This past Saturday, George R. R. Martin took to his blog to make an important announcement: He's nowhere near finishing the penultimate book of A Song of Ice and Fire—The Winds of Winter.
That means two things. First, when the sixth season of HBO's Game of Thrones launches in April, no one outside of those who are involved with the show will have any clue what's going to happen. Second, nobody knew this would be the case when the show filmed last fall.
Martin's blog post confirmed what all of us assumed. The team behind Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire planned to release the book in March 2016, with the show to drop a month later. To make the deadline, Martin would have had to turn in a completed manuscript around Halloween. That didn't happen. "There's a lot written," Martin claimed in the post, "hundreds of pages. Dozens of chapters… But there's also a lot still left to write. I am months away still… and that's if the writing goes well. (Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.) Chapters still to write, of course… but also rewriting. I always do a lot of rewriting, sometimes just polishing, sometimes pretty major restructures."
Like winter, we knew this was coming – just not so soon. I wrote about the dangerous depletion of the "world's reserves of Game of Thrones" last spring, arguing that by season seven, we'd have the unprecedented situation of a major story starting in books but finishing on the screen. It's as if the last three Harry Potter movies came out before Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. But whereas Rowling managed to keep churning out books at a rapid pace, Martin's (arguably more adult and much more involved) epics have officially stalled, and it's happened a season early.
This puts those of us who read the books and watch the show in a new position. For years, people like me have eagerly waited to see how the show would handle known scenarios and characters, rather than wondering what would happen. When the show veered off the path charted by the book by adding elements and cutting others, we cheered or jeered. Now it's all going to be new.
I'm pretty excited, in no small part because the most recent trailer suggested that the show was ready to take on its new level of ownership to the story. I assume that Jon Snow is coming back, and always have, since I read the book. But I have no idea how he'll return. Will he be reanimated? Did he just survive the stabbing? Will magic, dark or light, be involved? Instead of finding out this spring by flipping rapidly through the pages of The Winds of Winter, I, and the others like me, will be forced to wait until the show creators want me to know. The same goes for the fate of the wars in the North, the Bolton usurpers, Daenerys's encounter with the new Dothraki force, and more. I will see, rather than read, the story.
But let's not complain that the show will spoil the books. For all Martin's done setting the story into motion, the books have no built-in right to be first. Martin knew, when he sold the project and told Weiss and Benioff the ending, that the TV show might finish before he got to it. The TV show is, in many ways, already becoming canon. After all, the show is, in Martin's own words, "the most popular television series in the world right now." Benioff and Weiss have found ways to make the world of Westeros seem real. Now it's their responsibility to carry the story from its nitty-gritty, politicking origins to its epic high-fantasy finale.
And someday the books will come out. And then we can go back to arguing about all the details.
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