Warning: contains spoilers for A Dance With Dragons and plot details released as excerpts from The Winds Of Winter.
Appreciating that the one thing anyone really wants to know about the sixth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series is when it’s coming out – information that we, sadly, aren’t yet privy to – here’s everything that’s been announced so far about The Winds Of Winter, gleaned from sample chapters, convention appearances, interviews with Mr Martin and more.
So, when is it coming out?
“I’ve actually given up answering the question when it will be done. In the early days, especially after the third book – because the fourth book took a really long time – I kept being wrong. People said ‘when will it be done?’ and I would give an answer and then it would not be done by then – I would run into some problem or I would decide to rewrite or I would change course – and once you give a date and then you miss that date, there’s an element of the audience that thinks you’re doing it deliberately.” George R.R. Martin, in conversation with Focus on New Mexico KNME, 2014.
Ask Martin the how he’s getting on with The Winds Of Winter and when it will be finished, and he’ll have two answers for you: “I’m working on it” and “When it’s done”. You can’t really say fairer than that.
Given Martin’s understandable refusal to be drawn on an expected publication date for The Winds Of Winter (it’s been joked that the author now kills a Stark for every time he’s asked) impatient fans have to look elsewhere for information. Martin’s UK editor – Jane Johnson at HarperCollins – seems a likely source, though in March 2014 told The Guardian’s Alison Flood that no date is lined up for The Winds Of Winter’s release “until George delivers, and I have no idea when that will be. This is such a huge series and so convoluted and hard to structure as he approaches the end that it is going to take time to get exactly right”. We’ve been warned by Johnson not to expect anything before 2015 at the very earliest.
Time, understandably, is what it is taking. The novel’s predecessor, A Dance With Dragons, was published in July 2011 which tied Martin up with promotional tours and cons for a good while, not to mention his commitments to the Game Of Thrones TV series and other related publications. “I don’t get writer’s block in the conventional sense,” Martin told the assembled crowd at this year’s SDCC, “but I do get derailed by distractions. I do my best writing when I’m not distracted […] I’m not like some writers who can write while on the road or on book tours, some people do that. I can’t do that. I try, but I can’t do that.”
Good news for readers is that Martin is to limit his distractions for the next year, neither planning to visit the set of the TV show for season five, nor to write an episode – something he enjoys greatly but describes as “breaking the stride” of the books because of the need to go back and forth along the characters’ timelines.
This, from statistical analysis website FiveThirtyEight, takes an admirably studious and geeky approach to the release date question (seriously, there are graphs and equations and everything). The conclusion drawn there points to October/November 2015, which may be optimistic but seems as good a place as any to stick a pin in the calendar.
Who are the point-of-view characters?
So far, the point-of-view characters confirmed so far for The Winds Of Winter are as follows: Tyrion Lannister, Sansa Stark, Arya Stark, Arianne Martell, Aeron Greyjoy, Theon Greyjoy, Victarion Greyjoy, and Barristan Selmy.
That comes to a total of eight, which, if unchanged, would give The Winds Of Winter the joint lowest number of point-of-view characters in the series (Game Of Thrones had eight, A Clash Of Kings had nine, A Storm Of Swords had ten, A Feast For Crows had twelve, and A Dance With Dragons had a whopping sixteen). Much more likely – if Martin wants to avoid a riot, that is – is that Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow will join that list, accompanied by a selection from: Cersei Lannister (we’re going to need at least one representative from King’s Landing), Bran Stark, Davos Seaworth, Samwell Tarly and Jaime Lannister and/or Brienne of Tarth to beef up that initial octet.
Which other characters are confirmed to appear?
Readers can use their common sense to speculate on which non-point-of-view major and recurring characters will be back in The Winds Of Winter, and which point-of-view characters will provide access to them – Theon’s sample chapter gives us Stannis, Sansa’s will give us Littlefinger, and so on.
More interesting are the characters absent for long stretches of the saga that George R.R. Martin has confirmed will be returning in the sixth book, namely Mago and the Dothraki, Osha, Marillion, and Jeyne Westerling.
Mago, the Dothraki bloodrider in the faction that deserted Daenerys following Khal Drago’s death, was killed off in the TV series, but not in A Song Of Ice And Fire. “Mago is not dead in the books” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in July 2011, “he’s going to be a recurring character in The Winds Of Winter”. The last we heard of Dany, of course, she had encountered Ko Jhaqo’s Khalasar in the Dothraki sea. Mago isn’t the only of his tribe to be returning for book six, according to a June 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly The Dothraki are coming back into the story “in a big way”.
Another character whose fate in the TV series differs from that of the books is singer Marillion, who in ASoIaF lost his eyes and some fingers being tortured to confess to the murder of Lysa Arryn, but not – as did his television counterpart – his tongue. “Marillion has more to do”, Martin told EW in 2011. In the same interview, Martin confirmed that Osha, Rickon Stark’s guardian, will be returning for the sixth novel. “When I bring Osha back in Winds Of Winter, I’ll have Natalia [Tena, who plays her in the HBO series] in mind and perhaps give the character more interesting things to do”, Martin told EW.
