Even before Game of Thrones first season debut, fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series have quietly wondered if the author could have the final two books out by the time the HBO television adaptation caught up with him. Recent statements from HBO producers at this past weekend’s BAFTA Awards reveal that there is now a definite timeline they’re expecting the story finished by, leaving us to wonder... will Game of Thrones reveal the ending of the series before it’s actually ended?
Radio Times spoke with Game of Thrones producer Frank Doelger at the BAFTAs:
“[The number of series] is being discussed as we speak. [...] I would hope that, if we all survive, and if the audience stays with us we’ll probably get through to seven seasons.”
His statement echoes the timeline that show runners Dan Weiss and David Benioff have in mind for the show. io9 has a choice quote from a recent Entertainment Weekly interview that Benioff gave regarding the time limit:
It’s possible the producers, who know the broad strokes of Martin’s ending for the story, might conclude the show before the last book is released. Not that anyone involved wants that to happen. “Ideally, the books come out first,” Benioff says.
A seven season cut-off makes sense from a production standpoint. Even though the show is consistently acclaimed and the current season of Game of Thrones is its highest-rated yet, it’s extremely rare for a television show sustain that kind of interest and excitement over seven years.
There’s also the question of how the show would condense the rest of the books into only seven seasons when the third book, A Storm of Swords, is taking up two entire seasons by itself. A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons could possibly be condensed into one season. Or the show runners might simply chop up the final four books amongst three seasons, regardless of where the individual books end.
Either way, this means the show gets into, quite literally, unknown “here be dragons” territory by the time season 6 of Game of Thrones goes into production in 2015. To stay current with the show, the forthcoming sixth book in the series, The Winds of Winter, would have to come out by then, with the seventh book A Dream of Spring following shortly thereafter.
And honestly? This is not an impossible deadline. Martin has been very quiet about progress on the sixth book, but this is because updating us on A Dance With Dragons just about drove him mad. Additionally, he’s revealed (spoilers in the link) at least 10 chapters from the book over the last three years and it stands to reason that there is quite a bit more written, perhaps in a rougher form. We also tend to forget that the first three books came out in fairly rapid succession, taking roughly six years to complete. I wouldn’t be surprised—and this is complete and utter speculation on my part—if we get a release date announcement for The Winds of Winter either by the end of this year or just before season 4 of the show kicks off. Subsequently, that then gives the author until March 2017 to publish the final book.
Warning! The next section contains spoilers for the series.
The Game of Thrones show runners and producers know that they have to provide an ending to the saga for fans of the show, but they have a few options even if Martin can’t finish the series by 2017. Here are three:
Give us only some of the ending: Show runner Benioff says above that they know the broad strokes of how Martin’s saga concludes, but if they’re trying to cram the final two books into only two seasons then the “broad strokes” may be all they have room to give us. The show could display the “how” of the epic’s conclusion, but leave the details of the “why” for the book. It could drop some endings altogether. Perhaps we see how Daenerys’ saga concludes (assumably with fire and blood and probably dragons melting a crapload of Others) but not quieter plotlines, like Theon’s or Sansa’s.
Seven seasons...and a movie?: Similarly, the show could save the really big conclusion for a Game of Thrones movie, giving Martin some extra time to deliver the book and letting the series go out with a bang. Imagine Game of Thrones with a Lord of the Rings budget. The show already looks gorgeous, this would make it unforgettable.
Go on hiatus after season 4: The events of A Storm of Swords are momentous and leave the fates of a lot of the characters up in the air. If the show went on a one year break after this then anticipation for season 5 would be massive, which would carry the momentum of the series through the quieter parts of A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons. We’ve seen other cable dramas successfully pull this kind of hiatus off (mostly on AMC) so if Game of Thrones were to do so it would make the most sense to do it after the events of season 4. And again, it would give Martin a bit more of a buffer to conclude the series his way.
Because ultimately that’s what we want. While having the show and the books skew off separately would be interesting, this is Martin’s world, and I for one want to read Martin’s ending. More than that I want the grand pleasure, so unique to this series, of all of us—author, show runner, show fan, and book fan alike—crossing that finish line together.
Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com and would name his direwolf Kitty Pryde.