During the Worldcon in Dublin last summer (2019), Geoffray and Tomcat had the chance to interview Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, administrators of the website westeros.org and co-authors with George R.R. Martin of The World of Ice And Fire (TWOIAF).
We are now offering you a transcript of this special moment.
(pour la version française, cliquez ici)
↑About The World of Ice and Fire
La Garde de Nuit: What was your reaction the first time the idea of TWOIAF was presented to you ? And is it true that it was George’s idea as it is described on the wikipedia page ?
Elio: I first learned about this in 2004 when I visited George. I actually visited my family for the first time after moving to Sweden in 1999. I visited my family for the first time in 2004 in Florida and my sister got to move to Las Vegas where our parents were living. So we drove from Florida to Las Vegas all together, and I realised at one point, you know, we’re close to Santa Fe and we can arrange calls. You know, I called on a payphone when you still had public payphones *laughts* to Linda, and Linda mailed Parris [ndlr: GrrM’s wife], and then Parris talked to George, and gave my number at the payphone, and George called me, and we arranged to meet. We had dinner, we went to his house, I saw his miniatures and his collection of books and where he worked and everything… and we had dinner, and during dinner, towards the end, he mentioned that various publishers had been floating the idea. So it did not originate with him, the idea of TWOIAF. His publisher said these guidebooks of settings… Terry Brooks had one for the Shannara thing, Tolkien of course had a bunch of ones that people made after Tolkien, Robert Jordan has one, he is also a big example as well. So they said : “Your books are popular, so of course make one” and he said : “I don’t have time to do this myself, I’m late on A Feast for Crows, I need to get that done first, but maybe I know who can help me so yes. Would you and Linda be interested?” Linda was not there, but I said : “I think so, I had to check with Linda and I’m pretty sure that’s a yes”. As soon as we were done, I told my parents about it, then I called Linda. I think you were still up?
Linda: I think so, yes.
Elio: It was… it was… it’s like a nine hours time difference, so it was like eleven or something in the morning …
Linda: You were keeping very late hours…
Elio: It was the morning in Sweden when I told her. And the first thing I said is : “George want us to write a book with him!” “What!”. And then… I still have the notes on a paper, where I was writing…immediately after the dinner, writing quick notes on the various bits of stuff about George and I had discussed, so you can memorialize it. So, it did originate with other people but George thought it was a good idea, provided that we could work with him on it, and it was insanely exciting for us.
GdN: Do you think you’ll work on another book with George like this or on Fire and blood 2?
Linda: What we did on Fire and Blood was mainly : because he wrote the material really originally for TWOIAF and it had sort of ballooned in size and became too big, and we started cutting the material down to fit into this book, so when the time came for him to put the unedited material into Fire and Blood, we helped Anne and so on to go over it and try and keep it consistent between the two books. Which turned out to be a little bit tricky because George would often work from his original files, which weren’t necessarily the files that had then gone back to us and through Anne’s editing. So, the all versioning control was definitely a bit of a problem between that. And also sometimes he had sent answers to questions in email when we had some bit that we asked him about the text. And when he wrote the expended materials in Fire and Blood he didn’t always check his email answers. In particular Jaehaerys and Alysanne’s children he had given us a list in email of the order and the names, and when it came to writing down the children for Fire and Blood he didn’t remember he had sent that email, he checked his files and everything and it wasn’t there. He didn’t have to go and read The World of Ice and Fire, because he figures he checked his files the material was gonna be there so he didn’t check his email.
Elio: When we tried looking over the Jaehaerys’s material, it started with us saying : “hey, ok, I’m pretty sure that the name of this daughter is wrong from what we published, and the sons, and the order is wrong”. And so we said : “We can fix it by doing this” and the next one came in from George a couple days later : “Okay, that problem is still there and now he even introduced another child that is not correct” Everybody realises : “Okay, wait, it’s quite clear George has completely changed the family, so forget it, we’ll have to change The World of Ice and Fire in another edition”. And I think the latest edition, we’ll have a new print order for this autumn in the US at least, I think we’ll have small revisions like that to try to keep in line in Fire and Blood (1).
Linda: So there need to be a centralized computer database somewhere with all the versions between editors, us and George. That’s what happens when you have texts going between multiple people.
GdN: Yes, and also the fact that George works only on his old pc or (anyway) old version of word.
Elio: Yes, that’s certainly, I mean, part of the reasons we sometimes got things, sometimes we would look at the files before Anne, the editor did. Because she couldn’t convert them, she didn’t have the… they have a old computer in their offices, with that disk to convert. And when the guy who manage that wasn’t there, “Elio and Linda know how to do it”, he sent it to us, we converted it, we sent it to her. We provided some tips on how to do it more easily, I don’t know if they finally managed it or not.
