The original cover art for A Feast for Crows, by Stephen Youll. A few copies of the novel were actually printed with this artwork in place, and can command steep prices.
A Feast for Crows
Writing Period: Summer 2001-May 2005
Originally Published: 17 October 2005 (UK), 8 November 2005 (USA)
Word Count: 300,000
Manuscript Page Count: 1,063
Hardcover Page Count: 755
Paperback Page Count: 864 (US), 852 (current UK)
POV Characters: 12 + Prologue
When George R.R. Martin sat down to start writing A Dance with Dragons, then planned to be the fourth volume of A Song of Ice and Fire, he imagined it was going to be fairly straightforward. It had taken him nine years to write the first three books in the series, but having just penned the massive A Storm of Swords in record time and seen it have a rapturous critical reception, he was highly motivated to finish the series off at a fast pace. When fans asked him when he thought the book would be on the shelves, he confidently said "Late 2002".
This didn't happen.
A Dance with Dragons was supposed to start five years after the events of A Storm of Swords. The young children characters would all be older, some of the chaotic events from the previous novels would have had time to have died away and some of the more (arguably) humdrum aspects of the story - characters travelling and learning - would happen off-page. It was a nice idea and worked well for some characters (Jon, Daenerys, Arya, Bran) but for others (Cersei, Brienne, Jaime) it didn't work at all. Martin found himself having to refer to events that had happened in the interim, sometimes filling out entire chapters with flashbacks to that interim period. For over a year he struggled with making this structure work and eventually gave up.
At Worldcon in August 2001, Martin announced that he had effectively scrapped 500 pages of manuscript he had written for A Dance with Dragons. Instead, he had started writing a new fourth book that would instead start immediately after the events of Swords. This book was entitled A Feast for Crows. In the event it would take a further three and a half years to finish the book (sort of) and more than four to bring it to the shelves.
The primary problem with Crows was that Martin was now "filling in the blanks" of the previous five-year gap for some characters, but other characters were now ready to move into the next phase of the storyline. In some cases it appears new material was created for them, in others it appears Martin simply got them going to where they'd have been after the abandoned gap. He also widened the cast, bringing in new characters in Dorne and expanding the POV roster to include previously-seen characters in the Iron Islands, but now raised to much greater prominence. At one point he planned an enormous (Robert Jordan-style) mega-prologue divided between all the Dornish and ironborn characters, but then changed his mind and split this up into more traditional chapters.
The original and unused UK cover art for Crows, by Jim Burns. Note that this was prepared a long time before the split, hence the presence of Jon Snow.
Martin wrote and wrote during this period, occasionally publishing sample chapters on his website or reading them at conventions. Three Daenerys Targaryen chapters were combined into a chapbook and given away at a fantasy convention. He also started using the web more, particularly the "Update" section on his website, to talk about progress on the book. Updates were given, the book was getting larger and larger, but still with no end in site. For some fans, the fact that they'd gotten three large books within four years of one another but had now had to wait for four and more for one was incomprehensible.
In early 2005, Martin reassessed his status. The book was huge, having topped 1,600 manuscript pages and heading northwards at a rate of knots. Some characters in the book had pretty much complete story arcs, such as Jaime, Cersei and Brienne. Others were incomplete, such as Arya. Others still (including the important central trio of Daenerys, Jon and Tyrion) only had a few chapters written for them. Martin and his publishers began discussing splitting the book into two volumes, with the second volume to follow on a year or so from the first. At first they debated doing this chronologically, but Martin found this unsatisfying as there were few good places where he could end the first half of the narrative.
Martin's friend and sometimes-collaborator Daniel Abraham (more recently famous for his role as one half of James S.A. Corey, the writing machine behind The Expanse SF series, as well as his own, excellent fantasy series The Long Price Quartet and The Dagger and the Coin) suggested an alternative scheme: splitting the book by geography, as the completed characters were mostly located in the south of Westeros and the incomplete ones were either in the distant North or on the eastern continent. Martin preferred this plan, noting he'd done something similar in his Wild Cards books (where one oversized volume had been split in two, between characters in New York City and others outside the city). In May 2005 he announced that the book was done, if somewhat faster and more abruptly than expected.
George R.R. Martin also made an announcement he later ruefully regretted: he had 500 manuscript pages now complete for the fifth volume (still to be called A Dance with Dragons) and this book would follow "a year later".
The final US cover art for A Feast for Crows.
The explosive burst of sales between A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows - despite the gap, George R.R. Martin had overtaken Robin Hobb to become HarperCollins Voyager's most popular living author by the end of 2005 - had made both the UK and US publishers decide to rejacket the entire book series. This meant that early covers prepared for Crows in the same style as the first three books were now abandoned and new covers were prepared. These were more minimalist, with icons rather than characters. Long-term fans preferred the earlier style of cover, but the new covers did seem to attract more buyers during the long drought between Crows and Dragons, even before news of the TV series broke.
Randyll Tarly, Wielder of Heartsbane, Defeater of Robert Baratheon, Driver of the Van of Victory.
What Would Randyll Tarly Do?
During the writing of the Wild Cards shard-world anthology series, a very minor character showed up at a party, said "Where is the cheese?" and then died. Years later, George R.R. Martin would get still get fans asking about the character. He called this the "Boba Fett Effect", where a small, minor character with barely any lines shows up and somehow ends up being considered a cool badass. Early volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire featured this to some extent: Bronze Yohn Royce had (bewilderingly) a few fans from the second he was mentioned, as his name sounded cool. Almost disposable characters like Bronn turned out to be far more popular than first envisaged.
For A Feast for Crows, Martin felt confident he had repeated the trick by introducing a new, lethal and enigmatically cool character who was bad, mad and dangerous to know. He may even had been right, if the character hadn't been Darkstar ("For I Am of the Night"). Darkstar turned out to be an underwhelming damp squib, represented in fan art as an edgy wannabe teenager trying to hang out with the cool crowd and not cutting it.
Instead, being contrary bastards at the best of times, Martin's fans in the Brotherhood Without Banners decided that the true hero of A Song of Ice and Fire was Randyll Tarly, "The Best Father in Westeros." It was argued that by forcing his son Samwell to go to the Wall, he had made him man up and eventually get into a position to save Westeros entirely from the Others. He was "Tough, but fair". He was described as the best general in Westeros and, commanding the "Tyrell van" had defeated Robert Baratheon at the Battle of Ashford. Cue fan art showing a Ford transit van trundling onto the battlefield and Randyll Tarly defeating Robert's entire army single-handedly. And so forth.
The Randyll Tarly meme eventually died down (to the bemused relief of George) but with news that he may appear in Season 6 of Game of Thrones spurring increasingly badass casting suggestions (James Purefoy and Ray Stevenson leading the charge), it may yet return.