Speaking at SDCC 2014, Martin predicted that viewers would really enjoy meeting the Martells of Dorne in Game Of Thrones season five, “particularly Oberyn Martell’s three daughters, the Sand Snakes… and I hope you like them, because you’re also going to be seeing a lot of them in The Winds Of Winter.”
Also confirmed as returning to the novels in The Winds Of Winter prologue is Robb Stark’s widow, Jeyne Westerling, not previously seen since A Feast For Crows. If she’s in the prologue, does that mean Jeyne’s days are numbered, Martin was asked at SDCC 2014? “Let me make this clear here,” Martin told Zap2It in answer to that question, “I didn’t say [Jeyne] was the viewpoint character. I said she was in the prologue. It’s the viewpoint character who always dies”.
How much of the novel’s material has already been released?
Counting extracts read aloud at conventions over the last few years, the sample chapters published on George R.R. Martin’s Not A Blog website, and those included in various paperback editions of previous instalments, excerpts from seven chapters in The Winds Of Winter have been made public at the time of writing.
Those seven chapters are written from the points of view of Theon Greyjoy and Barristan Selmy (released, respectively as part of the UK and US paperback versions of A Dance With Dragons, with an excerpt from a second Barristan Selmy chapter read aloud at 2013’s Boskone Sci-Fi Con), Victarion Greyjoy (read aloud at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2012), Tyrion Lannister (read aloud at two conventions before appearing on the official A World Of Ice And Fire app in March 2014), and Arianne Martell and Arya Stark (both published on Martin’s website in January 2013 and March 2014 respectively).
Given that the average number of chapters across the previous five books in the series is approximately sixty-eight, including prologues and epilogues, we could be looking at ten percent of The Winds Of Winter having already made its way out into the fandom.
What happens in the previously released excerpts?
With all the necessary spoiler warnings in place, here are the bones of what goes on in each of The Winds Of Winter excerpts released so far.
Theon Greyjoy chapter: After his escape with Jeyne Poole (in disguise as Arya Stark) from Winterfell, Theon was imprisoned by Stannis’ army, which is preparing for the battle against the Boltons for the North. This chapter finds him chained up by Stannis in preparation for his execution in punishment for killing the two youngest Starks (who, unbeknownst to the Baratheon heir, are yet alive). In the tower, Theon is able to eavesdrop on the story of the Karstarks’ betrayal and Stannis’ plans to buy a company of Sellswords using gold borrowed from the Iron Bank of Braavos. Theon’s sister, Asha, convinces Stannis to execute Theon himself in a Godswood, as Ned Stark would have done. The raven croaking Theon’s name in the dungeon leads us to suspect that unwittingly, Asha may have engineered a way for Bran Stark, now merging with the Weirwood, to once again speak to Theon through the Heart Tree.
Arya Stark chapter: Now going by the name of Mercedene, or Mercy, Arya Stark is working as part of a Braavosi mummers troupe specialising in classical revenge tragedies (somewhat ironically, her current role appears to be as her sister Sansa, whose marriage to Tyrion has been bastardised for the stage). She is still having her wolf dreams, and in one, remembers being watched by a tree, likely her brother Bran. This chapter sees Arya late for a rehearsal and running through the Braavos fog to the theatre. On the evening of the performance, ‘Mercy’ spies Raff the Sweetling as part of a King’s Landing contingent in the audience. Recognising him as one of the Mountain’s men who stabbed her friend Lommy in the throat while she, Gendry, he and Hot Pie had been captured, she lures him away from the theatre and kills him, pushing his body into the canal and ticking another name off her list.
Arianne Martell chapter: The daughter of Prince Doran Martell leaves Sunspear with a travelling party in response to a letter from Jon Connington announcing Young Griff’s true identity as heir to the Iron Throne and her cousin, Aegon Targaryen, the son of Arianne’s aunt Elia Martell. Along her journey, Arianne reflects on her place in the line to Sunspear’s throne, and the whereabouts of her brother, Quentyn, who went to seek the hand of Daenerys Targaryen. She also considers whether Dany, like her father the Mad King, is in her right mind.
Tyrion chapter: Having escaped slavery to join Brown Ben Plumm’s Second Sons with Jorah Mormont and Penny, Tyrion awakes as the second siege of Meereen begins, hearing “the music of slaughter” all around him. Dressing for battle makes him think back to his previous experiences in armour, at Green Fork and the Blackwater, and to remember his bitterness towards his father and Shae. Knowing that the Second Sons are on the losing side, Tyrion and Mormont convince Brown Ben to change loyalties once again and to fight as Daenerys’ men, pretending his defection was all a deliberate ploy in aid of the Queen.