Linda: It’s like getting stone tablets from Mesopotamia
Elio: Like Moise going down the mountain : here !
Linda: Okay, who can read these stone tablets and translate them ?
Elio: So, yes, that certainly did create a little bit of fallback. We would work in doc with Anne and Word documents, we would comment and line in and so on, and George wouldn’t refer to those when he looked back to his original WordStar files where we didn’t have any comments or anything.
Linda: WordStar for some reasons doesn’t support online comments. I don’t think they had that in whatever 1990 when it was created.
Elio: 80’s something, yes.
GdN: Did you have any liberty about the legends or the stories in The World of Ice and Fire or did George decide of all the legends and creatures?
Elio: Yes, a lot of… The original idea had been that, we would write most of it but we would stick very closely to what was in the books. We would add… like… when you hear the name of a new maester, and a book by a new maester that you haven’t heard about before. A lot of books we came up with. That was the one area where George was fine with us having a little fun and making little references so things like that. But things like… the North, the history of the North in the book, is mostly us, actually George didn’t want to do too much himself on that one. Others, like the Riverlands, we wrote the initial draft and he ended expanding it, but like nerd details and the one we did was… We said we would always found strange that house Tully became so important, they seemed relatively small as a family… The Blackwoods and Brackens were past kings, seemed to be more powerful. Why would they would be the ones that Aegon handed power to? And so, we thought about it, well, they must have caused a lot of trouble under Harren the Black, and he ended up reducing them, their powers significantly in a short term, maybe you know… killed a bunch of them or whatever. Teaching them a lesson for delaying the building of Harrenhal, and that left them weak temporarily compare to the Tullys, and that’s why the Tullys were so important.
Linda: We made suggestions basically for solving, if the world gaps in the information, we would put in… “Okay, this is a way of tying this together” and then we would point those out when we sent our draft to George : “Okay, we’re speculating there, this is a way fixing a problem, or making something clearer, but you know this is our speculation”. So, little things like that to bridge gaps and so on. On the other hand, the structure of the book, that was pretty much entirely us. How to present the information? We based some of it obviously on what we already done in the Concordance( 2 ). How to layout things. And also the concept of the book, the idea that there would be a maester writing it. That was also our suggestion from early on, inspired in part of George that has this idea, that it is a guidebook written by a traveler in the world so that he wouldn’t have a perfect knowledge. So, a lot of the shape of the book, we got to be very involved in, having suggestions for the way it would look, the introduction, the preface with the scratched-out names and so on, that something we really wanted to have. So much of the story, of the framing story, that was our idea.
Elio: But… you know, especially the earlier parts of the book were… the Targaryen stuff was all George pretty much, and we wrote a little bit of it, but, especially after Aegon III, we wrote a bit of that, but it was all based on notes we had from George. And George reviewed and so on. So I think, and then, people are always asking you know : “It’s not canon-on because I don’t know what George wrote, and what Elio and Linda wrote”. Everything that we wrote, either comes from the books, comes from our discussions with George, comes from notes of things George have said, or the little details that have been run by George, he signed up on them. And a lot of them is him, especially a large part of the East, the Otherlands, other than some of the Free cities, was George. All this new information about the Great Empire of the Dawn and all that, that was straight from George.
Linda: And the muppets were George…
Elio: The muppets. The Tullys, Grover, Elmo and Oscar, that’s also him. When we first saw like, “Did George realize these are muppets names?” And like, we figured… he would change it… and then,we realised : no.
Linda: And another came in. “Oh, okay, this is intentional”.
Elio: Intentional, that’s right. But we had… I think we had Elmo.
Linda: We had Elmo first.
Elio: And Oscar, Grover. And then the other one, Oscar came in later…
Linda: And Kermit. “Okay he means it”.
GdN: About TWOIAF did you translate the book in Swedish?
Linda: We didn’t actually do the translation. I have worked a little bit as a translator. But we worked with the swedish translator. We had a couple of different translators contacting us actually and asking. So the swedish translator and publisher pointed to us and we were able to help clarify certain things, because obviously there are something that I runned into, because I have worked on the subtitling of the TV show into swedish, and one of the problems you often run into, especially in a book like this with a lot of family trees and family connections, where you have aunt and uncle in English, in Sweden the word specify if it is a maternal or paternal aunt or uncle, and similarly with nieces and nephews it specifies whether it is a daughter of your brother or a daughter of your sister. So sometimes, obviously, the text does not make that clear so the translator would come : “okay, in which way are these people related? Is it through a brother or a sister?
GdN: If it’s a Targaryen, it’s a bit difficult.
Linda: Yes. That can definitely complicate things. When the family tree is a family bush it can definitely complicate things!
GdN: About your work with George, how did you work with George due to the hour difference for the book ? Via Email, notes, call… What was the working process?
