One of the things that sets Game of Thrones apart from other dramas on television is that it has dragons. Big, expensive, CGI dragons. But according to George R. R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels upon which the show is based, the dragons weren’t originally part of the plan.

Appearing on Conan, Martin says, “I had written the first few chapters, and for a fantasy it’s very realistic, it’s very low magic, and I knew I had the Targaryens and they had dragons on their banners, but the question was, ‘Should they have actual dragons?’ ... I was going back and forth about that until a friend of mine, a very talented fantasy writer herself, Phyllis Eisenstein, read some of the early chapters and said, ‘George, this is a fantasy, you have to have real dragons in it.”

George also talks about how the show balances its fantasy elements with its more realistic aspects, believing it’s important to not overdo the magic. “Magic has to be handled very carefully in fantasy,” Martin says. “Phyllis was right, you need some magic in a fantasy, but too much magic is like too much salt in a stew, and then all you can taste in the salt.” Anyone who has read the A Song of Ice and Fire books should get a kick out of Martin’s food analogy, since the books are well-known for their lengthy, in-depth descriptions of food.

You can check out the entire clip of Martin on Conan here.