Warning: contains spoilers for Game Of Thrones seasons 1-4.
There’s something irresistible about looking back on the humble beginnings of the enormously famous. That snap of Barack Obama as a toddler standing in the Hawaiian surf, the original lyrics of Bowie hits scribbled on scraps of 1960s lined paper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s crossed-out opening lines for a story called A Study In Scarlet… Now, from the offices of HarperCollins via Waterstones and Winter Is Coming, comes another gem: George R.R. Martin’s original outline for A Song Of Ice And Fire.
Martin’s three-page letter was faxed in October 1993, three years before A Game Of Thrones was published. In it, the author lays out plans for his planned “epic trilogy” (so epic, it gradually stretched from three to seven novels) and details of his original plans for major characters in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, many of which have not – thankfully in some cases – come to pass.
It’s a hugely entertaining read for Game Of Thrones fans, not just because it reveals alternative stories, but because hindsight makes some statements comically understated. “Joffrey,” Martin informs his publisher, “will not be sympathetic.” You can say that again, George.
The same goes for Martin’s explanation that “the cast will not always remain the same. Old characters will die and new ones will be introduced. Some of the fatalities will include sympathetic viewpoint characters. I want the reader to feel that no one is ever completely safe.” No fear there, sir. Job done.
Had Martin stuck to his original plans for the Game Of Thrones gang then, here’s how it would have gone…
1. Arya would not have escaped King’s Landing solo
Arya’s character-forming journey out of King’s Landing with Yoren and the Night’s Watch, road trip with the Hound, and ship to Braavos weren’t on the cards for the character originally. The Stark family wouldn’t have been as widely dispersed in Martin’s initial plans, with Catelyn escaping from King’s Landing back to Winterfell in the company of children Arya and Bran.
2. Tyrion, not Theon, would have burned Winterfell
The Greyjoys from the Iron Islands aren’t anywhere to be seen in Martin’s 1993 outline – was Theon even a ward of Ned Stark in the original chapters? So when Winterfell is razed to the ground, destroying the Stark ancestral seat and scattering the remaining family all over the Seven Kingdoms, it wasn’t Theon who gave the order, but Tyrion Lannister.
3. Jon Snow would have been forced to turn his back on the Stark family
After escaping Winterfell’s sacking, Catelyn, Bran and Arya were to have sought refuge with Jon Snow at The Wall. Because of the Night’s Watch vows that their men must cut off all ties to their family though, Jon isn’t able to offer asylum to his step-mother and step-siblings, causing real resentment from Bran towards him. Arya however, has a completely different relationship with her older half-brother…
4. Arya and Jon Snow would have fallen in love
Icky as it seems, that was the original trajectory for Jon Snow and Arya. Despite believing themselves related as half-brother and sister, Arya and Jon provided Game Of Thrones’ incestuous love story in Martin’s first plan for the series. Things would change for the pair at the last minute however, as Martin writes “their passion will continue to torment Jon and Arya throughout the trilogy, [BIG SPOILER] until the secret of Jon’s true parentage is finally revealed in the last book. [END OF SPOILER]”
5. Benjen Stark would have stuck around
The unsolved mystery of what happens to Night’s Watch ranger, Benjen Stark, after his appearance in A Game Of Thrones is one of many in the series (and has inspired more than a bit of fan speculation). It wasn’t always the plan for him to disappear though. According to Martin’s letter, Benjen would have commanded the Night’s Watch, and eventually been succeeded by Jon Snow in the role.
6. Catelyn would have been killed by an Other from Beyond The Wall
There was no Red Wedding for Catelyn Stark in the original plans, but Ned’s widow would instead have been offed by an Other Beyond the Wall, after being forced to journey there and seek shelter with Mance Rayder.
7. Robb Stark would have died in battle
Similarly, despite not having to attend the Red Wedding, Robb Stark would still have died in the story (part of Martin’s “things will get a lot worse for the poor Starks before they get better” plan). Originally, Robb would have raised the banners of the North against the Lannisters but died in battle after maiming King Joffrey.
8. Sansa would have married King Joffrey and borne him an heir
Speaking of whom, Martin planned for each of the contending families for the Iron Throne to have “a member of dubious loyalty in its midst.” The Starks’ would have been Sansa, who was to go on and marry King Joffrey, bear him an heir, and when it came to crunch-time, to choose her husband and child over her family, “a choice she will later bitterly rue,” according to the 1993 letter.
9. Tyrion would have removed Joffrey from the Iron Throne
Tywin Lannister and the Tyrells being notably absent from Martin’s outline, the person who finally topples Joffrey from the Iron Throne would actually have been his uncle Tyrion (who you’ll remember was blamed but not actually responsible for Joffrey’s death in the series). Martin’s letter says that Tyrion does so in response to Joffrey’s brutality. The Imp would have had the power to do more than just slap Joff entertainingly in an alternate version of events, it seems.
10. Jaime Lannister would have succeeded Joffrey as King of the Seven Kingdoms
What with paralysing Bran Stark, Jaime Lannister doesn’t get off to the most heroic start in A Game Of Thrones, but as the novels and TV series have progressed, Jaime has evolved into a more complex character than the villain he initially appeared as. Not so in the original plans. Jaime was to have temporarily won the Iron Throne by dint of killing every surviving heir that stood in his way. He would also have had a fierce and bloody rivalry with his brother Tyrion, that would have ended with the Imp changing sides.
11. Tyrion would have joined forces with the Starks
If each contending family for the throne was to have had a traitor in their midst, then Tyrion was the Lannisters’. He would have earned that reputation by eventually siding with the Starks after becoming increasingly dissatisfied with his own family. Disturbingly for anyone who knows and loves the existing versions of Arya and Tyrion, their relationship would have taken a very different turn.
12. Tyrion would have been in unrequited love with Arya
Yup, everybody loves Arya in the original conception of events. Not only are Arya and Jon Snow passionately in love in this alternate universe, but Tyrion is also mad about the girl. His love for Arya goes unrequited, of course, and leads to “a deadly rivalry” between him and Jon Snow.
13. Daenerys would have killed husband Khal Drogo
Over on the other side of the Narrow Sea, Dany would still have become the Mother of Dragons, leading an invading army into Westeros, but with a few key differences. One, her army would have been Dothraki horsemen, not Unsullied (though her encounter at the end of A Dance With Dragons points to that not being a million miles away from how things may turn out). Two, she would not have received her dragon eggs as a wedding gift, but have stumbled across them on her travels. And three, Dany would have killed husband Khal Drogo as revenge for his murdering her beloved brother Viserys. That’s a complete turnaround from the grieving, eventually adoring Khaleesi she became.
14. Five major characters would survive until the end
Those five? Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Stormborn, Arya Stark, Bran Stark, and Jon Snow.
15. The epic trilogy would conclude with “one huge climax”
Said climactic battle would involve Dany’s Dothraki and dragon army, Westerosi armies of men, and the army of Others who ride south from Beyond The Wall to “extinguish anything you’d call ‘life’”. Epic sounds like just the word.