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Here’s George R.R. Martin’s explanation for how he writes villains

If you think about the characters in Game of Thrones that you especially hate, or rather than ones we’re supposed to hate and regard as the baddies, it might surprise you to know the author and creator of the series certainly doesn’t think of them that way when he sits down to write that character. It’s not that simple.

In an interview with PBS for the network’s The Great American Read show, GoT author George R.R. Martin explains during the show’s “Villains and Monsters” episode that, when you get right down to it, all of us have elements of good and bad inside. Dark and light. That’s how he approaches every character he writes.

“I don’t try to write anyone who’s, ‘Oh, I’m a villain. Let me get up today and just go out and do villainy and pull the world (into) darkness,’” he says during the interview. “They all have grievances. They all have wounds, and they have things that drive them to do the things that they do.”

That makes a lot of sense but also might seem a little hard to jive with especially terrible characters like Joffrey Baratheon and Euron Greyjoy. Characters that just seem inherently despicable. Martin, though, tries to square that circle this way: “We’re all these complicated people, who are capable of doing a heroic act on Tuesday and on Wednesday doing something horrible.”

It sort of makes sense that you’d get that kind of a set of complicated heroes and terrible bad guys when you take into account that what Martin set out to do, he says, is “take the traditions of fantasy and meld to it a level of grittiness and realism and subtlety and moral ambiguity that you see in real history.”

Also as part of the series, as we previously reported, Martin explains that part of the seeming ease he has in killing off characters suddenly comes from the punch he felt that it packed when Tolkien killed off Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.

“Gandalf dies! I can’t explain the impact that had on me at (age) 13” Martin says at one point during the show, which features celebrities weighing in with what they think are the most beloved books in the country.

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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