Elio: Sure. I mean… The very early stage, we went for breakfast with George, Anne, in Los Angeles in the WorldCon, and that’s where we signed the contract. We had an initial talk. There were some early emails discussing some of the… particularly how George wanted the book to look. He wanted a big beautiful book with also beautiful art. Didn’t want to be like Robert Jordan’s book which had famously not very good art. For reasons not apparently entirely the fault of the artist, apparently Robert Jordan found out later but, Tor was paying him very very little and had he known he would have paid him from his pocket to do better work. But anyways, George didn’t want that to happen to his book, and…
Linda: In fact, George made sure that the allotment for the art money was increased.
Elio: Yes. It’s a central, art budget, for this work. And, after that, the initial plan was that we would work alone on the “who’s who” or character guide which eventually grew so large we had 50,000 words contract. Which is notional, it was 50,000 words replate but it could be a little bit… twice as large. And our who’s who, when we were done with it, was 90,000 words. We started cutting out more and more characters, trying to make it fit, and like “How is this gonna work? It’s not the World of Ice and Fire it’s the Who’s Who of Ice and Fire.” So, ultimately, that cut moved up to the app, right? Then we started fresh. We already had notes, we already had started some works on the rest of the sections, using the material in the books, the Concordance on our website was invaluable as a structure, we had all of this information gathered in one place so I was using that.
Linda: And basically it was a skeleton that we sort of, we laid out all the sections of the book and we filled in “Okay, we have this information here, we have this information”, and then started tying it all together and seeing where they were gaps.
Elio: And then the idea was to sort out the gaps, with George’s notes. Long ago, we first got a contact with him for a game that we did, Blood of the Dragons MUSH (3). Early early on, for that game, he sent us his notes on the reigns of Daeron and Baelor and Viserys and Aegon IV. And we thought : “Oh, wonderful, we’ve been using that”. I mean, just yesterday.
Linda: We killed Baelor.
Elio: Baelor the Blessed died yesterday on our game.
Linda: After thirteen years…
Elio: After thirteen years of running the game, Baelor has now died. Unfortunately, we’re at WorldCon so we can’t do much with it, we just told people he’s dead. But… So we used those notes. And we thought : “Okay, George sent those notes, he must have a lot more notes.” And in fact, no, notes were unusual for him, most of his stuff is in his head. So he didn’t have notes, he didn’t really want to do notes. “I’ll write sidebars”. So, his contributions are the little sidebars, so we will present him a text where there’s a gap, “That could be a place for a sidebar, to explain some of it, George”. And the first sidebar came was Aegon Conquest and it was 6,000 words. The sidebar grew to this enormous thing, to the point where… At one point they were saying “It’s impossible, this is huge, we can’t have this”. And George said : “If I keep writing this it’s gonna be twice as large, and maybe I should pull off the Targaryen stuff, so we will use this as some source”. He would email us, sometimes at 5 in the morning because of the time difference. End of the night for him, he’d send what he had written, and we wanted to get and look at it as quickly as possible. He sent us stuff about Nymeria, the Dornish and all these things. So, there were emails, there were comments back and forth on the draft. He would comment them and he would send back with corrections : “No, no, you’re wrong, and this is exactly how it is supposed to be”. And we had one or two conference calls as well with Anne, but for the most part it was emails.
Linda: In particular, we had… he wrote up to Aegon III and the Regency…
Elio: Yes, and he did also Aerys II.
Linda: …and after that he didn’t write these long sections any longer. So we did have conference call that covered things like…
Elio: Aegon V…
Linda: Aegon V… There he had notes, because he has notes for that period for Dunk and Egg. So that was a very interesting conference call because we basically heard George kind of going through his notes. “Hum… Okay, I will tell you this thing. I won’t tell you that one. This I will share but you can’t put it in the book. Those are some nasty fuckers there”. Funnily of course. He told us some things we weren’t supposed to put into the book, just sort of filling out. In particular, regarding some of the Duncan stuff. And then, when we have sent that material back to him for review, he went and put those things in he told us not to, so it ended up in the book after all.
Elio: So he got a pretty thorough outline for some of his plans for his future Dunk and Egg stories. But I think he realizes “I can tell you X happens to Y, but you don’t necessarily know the context, you don’t know the journey that takes him here.” It’s always the journey that matters, more than the destination.
GdN: About the books, we won’t talk about TWOW because it’s taboo. But about Feast and Dance, did he check with you directly or did he just check the wiki as he said often in interview ?
