Mon
May 20 2013 9:30am

HBO May Reveal Game of Thrones Ending Before the Books Can

Game of Thrones ending seven seasons

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.

The Winds of Winter George R. R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire cover

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.

30 comments
Jared Shurin
1. Jared_Shurin
I genuinely cannot wait for this to happen. It will be the canon apocalypse. There's weird belief that there has to be one "right" story, so which will it be?! The TV show - which comes first and is seen by more people? Or the book - which is by the original author?

We should start stockpiling canned food, bottled water and ironic t-shirts that say "GEORGE IS THE TRUTH".
Gold for Petyr
2. Gold for Petyr
The TV show isn't seen by more people. the Books have sold way more copies than the episodes have viewers. And while their are pirates watching the show, their are also pirates reading the books.
Adam Whitehead
3. Werthead
Give us only some of the ending
Yes, but not in the way you mean (which is very silly). Of course the storylines for Theon, Sansa and all the TV characters are going to get an ending. However, the TV series and the books are different canons and continuities and each will have its own structure and ending to exist as a stand-alone entity (a lot of TV watchers will never read the books; a lot of book readers have already given up on the TV show for one reason or another, and more will prefer not to watch so the books don't get spoiled).

Novel-only characters and storylines not featured in the TV show will of course only appear in the resolution in the books.
Seven seasons...and a movie?
This would require spectacular timing in order to be satisfying. Also, HBO's attempts to make a big-budget film of ROME has so far not materialised despite six years of effort, a completed script and the backing of the actors. TV viewers will also get royally annoyed if after 7 or 8 years of paying to watch the show, they're suddenly told that they have to now go spend an additional £10 to watch the ending. And all the people who've never watched the TV series won't go to see the film, making the film very niche in appeal.
Go on hiatus after season 4
Complete, 100% impossible and already completely ruled out by the producers:
We're not going to take a two-year hiatus (to wait for a book). Thelittle kids are growing older, the show's got momentum now, and the show must go on.
There's weird belief that there has to be one "right" story, so which will it be?! The TV show - which comes first and is seen by more people? Or the book - which is by the original author?
No, there isn't. Certainly not in this fanbase. There's ASoIaF, the books, and GoT, the TV show, which are each individual and distinct entities. Nothing that happens in one is automatically canon for the other. Even if the TV produers use GRRM's notes to write the ending on TV, GRRM might completely change his mind about that ending later on and write something different for the books. So it's not really an issue. I can see some people choosing to put the blu rays on the shelf and not watch them until the last two books have come out, however, just to be on the safe side.
The TV show isn't seen by more people. the Books have sold way more copies than the episodes have viewers. And while their are pirates watching the show, their are also pirates reading the books.
The five books have sold 20 million copies worldwide, so they have 4 million readers (20 divided by 5). The TV show is watched by 5-6 million people on a first run in the USA alone, another half million plus in the UK and millions more in other countries all around the world.

So no, the TV show has now been seen by significantly more people worldwide than the books have readers.
Gold for Petyr
4. RobL
I remeber discussing the possibility of the show catching up to the books before it aired. The possibility seemed remote back then. I remeber thinking we'd be lucky to get two seasons of the show. In that sense, this is a good problem; the show might actually last long enough to tell the whole story.

I'm glad to hear Benioff say that no one involved wants it to happen though. It gives me hope that smart people will figure out a satisfying solution, althougth I have no idea what that would be.
Trilliand Traveller
5. trilliand
The one storyline that has to be finished by GoT TV series is the one of Dany. It's her chapters in the book that I enjoyed the most as well, it's kind of driving the whole story because you expect her to regain her family's legacy. No idea if GRRM is really going to let her do just that, who knows, but that's at least what I'm hoping and waiting for in the books to come as well as in the TV show.
Chris Lough
6. TorChris
We should start stockpiling canned food, bottled water and ironic t-shirts that say "GEORGE IS THE TRUTH".

HAH! I want to send you a gift basket of baby dinosaurs for this line alone.

I'm not sure if it's so much a belief that one version or the other has to be "right" as it is that it feels weird for the author's version not to come first. At least, that's where my feelings get fiddly on the matter. I think there's a larger response lurking behind that in regards to fan ownership of a series vs. author ownership, but essentially, he created the series so it feels wrong for anyone else to take it and finish it while he's still working on it.

