Features and Columns · TV

George R.R. Martin Doesn’t Owe Game of Thrones Fans Anything

By  · Published on January 4th, 2016


George R.R. Martin has said that his next book, “The Winds of Winter,” will not be out in time for Game of Thrones season 6 in April.

I’ve been considering how I might respond to this news all weekend. Especially because it’s been my strong position through numerous episodes of A Storm of Spoilers that the book would be out, come hell or high water. Now we know the truth, that the writing isn’t going well for Martin, and the book isn’t coming anytime soon. I suppose that I should be upset. Plenty of people on Twitter are upset.

Then again, let’s think this through: what does George R.R. Martin owe his most loyal fans? Those who read the original book upon its release in 1996. Those who have suffered the long gaps between books. Those who patiently held their tongues as a whole new audience discovered the story on HBO, never spoiling the vicious Red Wedding, instead opting to watch their friends squirm.

The truth is that no matter how loyal we are, Martin owes us nothing.

And while it’s disappointing that a new book won’t precede a new season of Game of Thrones, thus negating the book reader’s advantage, there’s no reason to be mad at the man who created it.

As he explained in his blog post, there are plenty of human reasons why it’s not done. His celebrity has been elevated over the years, which means more travel to appearances. He’s a people-pleaser, after all. It also means more projects, he has 3 new series in development as part of his larger deal with HBO and another independent series in the works. He runs a movie theater. And yes, he’s getting older and as anyone who has aged a bit can tell you, nothing gets easier.

Upon reading his blog post, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for the man. There’s no equal to the amount of pressure he must feel from his fans. J.K. Rowling finished the final Harry Potter well before the last movie went into production. When Game of Thrones went into production in 2010, Martin had just slogged through 7 years of finishing a giant book, with two more entries still rumbling around in his mind. He may have known then that he’d never out-pace the show’s production schedule, but he tried to deliver another entry before it caught up, nonetheless. As my good friend Joanna Robinson puts it, “just because Martin flew a little close to the sun, doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve our love and thanks for creating the complex world of Westeros.”

His creation has spawned one of the biggest shows in television history. For that, fans will be eternally grateful. And he will eventually finish the books. I’m still a firm believer in that.

While there’s no reason for fans to be mad at Martin for slowly adding to his series, there are some valid concerns. As he admits, the books and the show have diverged a bit. He’s often referenced the butterfly effect when talking about recent seasons of Thrones. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have moved pieces around, killed off numerous characters that are still alive in the books and now have plenty of room to strike out into their own narrative territory. The question of whether or not this is a good thing.

With season 6 and the eventual release of “The Winds of Winter,” we will now enter an era of these two divergent stories. There will be two different versions of the story of Jon and Daenerys and Arya and the rest. Just how divergent remains to be seen.

The one thing we know is that the pairing of Martin and the showrunners works best when the story is being told in direct adaptation. Martin’s third book in the series, “A Storm of Swords,” was adapted near-perfectly by Weiss and Benioff in seasons three and four. With 5 seasons in the book, those two are the high watermark for Thrones. It was Weiss and Benioff’s ability to reign in some of Martin’s more expansive and bloated storylines that made the difference. Not to mention their ability to nail the big stuff (ie. The Red Wedding and Oberyn Martell). In season 5, they showed us some imperfections as they began to diverge from the books. The Sansa storyline was a mess, as was their abridged version of Dorne. There’s a very reasonable lack of confidence in Weiss and Benioff walking off into the wilderness without Martin’s foundation. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues. The show should continue to nail down the big milestones in Martin’s story, as he’s briefed them on all the big moments he has planned, but they may lose their way in-between. It’s about this that I’m most concerned.

Next: The Game of Thrones S6 Parade of Lies is Over

George’s update suggests that he’s exhausted, only now coming to terms with the fact that he has lost control of his Thrones endgame. He realizes that he won’t be the one to tell us what happens to Jon Snow. And he appears to be coming to terms with this. I say enough. Let the man have some peace, thank him for creating something we love and let’s see what the show has to tell us in April. Because even though I’m disappointed that we’re not getting a new book, I’m even more concerned with how the lack of foundation will impact the show.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)