Elio: I have realized that he does use the wiki now, at times. Even really recently, he had a question about… let’s see how I can put it… something on the wiki, because he thought it was incomplete, and he was : “Oh wow! That’s probably because this particular detail hasn’t happened yet”, and he told me what the details was, so… I won’t say more about that. But he did ask questions. He asked questions for, I recall, in relation to… I mean the first hint we had of the Faith Militant for exemple, was when he contacted us, just shortly after publishing ASOS : “I need you to go through all my early notes and how every house that has a star mention, I don’t want all of them to have a Seven Pointed Stars, some of need to not have… Because I’ve had this idea for this order of Faith Militant, this order of chivalry that used a star as an emblem, and so I only want houses that have a particular connection. So for example, house Dayne of Starfall, we originally had a Seven Pointed Star. I know they were an ancient house, but I don’t know why we used it, and he was fine with it. “No, no, that should be a no. Make it a five pointed star instead, so that they don’t have a particular connection to the Faith”. And he’s asked a couple of things related to TWOW as well so…
Linda: We got some ideas about, I think, Arya chapters in Braavos…
Elio: Maybe, we’re speculating…
Linda: No, for the Dance of Dragons, he asked…
Elio: For the Dance of Dragons. Maybe, I can’t remember…. He does ask those questions occasionally …
Linda: They come in here and there basically and… But yes, he clearly uses some of the… Early on, we sent him the concordance. That’s the first thing we sent him actually, and he passed that onto… in a word document at the time, he passed that onto Anne and so on. So he has always found obviously useful to have compilations of information since he didn’t go and do one himself. I think his minions might have decided putting together stuff now as well, references and so on… But when he wants a quick look about something…
Elio: And he can’t find it. Like “I could have sworned I had it. I can’t find it in my file but I can see it in the wiki”. We find it for him.
GdN: I have just a quick question about TWOIAF. George described himself as a Gardener, so did he let you put some seeds in TWOIAF? Things like story that could be growing in the world?
Elio: One thing, obviously, we have the preface with Yandel explaining the origins of the story. We think he’s a contemporary figure of the story who’s trying to present the book. So, at one point, we were at a panel with George discussing, he asked “What do you think Yandel’s doing right now ?””I think he’s still waiting to present the book to a king, to kind of be able to get the support to get a copy to spread, he has these very grand idea of spreading the knowledge, not just from the Citadel but to others, merchants and lower classes.””So you think he still has his head?”. So, if any maesters get their heads cut off in the future novels, one of them may be poor Yandel. Be at the wrong place, at the wrong time, we think, rooting for the wrong… Obviously, we also have people noticed that the section on Robert and the Rebellion is very limited and very particular on what it shows. He’s someone who’s intensely aware that he is just the poor maester of the Citadel and that when he’s writing about very powerful people like Tywin Lannister, he needs to be careful. So, we got some very angry people about it, when he writes about somebody even said that Princess Elia may have killed her own children and herself. And people were very upset “How terrible he says such a thing!”. You know, he’s trying to… he wants the book to spread, and he has to hide certain details, ugly details. So, you know, what happens if Targaryen comes in power, he may not be that popular with them.
GdN: You’ve created westeros.org, you wrote this book, you’ve translated the show, and do you have another work on the side?
Linda: Not anymore!
GdN: Because of this?
Linda: Yes. The website was a hobby, but once we got the contract for the book, and obviously we worked on it for a number of years and the website on the side of that, it basically ending up: a. taking up a lot of time ; and b. with the revenue from the site and the royalties from the book, we haven’t actually needed anything else, as of yet. So we have a very fortunate position, that our hobby became our main source of income and our work, and leaves a lot of time for our dogs and my horse. So we’re very happy for that. Obviously, with the website it’s all very seasonal, or has been through, obviously, with the show: that was very intense during the show and then it can be very little some of the periods. And then with the book, it kind of ended up stretching for such a long time… other plans that we had, like we were both considering pursuing masters in various areas and realised “Oh, we’ve been doing this for so long, that it’s kind of late to jump into that”. It took over everything, really. Took in a good way.
GdN: Do you read other science fiction or fantasy authors ?
Elio: Sure, absolutely. Guy Gavriel Kay, Canadian author. Recently, published another beautiful novel, he’s, I guess, after George, maybe ahead of George, a little bit. He writes very beautifully, in a way distinctly from George. George is fantastic in creating atmosphere and theme and his characters in greater detail, but Kay is almost poetic in how he writes and that gives a different… My favorites passages from George are very poetic passages, like the first Aero Hotah chapter and his prose is gorgeous, or the Dragontamer that feeling in your stomach, you realise that something horrible is going to happen, you can’t look away. But Gavriel Kay. Robin Hobb, I had the pleasure of meeting her. Joe Abercrombie I’ve read. Scott Lynch, I’ve read the first two, I liked the first a lot. And Scott is great. I don’t know what happened, Scott Lynch was writing a multipart series on a newsletter about Game of Thrones and what went wrong with the final season, and his opinion. And he planned two parts, and he said : “No, no, it’s three parts”. And he said : “No, no, actually there is one more part” and then that one hasn’t come out. I don’t know if it’s a joke on his part or he has got distracted. I think I need to ask him, he’s at the convention. Who else? Judith Tarr? is a writer who I wish was publishing more.