Aside from my entirely subjective response to the news, I remain utterly fascinated by how the process is unfolding. It's like watching alternate timelines developing side by side.
Adam Whitehead
7. Werthead
I think there's a larger response lurking behind that in regards to fanownership of a series vs. author ownership, but essentially, he created the series so it feels wrong for anyone else to take it and finish it while he's still working on it.
An interesting question might be if the TV writers give GRRM the very last episode of the series to write, even if it's years before he reaches the same point in the novels. GRRM will of course be continuing to write one episode per season and provide creative advice and assistance, so the TV show will still have some of his vision in it when it reaches the end.
Gold for Petyr
8. Geronimo
I doubt very much that GRRM would finish the books before the tv show, the guy has published 2 books of the series in the last 11 years, that's how focused he is on finishing the books.
Obviously he is more interested in other projects, that's why he is always travelling to conventions and signing books, co-writting other books, or participating in books about the show, and that's why he signed with HBO to develop new projects (all that time he could be writting the next book, but he is doing other stuff). And most of the chapters of TWOW were just cut from DWD, that's why he has something for the next book.
The reason he finished the three first books so fast was because he was working on them all the time, now he is distracted doing other things. So thinking he will finish before the show is way too optimistic
James Kehr
9. Jammrock
May? I'll be shocked if the next book comes out before HBO's GoT wraps.
Adam Whitehead
10. Werthead
The first three books were also written over a period of nine years, not six, and were originally planned to be just one book, so GRRM wrote them according to something of a plan and outlined. AFFC and most of ADWD, which did not exist in his original plan for the series (they were skipped over), he had to write on the fly and floundered with it for a while.

None of this really helps us guess when Book 6 might come out. On the one hand, he is older now and he does have some other projects he's been working on (though they are being wrapped up fairly quickly now). On the other, he's back onto part of the series that was outlined and planned - if only very roughly - many years ago, which should provide some help and may result in a faster writing pace. We simply don't know. I do think any notion at all of TWoW coming out before late 2015 at the earliest is extremely optimistic, however.
Gold for Petyr
11. vampiredoctor
I'm choosing to take an optimistic view and am predicting TWOW will be released shortly after season 4 airs next year. If not then it will probably come out right after season 5. There are a few reasons why I think he will stay ahead of the show. I think it would be pretty embarassing for him on a professional level to fall behind the show, and it would annoy a lot of his loyal readers to learn the ending before they can read it properly. Future book sales might also suffer if people already know the end, so that's another incentive for him. Finally, I think he does have pride in the story and realizes it will earn him a special place in genre history if it's completed. If it's going 7 seasons that means if he releases TWOW next year he'll have roughly three years to finish ADOS and have it come out right around the time the final season airs. It's doable, for a disciplined author who focuses on his work, which is the real sticking point here.
Gold for Petyr
12. vampiredoctor
I also think he really just wants to be done with it so he can move on to other projects. He has said he enjoys "having written, not writing." So I think (and hope) he's going to wrap it up in the next two books and as quickly as possible. In recent blogs/interviews he always notes how he's starting to feel the pressure of the show catching up and how other projects aren't keeping him from writing TWOW.
Bruce Arthurs
13. Bruce-Arthurs
Well, my personal theory is that by the time GRRM is done killing off characters, there's only going to be one survivor, the guy who's gone off to live a normal life while everyone else is either trapped in life-threatening situations or actively seeking out life-threatening situation.

Yep, at the end, Hot Pie's going to ride into Kings' Landing with a wagonload of bread to toss to the populace, step over the bodies littering the throne room, and take an unopposed seat on the Iron Throne. Smartest guy in Westeros.

Gold for Petyr
14. Me Loves Jaime
You know nothing, Chris Lough.
Gold for Petyr
15. Me Loves Jaime
Oh and Wert - Judging by the quality of GRRM's last episode (the worst of all 38 episodes so far) giving him the ultimate finale is a terrible idea.
Gold for Petyr
16. Glinda
The first three books were also written over a period of nine years
Game of thrones was published in 1996, Clash of Kings in 1999 and Storm of Swords in 2000. The Feast for Crows in 2005 and Dance with Dragons in 2011, so yeah, he is not writting like he used to, and he probably won't finish the books before the show is over.
Gold for Petyr
17. Gregor Lewis
Great topic Chris (he says through gritted teeth).
Seriously though, the prospects ARE frightening. That's only been confirmed with the mix of passive aggressive comments and hopeful, or possibly 'reverse psychology' predictions.

