George R.R. Martin's long-awaited sixth book in the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series, titled "The Winds of Winter," is nowhere in sight. The author has promised that he's working, working, working, but has stopped short of offering a release date, or any approximation of when to expect the continued adventures of Tyrion Lannister and the rest of the "Game of Thrones" heroes and villains.
But that doesn't mean there isn't new material from the world of "Ice and Fire" to chew on. In fact, there is quite literally a new book called "The World of Ice and Fire" hitting stores this week. The hardcover volume, clocking in at over 300 pages, promises to tell "the never-before-seen history of Westeros and the lands beyond," as written by Martin and co-authors Elio M. García Jr. and Linda Antonsson of go-to fan site Westeros.org.
Ahead of the book's release, Martin stopped by the 92Y in New York City to tell tales of "Ice and Fire," and to tease a bit of what he has in store not just in his new book, but in the future of the series. We were in the crowd, and here's what we learned:
1. The "World" Is Big And Getting Bigger
"The World of Ice and Fire" is an almost fully comprehensive compendium of the thousands of years of history surrounding Westeros, Essos and the other nearby and faraway lands. Almost fully comprehensive, because there's still more to reveal in a later book.
Martin said that there are aspects of Westeros history that he's keeping closely guarded until they're revealed in the final two "Ice and Fire" novels, "The Winds of Winter" and "A Dream of Spring," as well as the "Dunk and Egg" short stories set about a century before the events of "A Game of Thrones."
At some future date, Martin will release what he and fans have dubbed "The GRRMarillion," which will go into even more detail than "The World of Ice and Fire." In other words, if you're a fan of Westerosi lore, you'll be sinking your teeth into this world for many moons to come.
2. You Know Nothing, Maester Yandel
Even though he's holding out some of the bigger secrets for the so-called GRRMarillion, Martin conceded that there are certain aspects of Westeros history that needed to make it into "The World of Ice and Fire." And the details he wanted to leave out? Well, he found a solution for that, too.
"The World of Ice and Fire" is written from the perspective of a new character named Maester Yandel, one of the many maesters of the Citadel. Yandel's goal is to chart the "history of deeds gallant and wicked, peoples familiar and strange, and lands near and far." In other words, it's not Martin telling you everything he knows about Westeros; it's a character within the world of Westeros telling you everything he knows about Westeros.
Which, in some cases, is not much at all. Gotta love those unreliable narrators.
3. The Art of the Iron Throne
Martin's new book features pages upon pages of stunning artwork, including (but far from limited to) painter Marc Simonetti's rendition of the Iron Throne. It's a hulking mass of twisted steel, an appalling, asymmetrical monument to blood-fueled conquest. It could not look more different from the Iron Throne that "Game of Thrones" fans are used to seeing, but it's the one that has always existed in Martin's mind.
"You can't do this on a TV show. It's not something I criticize HBO for," he said. "The thrones they have are enormously large and cumbersome to move and build. To build this monstrosity would blow the budget of an entire episode, and it wouldn't fit on the set."
"It's a very large set, but not large enough," he continued. "You would need St. Paul's Cathedral. If they gave us St. Paul's Cathedral, or Westminster Abbey, to shoot in, and a year to build a giant thing like that, then you could get the Iron Throne the way it's described in the books. And that's the difference between books and television. I can say that The Wall is 700 feet high, but I don't actually have to build a wall that's 700 feet high, or a giant throne made of nasty-looking swords."
4. The Gods of "Ice and Fire"
Religion plays an important role in the world of "Ice and Fire," with most of Westeros worshiping the Faith of the Seven, while Northerners like the Starks of Winterfell pray to the Old Gods. But more and more, a new religion is coming into play: R'hllor, the so-called Lord of Light, who the red priestess Melisandre worships unconditionally.
The fire-based R'hllor stands in stark contrast to the ice-dwelling White Walkers beyond the Wall. For years, fans have speculated on a connection between the two parties. But Martin was asked a very direct question about those connections — "Is there any connection between the Lord of Light and the White Walkers, in terms of God and the Devil?" — and he gave an equally direct answer.
And then he laughed. A lot.
5. How to Birth a Dragon
But even Martin was stumped at times during the conversation. One very astute question was raised immediately following talk of R'hllor and the White Walkers.
"The birth of a dragon seems to be connected to fire and death," the question began. "Does birthing a dragon require a human sacrifice?"
Martin was taken aback by the question. He raised his eyebrows, rubbed his face, and let out a sigh, as the audience let out a laugh.
"Interesting notion," he said, slowly. "There are clues in the books… so… you know… I think I'm going to dodge that one right now."
Read into that as you will.
6. Whodor? Hodor.
Martin didn't field too many questions about specific characters in "Game of Thrones" lore, except for one very interesting inquiry about the lovable, huggable, dim-witted almost-giant Hodor. How did Martin decide on the name "Hodor"?
"Well, it's not his real name. It's just what they call him," he said. "His real name's Walder. If your name was Walder, you might want to be called Hodor, too."
After the sweet jab at the Frey family, Martin dropped a big, enigmatic bomb as to why Hodor is called Hodor: "You'll have to keep reading."
Interesting. Does that lend credibility to theories about Hodor's name being some kind of magical code word? That Hodor is actually the great unsung hero of this whole tale? As Martin advised, we'll have to keep reading.
7. Words to Live By
All of the great houses of Westeros have words. "Winter is coming" for the Starks. "Ours is the fury" for House Baratheon. "Hear me roar" for the Lannisters. But what about House R.R. Martin? If George was a royal in the world of Westeros, what would his house words be?
His very satisfying answer: "Deadline? What deadline?"
Sounds about right.
"The World of Ice and Fire" is available on October 28.