Linda: Some great historical fantasy….
Elio: You’re reading Katherine Kerr.
Linda: I’m currently doing a re-read of Katherine Kerr, every books, or fifteen of them so that’s been why I’m keeping busy with the summer. Kay is also a huge favorite of mine, fantastic author. Jacqueline Carey, really liked the Kushiels books as well. I’ve been reading a fair bit of YA as well lately : Holly Black’s Faerie…
Elio: Peadar? Peadar O’Guilin.
Linda: Peadar O’Guillin, the Call, and the Invasion.
Elio: It’s nominated, I think, the Invasion for the Lodestar Award.
Linda: I think so, Yes.
Elio: That’s an Irish author, very…
Linda: I like anything that uses mythology in particular. Irish mythology, greek mythology, norse mythology.
Elio: Oh, and Madeline Miller.
Linda: Madeline Miller.
Elio: A fantastic writer.
Linda: Song of Achilles and Circe. Which HBO just picked up for…
Elio: Was it HBO or HBO Max ?
Linda: HBO Max. To do a limited series of Circe. It should be very interesting.
Elio: We read a lot and if you’ve seen our youtube video, that’s mostly fantasy books behind us.
Linda: although he’s been slacking lately.
Elio: I’ve had not read as much. Steven Donaldson is one I’ve wish to read. We read a lot. But George’s work has taken a lot of our time, really.
GdN: Any other type of fiction? Science fiction or Classical literature?
Elio: Science fiction as well. Classic literature, I used to. I’ve not lately done too much. I’ve liked nonfiction histories; I was a kid in high school who read through Shakespeare’s plays for fun. I’ve enjoyed that. But mostly now, our wheelhouse seems to be the genre fiction, speculative fiction…
Linda: We always been very much for genre fiction, a bit of historical things…
Elio: Historical fiction yes.
Linda: Historical fiction and certainly one of my early fascinations was always the Iliad.
GdN: Do you write stories of your own?
Linda: We try.
Elio: We have an agent. And we have been… Actually I owe him an email, at the end of the summer.
Linda: When George doesn’t interrupt us with his big book thing.
Elio: Yes. So we have notions.
Linda: It took us longer than we expected. When the news came out about this book, we were actually contacted by an agent who has been: “hey do you want to write anything on your own?” I think a lot of people who read SF and fantasy, its seems to attract people who are interested in creating their own worlds and playing in that sort of space. So, yes I’ve always wanted to do something. It’s easy to get a little to dug into the worldbuilding.
Elio: I wouldn’t look forward to anything on the shelves soon. We’re new to it.
↑Characters and theories
GdN: What are your favorite characters?
Linda: you can start with your non traditional ones..
Elio: Catelyn Stark. Catelyn Stark is my favorite. We were once interviewing Natalia Tena, who played Osha on Game of Thrones, and asked her favorite, her favorite was Arya and almost seriously I said mine is “Catelyn Stark” and she was like “Really!”. I am drawn to the characters who feel like regular people. Like everyman or everywoman. She feels like an everywoman character. My second favorite character is Davos. He’s very much an everyman character. I find them very appealing; I find them very interesting, because you know… Dany has her dragons, Jon got his wolf, Tyrion is brilliant, and Jaime was a great swordsman.
Linda: But I’m gonna poke a hole in that and say that goes for Point of View characters. Because when it comes to secondary characters…
Elio: Oh well that is true.
Linda: It’s the Loras and the Barristan and the Arthur Dayne.
Elio: She has a good point. For Point of View characters I love the everyman. But for characters who are secondary, I’m drawn to the chivalrous characters or characters that have some mystic about them. Like Arthur Dayne or Ashara Dayne and so on.
Linda: I like the mythical element, the fairy tale element of Daenerys’s story a lot. In particular, I really enjoy her journey in the second book, with Qarth and everything. It’s feel very like a fairy realm in a sense of how she has to navigate through that.
Elio: She wanted to quit Game of Thrones at the second season because …
Linda: Yes, because they changed that. I was “hum, no, they changed too much”. And I probably should have [quit the show]. And despite the ending of the TV show, I hold to the fact that Daenerys is my favorite character. I would say that Jon is probably my second favorite. Very set of classic fantasy character. I very much enjoy a classic fantasy narrative and I feel that George does enough to twist it even with the characters that are the most typical of, you know, the hidden heir, farmboy and he still twists it around, and I like that, the way that it’s done, very much. And certainly everything that has a lot to do with magical and supernatural element. I tend to enjoy that very much.
