With its many beheadings, battles and betrayals, Game of Thrones has fast become the most anticipated hour of television for millions of Americans each week. The new issue of Rolling Stone – covered by actor Kit Harington, who plays the show's long-haired, steely-eyed hero Jon Snow – goes behind the scenes with features on Harington and an in-depth interview with novelist George R.R. Martin, who conceived the world of Westeros and the Song of Ice and Fire series of books that serve as the basis for Game of Thrones.
In the Haringon feature, "The Winter Soldier," written by contributing editor Stephen Rodrick, the frequently tight-lipped 27-year-old actor explained what he has in common with Snow, as well as their differences. "Snow's a black sheep," Harington says. "The thing that drives both of us is more similar than you might think – he's driven by ambition. I've always been ambitious too." Snow, he said, is a good person who believes in what he's doing and he admires the way the character balances duty with ambition. "I'm very ambitious," Harington said, "but how do I balance that with not fucking other people up around me?"
Harington also revealed that once the show has its final colorful wedding – which could still be five or more years away – he hopes to enjoy different sorts of roles. "I told my agent, 'No more swords, no more horses,'" he said. "You [don't want to] get stuck in things. And maybe I can cut my fucking hair."
But until then, he said he is enjoying perpetuating myths both onscreen and off. "I don't do Twitter because I don't want to talk about myself more than I already have to," he said, though he shared stories with Rolling Stone about skinny dipping in the pool at a Hollywood hotspot and crashing a Ford Mustang while sober. But he also acknowledges that he is lucky to have such a fruitful career playing a beloved character, and that he understands the appeal of Jon Snow. "The show started when the economy was very bad," Harington said. "People were looking for a hero trying to make his way through a dark world that they didn't understand. That's Jon Snow."
Another person who does not underestimate the appeal of Game of Thrones is its creator, George R.R. Martin, a.k.a. "The Man Behind the Thrones." In our Q&A conducted by contributing editor Mikal Gilmore, the author explains how everyday life, right down to stories his mother told him about his own family while growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, inspired the bloodthirsty families within the Song of Ice and Fire cycle of novels. "To get to my school, I had to walk past the house where my mother had been born, this house that had been our house once," he says. "In some of my stories, there's this sense of a lost golden age, where there were wonders and marvels undreamed of. Somehow what my mother told me set all that stuff into my imagination."
Martin also picks apart many facets relating to his books – from the morality of brutality to the necessity of having dragons in stories like these. ("Now that I'm deep into it, I can't imagine the book without the dragons," he says of the first in the cycle.) He also expresses an admiration for the HBO series. As he discusses its myriad characters and plot twists, he marvels, "I never thought, from the moment I started this, that it could be filmed. I said it was impossible."
But even as he teases fans about the slowness with which he writes – "I better get these books done," he tells Rolling Stone while driving around his adopted town of Santa Fe – he promises that his future books would have unpredictable plots. "The moment the reader begins to believe that a character is protected by the magical cloak of authorial immunity, tension goes out the window," he says, turning his attention toward one of the series' most gripping scenes. "The Red Wedding was tremendously hard to write. . . I loved those characters too much. But I knew what had to be done."
And, as a whole, he explains his philosophy about the sorts of books he writes. "There are some people who read and want to believe in a world where the good guys win and the bad guys lose, and at the end they live happily ever after," he says. "That's not the kind of fiction that I write."
Also in this issue: Alex Morris profiles the porn star and Duke freshman known as Belle Knox, Janet Reitman investigates how Russia is turning into a nation of fear, paranoia and repression and Jeff Goodell explores Obama's climate-change initiatives.
Look for the issue on stands and in the iTunes App Store this Friday, April 25th.