaime and Cersei together, and so on—to reproduce in color. Groell wound up recycling two color images—both having to do with Daenerys and her dragons—but commissioned six new full-color, full-page plates, including this Magali Villeneuve painting of Ned Stark—looking nothing like HBO fans might imagine—meeting his doom.
In fact, most of the artwork will look foreign to the eyes of TV watchers. (The kids in the books are much younger, for one.) That’s due, in part, to some legal restrictions. “We can’t use likenesses of the actors; we try to stay away from it whenever possible,” Groell explained. But when referencing a new Arantza Sestayo painting of Sansa and the Hound, Groell admits, “If you’re creating a character who has a very distinctive physical look—with scarring and stuff like that—there’s not a lot of ways you can create that. But we want to make sure that these are interpretations of the book and not influenced by the TV show.”
Still, the fun, in most cases, is found in the differences between the now iconic imagery produced by HBO and the original vision of Martin as interpreted by these artists. Great care was taken to make sure all the drawn details are consistent with the words on the page. “There are a couple of cases where we got through a piece and suddenly realized, ‘Oops! We got a detail wrong!’ And would have to go back and fix it.”
But Groell—who is used to having her every move obsessively tracked by
fans—is already bracing herself for some criticism. “There’s one piece where Ned is about to execute [Sansa’s direwolf] Lady, so [he’s] approaching Lady with a sword.” Groell said that while the artist drew the scene with Ned clutching the sword right-handed, the effect was much more dramatic when the image was flipped. So save your angry tweets, Ned enthusiasts: “If anyone ever points out that Ned is right-handed, we have to say, ‘Yes, but it was so much better in the composition when we flipped it!’”
A few compromises were made in order to use some of Martin and Groell’s favorite images. (“The throne is not quite accurate,” she said, in this Michael Komarck portrait of Jaime Lannister, but the expression is pure Kingslayer.) But for detail-oriented fans, the most rewarding images in the illustrated
may actually focus on architecture. According to Groell, Martin labored with artist Ted Nasmith to create the “definitive” versions of the famous castles, keeps, and ancestral homes of Westeros.
The luscious illustrations collected in full in the gallery below make this new edition a perfect image-heavy introduction for fans of the HBO series who have yet to dip their toe into the richly realized world of the novels. What better way to pass those extra months until Season 7 premieres next summer? For those used to visual stimulation, this edition has plenty.
This volume might also be a balm for those fans still eagerly awaiting news of
. Despite recent rumors that a publishing date may be near, Random House told
to ignore any supposed “leaks” online: “Once we have a publication date for
, the world will know.” As for the rumor that Martin’s epic has grown so big that the end goal may still be several years away, Groell said, “I know it sounds strange to say that you have to be very lean and spare when he’s writing these giant books, but considering he’s writing giant books, these are actually quite controlled novels—even though it might not seem like it.” And when asked if Martin is planning to write beyond the planned seventh and final installment,
, Groell replied: “Seven books for seven kingdoms. That’s what George is aiming for.”
Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.
Has Broken an Emmy Record, and Might Break Another