The Iron Throne, shipped from New Jersey for $4,000, was a fiberglass replica identical to the one HBO uses for its hit show Game of Thrones. Sitting on the throne was Daenerys Targaryen, also known as Amy Dixon, who hadn't traveled quite so far: she drove to Missoula, Montana after finishing the semester at Carroll College in Helena. The dragons at her side, two red and blue hand puppets, materialized from somewhere in the hotel's "Lobby of Doom" just before she competed in the Gameshow of Thrones, part of the 26th annual Missoula Convention (MisCon) for science fiction and fantasy fans.
The event featured six fans dressed as major characters from the Game of Thrones series. They drank poison (Kool-Aid), dueled (with trivia, not swords), and answered anachronistic questions in character (what would Stannis Baratheon think of global warming?). A rowdy audience voted and heckled them off stage until only Amy remained, the queen of the Lobby of Doom.
She was just one of a thousand-plus enthusiasts who descended on Missoula for the event, drawn by a shared love for genre stories, cosplay and the opportunity to attend panels and activities like "Raising Little Geeks," "Ancient Aliens: Fact or Fiction?" or "Throwing Axes, Swords and Knives." At almost all hours various R.P.G.s (role-playing games) were unfolding in hotel rooms.
But the biggest attraction at MisCon 2012, the thing that made people drive nine hours from Portland, or pull their kids from school, or fly in from Pennsylvania, was the presence of one very special guest: Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin.
Martin entered his first event at MisCon flanked by two big guys in purple shirts and black Utilikilts, which are distinguished from normal kilts by an alarming number of straps, slots and pockets for weapons. As Martin walked to the front of a conference room, a kilted security guy whose nametag identified him as Love-a-lot-bear said into his headset: "Ops, this is Echo, was anyone able to find Alpha?"
Love-a-lot-bear and his team seemed assembled less to protect against any real threat than to provide themselves with a chance to wear fancy wireless headsets and say things like "Ops, this is Echo." The security team was like an R.P.G. that hadn't quite realized its status as a game. Martin, in a capacious pair of black Levi's, suspenders and newsboy cap, made it safely to the panelists' table and began taking questions.
"Why do you kill all my favorite characters?" someone asked. Martin flashed a wicked grin and laced his fingers in a cartoon villain's pose. "Give me a list of your surviving favorites and I'll see what I can do."
"Is Jaime Lannister cursed by the Gods?" another asked. Martin put his elbows on the table and leaned forward, "Do you really believe there are Gods? I'll answer whether there are Gods in my books when I see definitive evidence about whether there are Gods in this world. Maybe if God turns up and is interviewed on CNN or something." Another fan asked Martin if he ever just wanted to shake some of his favorite authors for making a particular choice in a book. "I'm opposed to shaking authors," he said dryly.
A vocal minority of Martin's fans post angry comments on his website. Typically they're angry at him for not delivering the next book in the series rapidly enough. He used to reply to disgruntled fans, but he soon learned the folly of online debate. "Don't feed the trolls. Delete and ignore them," he told me over cheese and cherries after his first panel. But the impatience of some fans puzzles him. "I grew up with four T.V. channels. If you missed a show, you missed it. You gotta wait a week for the next one. I'd mail-order books: take a quarter, get an envelope, send off for it and wait until it arrived. I grew up waiting for things."
On the second day of MisCon, hundreds of fans were waiting in a snaking line to get books signed. However strident some might be online, his fans looked vaguely amorous when they reached the front of the signing line. They smiled shyly or stared as if they couldn't quite believe he was real. With the Iron Throne replica looming just behind him, it was hard not to see Martin as monarch, greeting his awestruck subjects in a New Jersey accent.
Each fan could get two books signed and one personalized. One man passed Martin a book with a yellow post-it with the message he wanted: I will sit on your lap. Martin chuckled and said in a friendly tone, "I don't think I can write that." It wasn't the strangest personalization request he's ever seen. At one convention a fan asked him to write a marriage proposal. He pointed out to the young man that if he wrote "Will you marry me?" it might seem as if he, George R.R. Martin, were proposing. So instead he wrote Mary, will you marry John? At a room party that night, John presented the book to Mary, whose response was something along the lines of, "Are you out of your fucking mind?" They had met only two days before.
Near the end of the signing, a man presented Martin with two books and his daughter. "This is Daenerys," he told Martin, "I sent you a letter about her five years ago." Daenerys, a squirmy blonde in a pink jacket, looked about five years old. "Hello there," Martin said, "do you like dragons?" She nodded, and they made room for the next fan.
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