Game of Thrones: George R.R. Martin Admits He Should Have Stayed Ahead with the Books

As fans still wait for George R.R. Martin to complete the Game of Thrones novels, the author offers some frank comments.

Game of Thrones finale: Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington
Photo: HBO

Winter has come and gone for hit HBO series Game of Thrones, but—in a dilemma unique to the dynamic of adaptations—the literary source material on which it was based, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, famously remains incomplete. The situation, now a decade old from the release of the 2011 fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, has become a meme-inspiring legend, centered on what is now the most-publicized case of writer’s block in contemporary literary history. Yet, while Martin has spent the past decade teasing sixth book The Winds of Winter, he now finally concedes the unideal nature of the rollout.

Martin is expressing regret about his unfinished novels, which are now overshadowed by the television run of Game of Thrones, which aired its final episode on HBO on May 19, 2019. At the cost of franchise uniformity, the decade-long delay left the show to work without the safety net of published source material since 2016’s Season 6, and sporadic elements not yet covered in the books had already been introduced in preceding seasons. Indeed, Martin managed to lose his grip on the bestselling literary mythology, which would come to be defined in the eyes of the public by the controversial climax of the television series. The situation has essentially defanged the proverbial direwolf of Martin’s two unpublished novels; a notion that he seems to affirm in an interview with WTTW Chicago.

“Looking back, I wish I’d stayed ahead of the books,” laments the author. “My biggest issue was when they began that series, I had four books already in print, and the fifth one came out just as the series was starting in 2011. I had a five-book head start, and these are gigantic books, as you know. I never thought they would catch up with me, but they did. They caught up with me and passed me.”

By the time the HBO series surpassed Martin’s novel content of A Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1999), A Storm of Swords (2000), A Feast for Crows (2005) and A Dance with Dragons (2011), it was only left to work off a generalized early outline of planned plot developments that Martin provided to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. It’s a change that many fans believe led to a slow-but-steady decline in story quality, leading to the controversially rushed series climax of the abbreviated Season 8.

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While, in an ideal scenario, Martin’s inspiration for The Winds of Winter would remain untainted by how the show ultimately unfolded and the audience’s reaction, that can’t possibly be the case. He’s only human, and the book’s decade-long gestation has likely been frustratingly reshaped numerous times, which would explain the seemingly interminable delay. However, said delay will give Martin the chance to redeem, in literary form, a television ending widely considered controversial.

“That made it a little strange because now the show was ahead of me and the show was going in somewhat different directions,” explains Martin. “So, I’m still working on the book, but you’ll see my ending when that comes out.” Indeed, while the question of why the climax of Game of Thrones was so unsatisfying to a significant portion of the fandom could probably fill a book as long as A Song of Ice and Fire entry, Martin chooses his words carefully when he intriguingly hypes “my ending,” which should resonate with fans who were left dejected by the way the series unfolded, even two years after the fact.  

Martin’s now-famous inertia on the novels could yield a satisfying course correction, albeit tangentially, based on the large scope—of two prospectively 1,000+ page novels—it will enjoy. After all, the decision—purportedly by showrunners Benioff and Weiss—to reduce the number of episodes for Game of Thrones’ final season to a scant six created crippling pacing issues, resulting in the rushed nature of the finale. In the very least, those storylines needed to play out across the typical ten episodes the series regularly released through Season 6, which was the point of the aforementioned source material drought.

The quick conclusion arguably did a disservice to the major characters, most notably Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen, whose arc had gone from being bartered into bridal slavery by her own royal brother into becoming an enlightened ruler in the East, poised to take her accrued army of Dothraki and Unsullied back to Westeros for a justice-motivated invasion and restoration of her family’s usurped throne. Of course, that all rapidly came to a visually-stunning, but anti-climactic end across the few final episodes, which turned her from a dragon-riding populist hero and defender of the realm into a lovelorn, megalomaniacal, genocidal pyromaniac. If Martin’s ending plays out similarly in that regard, we can at least hope the turn occurs more organically.

While the process of being excited by Martin’s auspicious-sounding updates on The Winds of Winter has become a perfunctory exercise in goal-post-moving for fans, there is actually something to be excited about on the book front—really, there is! His last major update, from this past February, revealed that pandemic-era extended home time allowed him to write “hundreds and hundreds of pages” of the book. Considering that he has posted sporadic completed chapters of the book on his “Not a Blog” (which is totally a blog) website over the years, he is likely close to finishing the book. However, even after that monumental event finally unfolds, the process will simply start over again when Martin commences writing the literary conclusion, A Dream of Spring. It will therefore be interesting to see if said dream ever commences. He’ll first have to pry himself away from other projects such as a co-creator position on developing fantasy video game Elden Ring.

In the meantime, Game of Thrones fans will have no shortage of content on the television side of things, with the 300-year-rewind prequel series, House of the Dragon, currently in production and on track for a 2022 premiere. That series will eventually be complemented by yet-to-be-titled spinoff projects set across various eras of Westeros history, such as Dunk and Egg, The Sea Snake, Dornish princess Nymeria, and a series set in King’s Landing slum Flea Bottom.

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