George RR Martin likes to take his time. The sixth book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series series, Winds of Winter, still doesn’t have a release date, something we’ve all been trying to make peace with since the last book was published in 2011.
But that doesn’t mean there have been no ravens from Westeros lately. The year 2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of A Game of Thrones, the first in the epic series. A Song of Ice and Fire has come a long way since 1996.
Back then, the book received decent reviews, but the sales were only okay. It was supposed to a trilogy to be written over three years. Two decades later, Martin is still working on a book, has authored multiple supplementary and companion books, and contributed to one of the grandest television shows of our time.
To celebrate this epic journey, a gorgeous new illustrated edition of A Game of Thrones has been released. The edition features 73 images selected from official calendars, board games, video games, and the supplementary history book The World of Ice and Fire. Forty-eight of these illustrations have never been seen before. Every chapter starts with a full-page artwork depicting a dominant theme and characters. The most iconic scenes have been illustrated to add and the punctuating the novel which has been republished in its entirety. While most of the art is in black and white, eight of the most important scenes have been recreated in full colour.
This isn’t the first illustrated edition of the book, but it is the first time that the art has been credited to more than one artist. The edition features an impressive list of talent including Marc Simonetti, John Picacio, Paul Youll, Gary Gianni, Didier Graffet, Victor Moreno, Michael Komarck, Arantza Sestayo, Magali Villeneuve, Ted Nasmith and Levi Pinfold.
Anne Groell, the long-time publisher of the series, chose which scenes were to be illustrated. She went through each chapter to figure out where the existing artwork could be used and what needed to be created. Martin has been involved in the entire process as well, ensuring the aesthetics, architecture, and the intrinsic elements of the fantasy are in line with his imagination.
The Iron Throne, for instance, is a messy, brutal mass of melted swords of Targaryen enemies, and it took many revisions before Martin finally approved the sketch created by Marc Simonetti. The illustration was created by re-reading every single mention of the throne, and with Martin’s personal vision for it. The final result is not the medieval-art inspired throne that is seen in the HBO show.
The images created by the TV show are often considered to be the most representational depictions of the worlds created by Martin. But though its magnificence, brilliant art direction and world-building can not be doubted, what we see on the screen may not be how it was initially intended to be. This shift in aesthetic (and very often the storyline) often puts the many fans and loyal readers on edge.
The illustrated edition reimagines the characters, the landscape, the myriad worlds as if removed from the HBO version. This can be deeply satisfying for fans and artists who have been creating artworks consistently true to the written word. For instance, the illustrated edition features a much younger Stark family – in A Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was just 35 when he moved to King’s landing, and Arya as young as nine.
While this edition is a glorious collectible, it is also in essence a story packed with disappointments, high drama and emotion, satisfying twists and heartbreaking revelations, endearing and hateful characters, honour, bravery, and too much deceit. For those who have never read the series, or have somehow escaped the TV show, the visual aid provided by the new illustrated edition presents a great opportunity to dive into.
An introduction by author and actor John Hodgeman acts as a prelude to the story, in which he reflects over what makes A Song of Ice and Fire, Westeros and George RR Martin great. As he talks about the glory of high fantasy and the limitless capacity of Martin to create gasp-inducing characters, creatures and worlds, Hodgeman balances it out with a most relatable observation about the series – that life is short, the world is brutal, unfair, violent, the romance of the medieval times is a little too dark and bloody, and eventually everybody dies.