GdN: Knowing George, do you fear for them? Catelyn or other characters?
Elio: Oh yes!
Linda: Yes! I constantly fear for all characters and all four legged creatures or six legged or whatever.
Elio: No six legs. Doesn’t exist in biology.
GdN: Four legs and two wings.
Linda: Yeah. At some point I think I’ve said that… A lot of people said that they read A Song of Ice and Fire for the surprises and I read it in spite of. I’m really, very sensitive to characters being killed off and I tend to be very upset for a very long time. So I’m like: “I shouldn’t have any favorite character because they all gonna die!”
GdN: Not over Ned, you know.
GdN: What is your least favorite character? If you can choose one.
Elio: That’s a very interesting question. It’s difficult because there’s not a character that I need to skip over to the next. A lot of people do that. “I skipped over this character because…”, “I’ll read them later because …”. I like reading Theon Greyjoy, I like reading…
Linda: I mean there are characters that obviously you dislike as characters. And then there aren’t any that you feel “ah okay this character isn’t well written and I don’t want to read them”.
Elio: Okay sure. like Victarion. Victarion is well written but is dumb as a rock *laughts*. So Victarion, I enjoyed reading him. He is like George’s Conan, but he is dumb as a rock. He’s not a nice person at all. If I say least favorite, that is someone that is reprehensible, is not a good person, and he is not appealing as a person.
Linda: Yes he doesn’t seem to have any flair. He’s just…
Elio: No there’s nothing. I mean, he has had a good line. “I’ve no luck with wives” or something, and you can see in that dull brain of his some level of sadness like that, like he doesn’t want to be. Like he’s always you know…
Linda: You’d say he was dropped too many times as a baby.
Elio: George makes everyone…, everyone can be sympathetic. I mean obviously, the obvious Point of View character I should say is Cersei. Cersei is a reprehensible, monstrous person but she’s also a fascinating character to read about.
Linda: I mean even in a shorter Point of View, or starting Point of View like Varamyr, he manages to make him. You feel sympathy for the way he grew up.
Elio: Even though, he is also a serial rapist and whatever. There’s something about him you can kind of see. He grew up in this harsh environment, this is how he turned up; he turned up as a bad person.
Linda: But I’m going to take a stab at some of the little more popular characters. Because, well, I’ve never been a Tyrion fan. I like the Tyrion chapters, obviously. He’s witty and everything. But I find him to be very off-putting. He really is very ruthless very early on and I don’t quite see… I can’t quite forgive him for his sort of attitude there. And then, I only really connect with Tyrion on some level when he gets really down and depressed. When he’s having a hard time rather than when he’s just being this upbeat little fucker.
Elio: You liked him best in A Dance of Dragons?
Linda: I think I like him best in Dance where it’s obvious the griminess and it’s all over him, rather than the way he acts earlier. And at the same time, I find it difficult; you know I like the chapters and I like the details but I find Arya very difficult to read. Because she’s gone so cold. She’s a child soldier, a little serial killer and I find it very difficult to relate to. I guess I’m not a serial killer *laughts*. And then I’ve got, like the Hound, that I know a lot of people feel is very…
Elio: Jorah Mormont as well.
Linda: But the Hound, I really appreciate his love for horses, obviously. But then, the way he’s so down about chivalry and so overly realistic about the brutality of the setting, it is just so depressing.
Elio: He loves dogs though.
Linda: Yeah. He has got some great sides there, but then, he’s such a miserable bastard. So, it’s sort of how you connect to the characters, and some of them I find very difficult to… I don’t want to be in their heads, I don’t want to be that close to them.
GdN: What is your favorite or your least favorite theory on westeros.org or that you have?
Elio: There is a all extremely long thread on our forum and I’ll say nothing against the people who post there. It’s titled “Heresy” and it is a long series of heresy where to me it’s people who are reading too much into the books. And are absolutely convinced that they’re right and that everyone will be proved wrong.
Linda: But like you really like the Bolt-On theory.
Elio: Yeah, doesn’t everyone ? Have you heard about the Bolt-On theory? It’s the theory that Roose Bolton is a vampire and he’s changing bodies periodically. There’s so many theories that I just find terrible. Howland Reed is the High Septon. Robb Stark is actually Catelyn’s son by Edmure. Or possibly Brynden, I’m not sure which.
Linda: Daario is supposed to be Euron.
GdN: Varys is a Mermaid.
Elio: Which apparently even Conleth Hill [ndlr: the actor who plays Varys in the show] knows about, I think he’s been told by somebody. There is a lot of very.. It’s too much time.
Linda: On the other hand, our favorite is our own loony theory.
Elio: Yes, we have our own crazy theory. Everyone needs to have a crazy theory. Ours is that Quaithe is Ashara Dayne…
Elio: It’s a crazy theory but it is known.
