"During all that period," he said, "every time I turned in a first draft, it was always, 'George, this is great, but it's too long and it's too expensive. If we had five times our budget, maybe we could do it.' And I would cut and trim and combine characters. Eventually, by the fifth or sixth draft, I would have something they could actually produce."
By that point, he was sick of the project. "I sat down and said, 'I'm going back to prose. I'm going to have hundreds of characters in giant battles and magnificent castles, and they'll never make this into television or film.' "
But that's exactly what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the writers/executive producers of "Game of Thrones," have done, attacking the epic series head-on, re-creating as much of Martin's world as possible.
"We're going into it knowing that we have an incredibly well-mapped out, well-plotted storyline that's going to continue for, if we're lucky, season after season," Benioff said.
The HBO series closely follows Martin's novel, with the biggest difference being that several younger characters have been aged up. And that's a good thing, because a 13-year-old girl sold into marriage would be tough to portray.
The term "epic" is thrown around far too easily, but this 10-part series fits the bill. It's reminiscent of the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings dozens of characters, hundreds of actors and extras, and based on a series of books with a devoted following.
Sean Bean, who starred as Boromir in "Fellowship of the Ring" and plays Eddard Stark in "Game," said the HBO series is similar in "its size, its quality, its magic, its danger."
"It's unlike anything I've seen on any other production, including 'Lord of the Rings.' It was like working on a big feature film every week."
The plot is vast. In a mythical land, different families struggle for control. King Robert Baratheon asks Stark to become his right-hand man. Stark is assigned to investigate the death of his predecessor and fend off rival families, including the queen's clan and the deposed former royal family. At the same time, an ancient evil awakens.
Martin's books have spawned fans and fanatics. Including the dean of Stanford Law, who "sent me this two-page email about how excited he was" about the series, Benioff said.
"Game of Thrones" may be considered fantasy, but don't confuse this TV series with children's fairy tales. "It's sexy and it's violent and it's brutal," Benioff said.
"Game of Thrones" even enticed Martin back to TV. He penned the script for Episode 8. But while he imagines he would like to write several episodes per season, that's not going to happen.
Not with angry readers waiting for the rest of his page-turning epic novels. "I still have the books to finish, and the books take me years," Martin said. "And I have a mob outside of my house with pitchforks and torches that is already very irritated about Book 5 being late. And after that, I have Books 7 and 8. So I think I better stay where I am and finish the books."
"Game of Thrones" premieres Sunday, April 17, at 10 p.m. on HBO, then repeats at 11:05 p.m. and 12:15 a.m.