I went through this with the WOT and it is interesting what parallels can be drawn. I can vividly remember my excitement, after I first read the blurb to A Crown of Swords. Not long after that I discovered rasfw-rj on Usenet. Afire with anticipation of the crescendo at the end of Lord of Chaos being topped by ACoS, because I had just read what I thought was the greatest blurb of the series so far, I inhaled as much online discussion as I could.

And was dismayed to find people were already finding the series dragging. I would learn the hard way.

So did Martin. Where RJ took delight in being obtuse, Martin made the mistake of being confidently transparent. He then realised he couldn't follow through and he made another mistake of announcing that. He then repeated his previous mistake of making predictions. He missed again and not by a little.

For what its worth, I think his original plan was right. The well written dross of books four and five reinforces my opinion. As has been noted above, none of this stuff was meant to be disseminated this way. Apart from some memorable scenes/characters - very few really - the last two releases resemble a massive info-dump more than a physically unpublishable 'novel-grande'.

This is where I think the TV show has the chance to truly differentiate itself. It can make clear what has already been noted above. It is a completely different entity. This is why I don't care what ending comes first. The producers have been admirably faithful to the source so far, but they have also established their own necessary narrative flow.

The weakness of the material in books 4 & 5, will allow the producers to reinforce their on-screen vision. If what has been revealed to them is half as compelling as what the first three books taught us, I am confident a differentiated, earlier ending to the TV series will not suffer in comparison to the books.

Lastly, my experience with WOT taught me that an author doesn't HAVE TO do anything. They will write what they feel, when they can and participate, travel to, create, sign, interview, confer with anything, anywhere and anyone they want.

That's how it should be. Deal......and please for the sake of my reader's ears don't squeal.

grl
Gold for Petyr
18. i can't think of an alias
No way Martin finishes these books by 2015. His track record speaks for itself.

I don't even believe his estimate that there are two books left. Jordan thought that WOT had one novel left when he died. It took Sanderson three massive books to finish the series and he had to rush through several plot lines (Padan Fain, anyone?) When Martin started Feast of Crows, he envisioned it as one book, instead we got two. He is no more realistic than Jordan was.
Alan Brown
19. AlanBrown
There is nothing that focuses the mind more than an impending deadline. Let's hope Mr. GRRM rises to the challenge!
Iain Cupples
20. NumberNone
@8: of course, during the writing of the first three books GRRM also worked on other projects and travelled to conventions. In fact, he probably did more travelling in those days.

The issue is not a lack of time devoted to writing or a lack of will on GRRM's part to finish the series. He's noted himself in the past that he's not typically a very speedy writer, and that period of productivity on books 2 and 3 was unusual for him. And if you look at the rest of his career, that's hard to dispute. On the other hand, the time taken to write books 4 and 5 was also unusual, in the other direction, for reasons gone into at length elsewhere.

Will book 6 go at the same pace as book 4, or book 2, or somewhere in between? Will he finish before the series does? Who knows? Nobody, not even GRRM himself. We can speculate, I suppose, for whatever that's worth - but personally I wouldn't even care to guess.
Adam Whitehead
21. Werthead
Oh and Wert - Judging by the quality of GRRM's last episode (the worst of all 38 episodes so far) giving him the ultimate finale is a terrible idea.
It certainly wasn't as bad as the two episodes before it. GRRM also wrote the best two episodes of the series so far (Blackwater and The Pointy End), so that weighs more heavily in is favour. Of course, the degree to which all three of his scripts were rewritten and changed by Benioff and Weis remains unknown.
Game of thrones was published in 1996, Clash of Kings in 1999 and Storm of Swords in 2000. The Feast for Crows in 2005 and Dance with Dragons in 2011, so yeah, he is not writting like he used to, and he probably won't finish the books before the show is over.
Correct, and certainly he has slowed down. However, he started writing the first book in 1991. He had a year or so of working on a TV show at the same time, but certainly the first book took almost as long to write as AFFC (actually longer; over 4 years to 3.5, since he spent the first 1.5 years of the AFFC period writing a completely different fourth book which was junked).

None of which is particularly helpful in projecting his future work rate. We'll have to wait until a substantial update on WINDS OF WINTER's progress, hopefully in the next few months, to get a better handle on how things are going.