Linda: She has a Westerosi accent.
Elio: yes yes, it is our little crazy theory.
Linda: Everyone has to have one. At least we haven’t come up with any elaborate explanation for how it works.
GdN: about westeros.org, as a fellow Administrator, how do you manage and control this big community?
Elio: Gosh! I think… It started very early on, you know, we’ve grown over time. I mean we started… the initial kernel of the fandom had gathered on dragonstone, which Peter Gibbs did in Australia. That one died, Revanshe started up a successor site on Eesite, I became a moderator on that one, and then that one started dying and she moved us to EZBoard. And eventually she went to medical school and handed it to me. Over the time we grew from near a hundred people to a thousand people, to two thousand people and then on to westeros.org where we were like ten or twelve thousand people when the show came out, and now we are at a hundred thousand something.
The midlevel is two thousand posts or something like that, so it’s not like all are active posteurs, but it’s still much larger than it used to be. And I think a core of it has been having a set kind of basic idea: Civility, Robust debate, people can be a little sarcastic and sharp that’s ok, but try to be civil. We’re fairly harsh in dealing with people who aren’t civil, you’ll get a warning, and one of the things we do is that we have no problem deleting. If someone writes a big long thing and at the end they are rude to somebody, we don’t just edit out that rude bit, we delete the whole thing. It’s a bit of a punishment; you’ve lost all that work you did, because you couldn’t stick to the rules. And I think that’s actually been kind of effective. Even if it seems capricious to some or arbitrary like “why did you delete the whole thing just because of that?” it’s because, you remember that, right? If we delete something you didn’t think about, it means nothing. But if it’s something you spent a lot of time on, but then you knew that you were breaking rules as well. You’ve lost that.
So it’s part of that, it’s part of having this common interest. And also we always have… sometimes things will come up, people will be unhappy with the direction of discussions, or… And then there will be a splinter community to form, other little […]… There’s the euro-commies: a bunch of the European members, at one point, went off and formed their own board for a while. There are various forms that have grown out of ours, that are, you know, different in their opinions. I think someone grew out of the Heresy. Like all the ones that felt like they weren’t getting the attraction with their theories went elsewhere to make it all they talk about to one another instead and become convinced that they were right. So that’s been a part of it and since then, it’s grown so much on Tumblr, Twitter,…
Linda: There’s so many different places that you can discuss things today. I think that those who really wanna be on our forum try and fit in with that forum. Otherwise they find some other place, I think there are a lot of options for where to discuss things.
Elio: Yeah I think surely a big mistake…but I mean we could have tried to do this. For example, when the TV show came out, it had a lot of interest and we had for a long time, we would do for every episode a non-spoiler thread for people that hadn’t read the books. And as each season went by, fewer and fewer people were participating. Partly some are the ones who had fell in love with the show had turned to reading the books, and also it became increasingly clear, especially in the later seasons, that the Board Community largely was not happy with the show. And we became very early on seen as a bastion of criticisms against the show and it drove away people. And I could have tried to make efforts to say “no, no, no, I want everyone who loves the show on our site, I want that traffic”. That’s engineering and I feel that that would have been a mistake. It’s better to let a community form it’s opinions. If the fans of the show felt outnumbered by the critics and prefer to go somewhere else, to one of the blogs that are entirely show devoted, let them why not? Why try to …
Linda: …be everything for everyone
Elio: No you can’t
Linda: It’s something that you have to let develop organically to some extent. How the community looks and what you provide for them.
GdN: Because if you try to accommodate everyone, it becomes bland you know.
Elio et Linda: Yeah, yeah!
GdN: Trick question: maybe you know that two years ago, our website crashed and we disappeared from the Internet for nearly one year and we’ve lost nearly everything. We have rebuilt the Wall. Is there something like that that has happened to Westeros.org? A crash?
Elio: We’ve had crashes and I think we’ve lost at most like a day of data or something.
Linda: The worst issue we had obviously was when the show started and we had one server and it crashed. And every year basically we tried. For the first year, our SysAdmin Rachel was doing all sorts of insane acrobatics to try and get the system to handle it. She basically wrote… She had her own version written of a web server that she brought out and managed to get it running a little better on. And next year we would try various other things and we upgraded the thing. Every year we were a little bit behind, and kept having some darn issue cropping up. Because we couldn’t calibrate for the show traffic during the weeks before. It was basically when the show started we saw “how busy is it?” and then fixing it during the show. So it was very difficult. The huge difference between non-show traffic and show-traffic certainly turned out to be very difficult to load balance for. Once, we split off the forum to its own because the forum and the wiki could not coexist. They were using PhP and Mysql in different ways and needing different ressources. So that was an absolute nightmare.
