'Game of Thrones': George R.R. Martin reveals his inspiration for The Wall

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Picture, if you can, "The Watchers on the Wall," the spectacular season four episode of Game of Thrones featuring the Night's Watch fending off Mance Rayder's wildling army in the dead of night -; the same battle that claimed the lives of poor Pyp and Jon Snow's lover Ygritte, not to mention the fight where Sam "The Slayer" Tarly truly came alive.

Now picture George R.R. Martin in the middle of that battle, shrouded in the heavy black cloaks and armor worn by the members of Westeros' northernmost outpost, wind kissing snowflakes into his famously cheery beard.

Harder to imagine, perhaps, but an image that has ties to the Game of Thrones origin story all the same.

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'Game of Thrones': George R.R. Martin reveals his inspiration for The Wall
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 08: (L-R) Actors Natalie Dormer, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Finn Jones attend Game of Thrones: A Panel of Ice and Fire during New York Comic-Con Day 1 at The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on October 8, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: Actor Peter Dinklage, winner of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for 'Game of Thrones', poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 20: The cast and crew of 'Game of Thrones', winners of the award for Outstanding Drama Series', pose in the press room at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)
Kit Harington, and from left, Rose Leslie and John Bradley attend the "Game of Thrones" panel on Day 2 of Comic-Con International on Friday, July 25, 2014, in San Diego. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 8: Kit Harington at Good Morning America promoting the new season of HBO's Game of Thrones in New York City on April 8, 2015. Credit: RW/MediaPunch/IPX
In this Tuesday, April 7, 2015 photo, actress Carice van Houten poses for a photo in Los Angeles. Van Houten plays Melisandre the Red Woman in the HBO series "Game of Thrones" which returns on April 12. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)
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During Martin's visit to his alma mater Northwestern University this week, where he is on hand to accept the Medill School of Journalism's Hall of Achievement alumni award, the writer opened up about his early inspiration for The Wall, one of the most spectacular landmarks in all of Thrones.

In the past, Martin has credited Hadrian's Wall from the days of the Roman Empire as a historical touchstone for the iconic Game of Thrones location. In this recent conversation, however, he revealed an even more personal connection with Jon Snow's home base: Martin's own freshman year experience at Northwestern, during a Chicago blizzard in 1967.

"The coldest winter was in Chicago," he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. "There was so much snow that winter, you couldn't see, all snow, all ice, and it was so very cold."

Martin likened the frozen streets of Chicago to the trenches of World War I, "but they were trenches of ice."

"I remember walking through the trenches and the tunnels of ice, the wind blowing so you couldn't even see," he continued. "It's an experience that never left me."

See More: 'Game of Thrones'' Gruesome Deaths: From Robert Baratheon to Jon Snow

These days, Martin wrestles with winter still, but only in the faraway frost of his imagination. He has released five of seven novels in A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series that provides the basis for HBO's Thrones. Only he knows the answers to the big questions fans keep asking, like whether or not Jon Snow is dead or alive.

"No comment on that," he said on the subject of Snow. "I'm just saying, read the books."

Right now, there's no answer on Snow's fate in the books; his life was left hanging in the balance at the end of 2011's A Dance with Dragons, the most recent book in the series.

But rumors, like the Chicago snowfall of Martin's memory, persist that his sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, could arrive before Thrones begins its new season.


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