Earlier this week George RR Martin, author of the Song of Ice And Fire series upon which the smash hit Game of Thrones TV show is based, confirmed what many of his fans had long suspected: the anticipated sixth and penultimate book in the series, The Winds of Winter, will not come out before the premiere of season six of the TV show.
“Yes, there’s a lot written. Hundreds of pages. Dozens of chapters,” Martin wrote. “But there’s also a lot still left to write. I am months away still … and that’s if the writing goes well.”
Avid ‘Martinologists’ (humorously described by FiveThirtyEight as “the pseudoscientific process by which fans attempt to predict the release date for the forthcoming The Winds of Winter”) were not surprised.
Martin has a long record of blowing through purported deadlines and delaying the release of the novels in the series by years. After the first three novels in the series were released with mere two year intervals, the fourth book in the series A Feast for Crows required a five year gestation and the fifth, A Dance with Dragons, another six.
If those waits sounds lengthy enough, consider this – those two books each tell the story of half of the series characters, i.e. they happen at the same time, but in different places. If you think the ten month gap between Game of Thrones instalments is arduous, imagine waiting over a decade to hear what happens next to Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister.
Ever since A Dance with Dragons dropped a bare month behind the finale of season one, the show has chewed through the entirety of the already published material in the series.
So, for the first time ever, with the premiere of Game of Thrones season six, show watchers will be ahead of book readers.
No more snotty fans continuously griping about changes from the books, no more easy predictions for viewer reaction YouTube videos, no more easy background material for writers composing show recaps to draw upon and appear insightful (this last one cuts deep).
In April, every Game of Thrones fan will step into the great unknown and for the first time the continuing travails of the story’s characters will be told first to the public not by Martin, but by an ensemble of actors, directors and production crew.
It’s a situation without precedence – no other adaptation has been attempted of a book that not only hasn’t been published yet, but is still in the process of being written.
Game of Thrones isn’t as much a simple TV show as a pop cultural phenomenon. It’s probably the most popular drama in the world, it’s certifiably the most pirated and just a few months ago swept the Emmys, accumulating a record-breaking haul of the medium’s most prestigious award.
Martin has a well rounded approach to the occasional devils of adaptation. He has a noted background in TV writing and production. Not only has he contributed several scripts for Game of Thrones, but has was a staff writer on The Twilight Zone in the mid-80s and was a writer and producer on the ’80s fantasy drama Beauty and the Beast with future Homeland creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon (imagine a parallel pop culture universe where Claire Danes is presiding over a terrorist themed version of the Red Wedding).
As the speed of the TV narrative chewed up the remaining buffer between the books, the eventuality of the show outpacing the source material has been felt.
Season five of Game of Thrones was probably the most inconsistent yet and a large part of that was the attempt to leave future plots unspoiled. Several storylines jumped through convoluted and often nonsensical hoops (whatever happened in Dorne), relied on characters sitting around aimlessly (Brienne and Pod apparently spent an entire season staring at a tower waiting for a candle, only to give up moments before the appearance of said candle) and shoe-horning other characters into plots they don’t have much to do with (did I mention Dorne?).
With each plotline the showrunners made a conscious effort to avoid gratuitously spoil future events from the books. Some of the best moments of season five were actually show creations (the battle at Hardhome comes to mind), evidence enough that the show is an impressive beast in its own right.
Martin has warned of the upcoming series: “some of the ‘spoilers’ you may encounter in season six may not be spoilers at all … because the show and the books have diverged, and will continue to do so”.
The show has already started to ‘spoil’ the novels. After one shocking death in season five that has not appeared in written published form, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss stated that Martin had told them it was a forthcoming event from a future book.
Several major characters that are dead in the TV show remain well and truly alive in the books, and vice versa. Many plot strands have been cast aside or completely ignored too.
The fandom of A Song of Ice and Fire has placated itself over the long vigils for new instalments by combing back over the books to find new information passed over on first inspection. Each addition or cut for the TV adaptation is scrutinised within an inch of its life and analysed for its potential impact on the ‘end game’.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated websites, blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts and forums that pick trough the miniscule details of the text seeking to uncover obscured plots, hidden identities and devious motives. Many of these are crackpot or tinfoil hat worthy theories; others are so well-thought out and backed up by textual evidence that they have become canon.
Contemporary culture is obsessed with spoilers and either avoiding them at all cost (think the hysterical spoiler aversion around Force Awakens) or going to extremes to gather information ahead of the curve (it’s no exaggeration to say the Game of Thrones production has been stalked with a passion of a thousand fanboys).
And despite the unparalleled levels of security and secrecy surrounding productions of the new season, dedicated journalists and fan sites have uncovered plot details, castings and actor sightings that reveal directions the show (and implicitly the books) may be heading in.
I like to think of the relationship between the books and TV show as two different paths to the same destination.
With there still being some kind of hope that Winds of Winter will be ready some time later this year viewers and readers can look forward to a similar story being told in different ways, almost at the same time. The distinctions between the mediums necessitate the different routes, but ultimately they will lead to the same blood-splattered conclusion.