Elio: So now we’ve got two servers and last season we had three servers at the same time to manage everything. And now it’s two. We may be able to just go down to one, but I think for the bandwidth usage we need to keep two. That’s been enough. Data loss, we never really had anything massive. We’ve been lucky. Rachel has been a huge help. We’ve taken backups of things but I know how heartbreaking it must have been to lose all that. The Spanish fandom I think went through the same thing with their website, their forum closed down or something, it might not have fully falled. We’ve been very lucky. The safety is part of the reason we’ve moved from Eesite and it’s a shame, there is a partial archive of the Eesite, but the first Dragonstone disappeared. Pretty much everything from Dragonstone got lost so it’s the earliest post-AGOT- pre-Clash of Kings discussions among fandoms gone. Recently someone got in touch with me with a partial backup that they saved before it crashed, so some day, I’ll work to put it online, so we will have a little archive but some of it is saved.
We left the Eesite, that initial forum of ours, because it started all losing data, all threads would disappear, all forums would disappear. And you know years of discussion vanished. That was heartbreaking. But since we moved to EZ-board, and then to our site we’ve never had data loss. The only thing is that we can’t just have a permanent archive of everything ever posted so occasionally we have had to delete the older stuff. Like topics that weren’t popular, things like that. But that a decision, it’s not anything that was forced on us by some accident.
GdN: Do you have any plans for the future of the site?
Elio: The site keeps running, the games are still being run.
Linda: The main thing we discuss recently of course is how to integrate coverage of the spin-offs, or whatever happens. Find some way to archive the existing Game of Thrones topics that we have. That would be on westeros itself where we produce all the content. We actually planned to do a major redesign of the westeros website itself before but the show turned out to be teenie-weenie bit more costly than what we have imagined, it’s such a complicated site really to redesign…Keep trying to do something interesting with it. We started just doing all of that ourselves and web-design has got more and more complicated that in 1998. For the wiki and the forum, there is ready made software and there’s ready made themes and things that you can use. For a site that is as complicated as what we have with the Westeros section, with the Citadel section, we have our stuff for Blood of dragons, that’s much more complicated to get a unified look for. So I’m starting to feel like it’s a little over me, but getting somebody to do it turned out to very expensive.
GdN: one last question for Elio: You stopped the series at the end of season 5. We have the reaction of Linda for the ending. But what do you think about the end of the series?
Elio: we did do a Youtube video on this [see also this one]. I did come out and so my reaction was that hmm… It was what I feared was going to happen based on why I stopped at season 5. The story they wanted to tell us is not the story that I think George necessarily set out to tell himself and it’s not the story that I wanted to see and many fans of the show didn’t want to see.
Dorne really… You know, I knew that David and Dan really loved Dorne in the books which I thought was really cool. But they didn’t think they could get it in.
So I was so pleased when I found out that they were going to do it, that they had found a way by having Jaime go there. The issue is that they didn’t want to have brand new characters. They wanted existing characters to be part of it. So : “Okay, great they love Dorne, I love Dorne” But what they loved about Dorne was apparently not what I loved about Dorne. What happened was an absolute disaster. I will say… I slightly thought that maybe I ‘d go back on that, that maybe I would go and watch the sixth season.
But I got to see early material about the first episode of the sixth season, And I got to that scene in Dorne, with prince Doran, and I put down what I was looking at and I went to my room and I was like “How, how ?! how did they go from those first four seasons, which had their problems, but they were, you know, there were pretty darn good for the most part.. you know Qarth aside.,.. How did that happen?! “.. I was… Yeaaah…
So the show really seems to have gone off the rails for a lot of people, and I think a lot of it… I mean some of it is people just going crazy over like … Well for instance Linda : Dany is her favorite character but we know that she is going down a dark path. That final chapter in Dance of Dragons with her, you know. that it’s not good what she’s coming to conclude there. So it’s not that Dany went dark, it’s that it was rushed, it was hurried, it was not subtle ,it was inelegant, it was badly written .
Linda: “oh shit, I’m going to burn everybody.”
Elio: Yeah It sounded like… “Gosh Star Wars. Time for Star Wars, this finishes up.” I don’t know what happened over the Star Wars, I don’t know if they just got bored with it, I don’t know…
Linda: It really feels like they just checked that.
GdN: they rushed …
Linda: They got the Star Wars warming and they were like “okay we’re off” basically.
GdN: Thank you very much
Linda: Our pleasure.
Elio: Absolutely a pleasure
- 1 Since this interview, a new edition of The World of Ice and Fire has been published, with some major changes.
- 2 The Concordance is a section on the website westeros.org in which a collection of facts about the saga are available, sorted by theme.
- 3 A MUSH (Multi User Shared Hack) is an online role-playing game in which players narrate a story in cooperation, in a given fictional setting. This specific MUSH is hosted on the website westeros.org.