Martin's Song of Ice and Fire novels serve as the basis for HBO's Game of Thrones series. The high fantasy world in each is often shocking and bleak. But he doesn't intend to end with a "horrible apocalypse," as the interviewer characterized some expectations.
"I've said before that the tone of the ending that I'm going for is bittersweet," Martin said. "I mean, it's no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it's a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives."
"It's no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings"
Martin referenced the second-to-last chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and the third book, Return of the King, as an inspiration for what's to come.
In "The Scouring of the Shire," the battle for Middle-Earth has ended, and the hobbits return to their homeland. Once idyllic and pastoral, it's been overtaken by Sharkey, the wizard formerly known as Saruman, and our heroes must win it back. Martin goes beyond those events, too, referencing Tolkien's chronicle of the characters' lives after the biggest and most important things they'll ever do fade into memory.
"And 'The Scouring of the Shire' — brilliant piece of work, which I didn't understand when I was 13 years old: ‘Why is this here? The story's over?' But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that's the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge."
It remains unwritten, so this is no guarantee of the final novel's ending. Nor is it a guarantee of the show's. Lord of the Rings adaptations, including Peter Jackson's, tend to end after the victory for the free people of Middle-earth, giving the impression of a happier conclusion than Tolkien's. Likewise, Game of Thrones isn't afraid to depart from the source material.
Martin has two more novels planned: The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. If The Lord of the Rings is any indication, readers and viewers might yet get to see good triumph over evil ... and then find out what the melancholy future looks like in Westeros.