@20: Pretty much. GRRM himself has said he's had too many side-projects on the go. They tend to be editing jobs where the time commitment is much less than a novel (you're mostly waiting for the stories to come in, then a few weeks intensive editing work, then you're waiting for the rewriters, during which time you can be working on your novel etc), but it's still time that could be spent on TWoW. GRRM's said he needs to have other projects on the go so as not to get burned out on ASoIaF, but he definitely overcompensated (as he himself says) after ADWD came out. Without them, he's said he thinks 3 years is a more realistic writing time for each book. The only question remains how much they have impacted on the actual writing time. That's something that's unquantifiable right now.
Gold for Petyr
22. N. Mamatas
Doesn't the dwarf put a saddle on a dragon and melt the big ice wall and take over at the end?
Noneo Yourbusiness
23. Longtimefan
My feeling on this is a little metephor I use to get me through the inconsistences between mediums.

Written works and televison and movies are much like three different countries each with their own historians who look out at the unknown civilizations of fiction and write a suitable version of that history for their country's citizens.

In this way each "known" history is slightly altered by the historians of each civilization.

Oddly GRRM is the historian for both the countries of book and televison. Granted there is more of a historical "council" in the realm of television so he is not the only one writing the history there.

Sadly we are not citizens of any of those countries. Only tourists who pick up unusual documents in our travels. Seeking out these histories and enjoying them, collecting them, debating them.

We, the readers are itnerant scholars wading through the ever building library of time.
Gold for Petyr
24. Dutch Uncle
"anticipation would be massive" - The entire series has a total spoiler, namely the BOOKS. I remember seeing posts from people who were shocked at the death of (insert name here) when it was in print years ago. Though I suppose many of the TV fans could never slog through the slower parts of the books . . . (go find "write like the wind" on youtube)
Gold for Petyr
26. giubbie
The initial project was for seven seasons. but there is no reason to believe it won't be extended; sure, is hard for shows to retain interest for many years, but there are quite many who do, and probably ASOIAF falls in this cathegory. I believe that starting with book 3 we'll have 2 seasons / book, so actually, book 6 needs to be done by 2017, and book 7 by 2019.

The kids are growing, but they are also growing in the book timeline, so this is no major issue.

Writing each of the last two books won't take Martin as long as it took him to write book 5, but longer than the previous 4, because he has less time given his involvement with the show.

So, I suspect we'll have book 6 in 2015, and book 7 in 2018, while the show will end in 2020
David Lev
27. davidlev
Honestly, I'm anticipating a Fullmetal Alchemist/ Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood sort of situation, where the books and TV series diverge significantly. Of course, they you have fandoms fighting each other for which is the "correct" one (there are definitely people out there who vastly prefer the original FMA series over Brotherhood, even though the second one was the original author's intention). The book and TV show have already diverged significantly, for better or for worse, and having different ends may be interesting. However, I'm hoping at least TWOW will come out before the show wraps
Gold for Petyr
28. dan47mnak
Heck, I just want to finish the book series before I expire and I don't have much left in the tank if it goes 4 more years. I would be drooling watching the last episode, not having a chance to finish the books...
Gold for Petyr
29. Jlammb
PLEASE !!! Just do me one favor in season 4. STOP having the whole cast saying John Snow!! John Snow John snow John Snow we get it!! We all know who he is now and we can start to just call him John now! It's really quite enough and irritating now at this point... Seriously go back and watch and pay attention how many times we hear, this n that John Snow..
Otherwise best show on the networks keep it going !!
Gold for Petyr
30. kashif
Honestly speaking I don't expect GRRM to be complete the series in two books. So personally I think the situation will be like that of FMA
Gold for Petyr
33. C.D.
Werthead said:
"The five books have sold 20 million copies worldwide, so they have 4 million readers (20 divided by 5). The TV show is watched by 5-6 million people on a first run in the USA alone, another half million plus in the UK and millions more in other countries all around the world. So no, the TV show has now been seen by significantly more people worldwide than the books have readers."

I think this assumes each book has one reader. This may be true for some copies, but I doubt it's true for most copies (I have read a lot of books a friend put in my hand, having read it first). It's certainly untrue for the copies in libraries, some of which still have queues to read them.

There's quite a bit of overlap between book and video fans, of course -- and DVDs of the shows will be seen by more than one viewer. I do know people who won't buy HBO for the show, but would like to see it when it's available otherwise. I think the books and shows feed each other customers rather than being in competition: each is an ad for the other. Which ultimately gets more eyeballs may be an interesting question, but academic: who will know who read a borrowed book, or visited a DVD-owning friend?

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