Barristan Selmy chapter: The first of the Barristan Selmy chapters in The Winds Of Winter, released as part of the US paperback of A Dance With Dragons, tells of his preparing his men and the Unsullied for battle against the Yunkhai. We hear of Selmy’s prayers, preparations and speeches to his men, as well as his misgivings about the clash ahead. He too remembers his fear as a young man in his first battle. The second chapter, which is due to come after Tyrion and Victarion chapters, tells of the ensuing conflict, into which Selmy rides on Dany’s silver mare as a symbol of her reign. He spies the arrival of the Ironborn ships into Slaver’s Bay, and is confused as to who has led them, ending the chapter “They’re on our side”.
Victarion Greyjoy chapter: In his ship in Slaver’s Bay, preparing to join the fight, Victarion Greyjoy, like Tyrion, is also remembering his first battle, his resentment of his brother Euron and the story of Victarion’s third wife, whom he killed after she was made pregnant by Euron. Victarion explains his plan to use Dragonbinder – the great horn that killed the man who blew it at the Kingsmoot – to tame Dany’s dragons, two of which are already part of the battle.
What major events will The Winds Of Winter cover?
“We have more deaths, and we have more betrayals. We have more marriages” said George R.R. Martin about The Winds Of Winter, “a lot of stuff is happening at The Wall.” Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in June 2014, Martin added, “I think we’re gonna start out with a big smash with the two enormous battles”. The two enormous battles are those of the Second Siege of Meereen, and, presumably, the battle for the North between Stannis and the Boltons.
What of Tyrion and Dany? Will those two fan-favourites finally intersect in The Winds Of Winter?
“Tyrion and Dany will intersect, in a way, but for much of the book they’re still apart.” Martin told EW in June 2014. “They both have quite large roles to play here. Tyrion has decided that he actually would like to live, for one thing, which he wasn’t entirely sure of during the last book, and he’s now working toward that end—if he can survive the battle that’s breaking out all around him. And Dany has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words. So they’re both coming home.”
Other events anticipated by the end of A Dance With Dragons that we can speculate will take place in The Winds Of Winter include Cersei’s trial by combat, Davos Seaworth’s experiences in Skagos in search of Rickon Stark, Jaime and Brienne meeting Lady Stoneheart, Dany’s encounter with members of her old Dothraki Khalasar, and more from Jon Connington and Young Griff, whose campaign was gathering strength the last we heard. Will Aeron Greyjoy challenge Euron’s place on the Seastone Chair? Will Arya remain in Braavos? Will Jon return? We’ll have to wait and see.
How long will it be?
Long. Earlier this year in a Focus On New Mexico interview that took place in the Jean Cocteau Theatre – a Santa Fe cinema Martin owns – he described The Winds Of Winter and its planned successor A Dream Of Spring as “two enormous books”, the writing of which would preclude him being as involved as he’d like with Game Of Thrones the TV series. “I still have two enormous books to write, I have The Winds Of Winter, which I’m working on right now, and that’s going to be another monster, and then when I finish that I have the last book, A Dream Of Spring, which is going to be another 1500 page monster where I try to wrap things up.”
It’s very likely that the paperback edition of The Winds Of Winter will follow suit with its lengthy predecessors and be published in two simultaneously released volumes.
Is it really the penultimate in the series?
That’s the plan. Ever since “the tale grew in the telling and burst out of the trilogy”, in Martin’s words, A Song Of Ice And Fire was to total seven books. Of late, however, Martin has begun introducing the odd note of doubt into whether the final number will be seven. “My plan is to finish in seven,” he told EW in June 2014, “But my original plan was to finish in three. I write the stories and they grow.”
“The obligation is to the work itself” Martin told Focus on New Mexico, “I’m telling a story and however many books you divide it into, three books, four books, seven books – which is what I’m currently going for – it’s one story, much as Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings is one story. It has a beginning, it has a lot of middle, and eventually, it will have an end”.
What else is George R.R. Martin working on?
Game Of Thrones projects proliferate around the novels and the television series, not all, but many of which involve George R.R. Martin. 2012’s The Lands Of Ice And Fire was a glossy atlas of the worlds created in his novels, on which Martin worked. An illustrated companion book, The World Of Ice & Fire: The Untold History Of Westeros, was written with co-authors Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, and is due to be published in October 2014. You can see Martin proudly displaying his advance copy on his website, here.
In addition to writing one episode per season of the television series between 2011 and 2014, which takes Martin around a month to do, he’s also been writing for and editing sci-fi and fantasy anthologies. In 2013 his original short story The Princess And The Queen, set in Westeros two centuries before the events of A Song Of Ice And Fire, was published as part of the Dangerous Women anthology. June 2014 saw the publication of Rogues, in which Martin released a short story prequel to The Princess And The Queen called The Rogue Prince. Add to that his continued work on ASoIaF prequel series, Tales Of Dunk And Egg.
Martin has edited and contributed to the Wild Cards superhero anthology series since 1987, the rights for which are currently under option with Universal Studios, which, according to Martin, is planning to make it their superhero franchise rival to other studios’ DC and Marvel cinematic universes. Three standalone original Wild Card graphic novels are currently in the works, each one the equivalent of six monthly issues.
Read more about A Song Of Ice And Fire on Den Of Geek, here.
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