Game of Thrones author: Gandalf inspired me to kill everybody off

George R.R. Martin learned from J.R.R. Tolkien that the stakes are raised when no character is safe.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper

Game of Thrones fans who've ever been distressed about a death in the series (Ned Stark! Shireen! HODOR!) now know who to blame, George R.R. Martin says.

Martin, the creator of the Song of Ice and Fire book series that inspired HBO's Game of Thrones , was interviewed in a video for PBS' Great American Read series. He discusses the influence J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series had on him as a young boy growing up in New Jersey.

"It was so totally immersive," Martin recalls of the series, "Tolkien approached this thing as if he was writing history." 

Sound familiar? After all, Martin's the one who is about to publish a 989-page history of the Targaryens, one of his fictional families.

And Tokien's work influenced Martin in another way.

(Warning: Spoiler for a 60-plus-year-old book series ahead.)

"And then, Gandalf dies!" Martin exclaims to PBS in the video. "I can't explain the impact that had on me at 13. You can't kill Gandalf!"

But though the death may have upset a young Martin, it improved the book. Martin notes that the death made "the suspense of everything that follows a thousand times greater, 'cause now, anybody could die."

Seeing the connection? Martin is. "Of course, it's had a profound effect on my own willingness to kill characters at the drop of a hat," he said.

Watch your step, Jon Snow, Jaime Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and the rest. Martin learned from the best, and no one is safe.

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