Thanks for the kind words.
A few quick answers to your questions:
1. Will there be any further explanation of the skirmish at the "Tower of Joy", by Howland Reed or whomever?
Yes, in later volumes.
2. Is it possible to circumvent the Wall to the West with an army?
No, the mountains and a deep river gorge make the terrain impassable for all but small groups of raiders.
3. What surname is given to bastard children on King's Landing?, or Dorne? or the Iron Islands?
If I bring in baseborn characters from those areas, I'll reveal that in the due time.
4. Is Thoros of Myr a follower of the same deity that Melisandre worships? Are he and Beric Dondarrion still around?
Yes and no, and yes and no. Details will be revealed in A STORM OF SWORDS.
(I have to save some surprises for the books, after all)
[Note: This is something that I've known about for many years, having a copy of a copy of the message forwarded to me by a third party. However, recently I discovered details of the source of the information, including an approximate date for when Martin provided his response.]
<< Who is the couple celebrating the birth of a son that Dany sees in her vision in the wizard's palace in Qarth? Can you tell us? Is it Rhaegar and someone? Or is it the original Aegon (the Conqueror?) >>
Rhaegar and his wife, Elia of Dorne.
THE WINDS OF WINTER will be the fifth book.
I have not yet decided on a final title for the sixth and concluding volume.
The Dornishmen will come on stage in A STORM OF SWORDS, and will have an even larger role in A DANCE WITH DRAGONS.
As to why they have stayed aloof, well, both history and geography have set them apart from the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
Yes, "The Hedge Knight" takes place within the Seven Kingdoms. The continent Dany is crossing is indeed larger than Westeros.
The idea of "long" seasons is a staple in SF and fantasy and has been for many years. I used it myself twenty years ago in a short story called "Bitterblooms."
No, BRAVEHEART was not a model. These elements -- archers raining down arrows, a charge of heavy horse, etc -- played a part in most medieval battles.
BRAVEHEART's battle scenes were very effective, though not quite historically accurate. For one thing, they left the bridge out of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
[Summary: In response to questions posed by Mike. Mike asked, (1) whether there will be any changes in POV characters in the next book, (2) does Martin have the ending of the series in mind or does he leave himself room to change the storyline as it unfolds, and (3) was it a conscious decision to paint things in grey, killing off good guys, etc.]
Thanks for your questions, and all the kind words about A CLASH OF KINGS, which are much aprreciated.
To your questions:
(1) Yes, I will be making additions (and subtractions) to the lineup of POV characters in each volume,
(2) I know how the series goes from here in broad strokes, but not necessarily all the small details. Yes, I have an end envisioned, but getting from here to there is half the fun.
(3) Definitely a conscious decision. Both as a reader and a writer, I prefer my plots to be unpredictable and my characters to be painted in shades of grey, rather than in blacks and whites.