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The Game of Thrones-Inspired Reason George R.R. Martin Wore a Turtle Pin to the Emmys

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If you were wondering why George R. R. Martin was rocking a turtle pin on the Emmys red carpet, the Game of Thrones author has already supplied your answer.

In a June 2012 interview with the Financial Times, Martin explained that the high mortality rate of his beloved A Song of Ice and Fire series was inspired by the pet turtles he had growing up.

I had a toy castle set up near my bed, made of tin, and the courtyard was just big enough for two turtle tanks, and I had five or six turtles who lived in the castle. I decided they were knights, lords and kings, so I started writing this whole fantasy series about the turtle kingdom and the king of the turtles. And these particular turtles seemed to die very easily. I don’t think it was really a very good environment for them. Sometimes they would escape and you would find them under the refrigerator a month later, all dead. So my turtles kept dying, which was very distressing but it also made me think, ‘Why are they dying? Well, they are killing each other in sinister plots.’ I started writing this fantasy about who was killing who, and the wars for succession. So Game of Thrones originally began with turtles, I think.

Martin touched on the turtle topic again when a fan asked him why he wears a hat with the shelled reptile on it at Comic-Con 2012.

Turtles have always been my sigil, I suppose. When I was a kid, growing up in Bayonne, NJ, I lived in a federal housing project, and we were not allowed to have a dog or cats. The only pets I could have were turtles. So, I had an entire toy castle filled with dime-store turtles. I gave them all names, and since they were living in a toy castle, I decided they were all knights and kings…and I made up stories about how they killed each other and betrayed each other and fought for the kingdom. So, Game of Thrones, actually began with turtles. I decided later to recast it with actual human beings.

See Martin’s Emmys pin below.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com