It’s now official: George R.R. Martin’s next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, won’t come out before the next season of Game of Thrones. That means we’re going to be living in a world where the TV show is continuing the story beyond where Martin himself has told it.
Spoilers for already-aired episodes of Game of Thrones, and already published books, ahead...
And yes, it kind of sucks that Dad is letting the kids drive, and we’re going to be taking some brand new curves at unsafe speeds here and there. But one thing’s for sure: Whenever Winds of Winter comes out, it’ll still be a huge big deal, and it will still be full of surprises.
We were discussing this a lot in the comments of the article about Martin’s announcement the other day, and I thought it was worth amplifying. Yes, some huge plot developments in Winds of Winter (and the final book, A Dream of Spring) will get spoiled on television before we get to see them play out in the books. But at the same time, I don’t think the TV show could possibly “ruin” the books for us, because so much stuff will wind up being different.
There are a few things that need to be pointed out here:
1) It’s all in the execution. Whatever winds up happening with Arya and Daenerys and other major characters, even if it’s roughly the same outline on paper as on television, the execution might be wildly different. Just because of different media and different approaches to storytelling, Martin’s book version of those same events may come across very differently when we finally see it.
2) On a related note, there’s a huge difference between the showrunners reading Martin’s book and then adapting it to television, versus Martin telling them verbally, “Oh, and then Jon Snow wargs into a goat and spends the rest of the series trapped in a goat body,” and them putting this into a script. In the first case, Martin has provided a detailed account of the events (i.e., in the first five books) and the TV writers can draw on it in whatever way they want. In the second, though, it’s bound to be much looser.
Even if Martin then goes ahead and writes the same “Jon Snow wargs into a goat” storyline, his final execution of it will probably vary considerably from what he told the producers before.
3) We’re starting to reach the point where the books and the TV show really are different creatures. A lot of the subplots in Martin’s books will never even get to television at this point, including the Griffs and a few other apparently major things. You have to assume that these added complications, which are probably a huge part of why Martin is having so much more trouble bringing all the threads together in the final books, will end up having a big impact.
4) Meanwhile, the TV show has also taken huge liberties. Off the top of my head, Sansa’s marriage, Jaime going to Dorne, Tyrion making it to Meereen early on, and a few other things. Even if Martin had miraculously published Winds of Winter in the next couple months and we all speed-read it, I guarantee a lot of events in season six of Game of Thrones would still come as a massive surprise. And that means the reverse will also be true—if you see the next season of Game of Thrones and then read Winds of Winter some time later, you’ll still be completely surprised by a ton of stuff.
As Martin himself writes in his blog post, the TV show and the books have diverged, and even small changes will have huge impacts down the line, meaning the stories are going to look less and less similar. He points out:
Just consider. Mago, Irri, Rakharo, Xaro Xhoan Daxos, Pyat Pree, Pyp, Grenn, Ser Barristan Selmy, Queen Selyse, Princess Shireen, Princess Myrcella, Mance Rayder, and King Stannis are all dead in the show, alive in the books. Some of them will die in the books as well, yes... but not all of them, and some may die at different times in different ways. Balon Greyjoy, on the flip side, is dead in the books, alive on the show. His brothers Euron Crow’s Eye and Victarion have not yet been introduced (will they appear? I ain’t saying). Meanwhile Jhiqui, Aggo, Jhogo, Jeyne Poole, Dalla (and her child) and her sister Val, Princess Arianne Martell, Prince Quentyn Martell, Willas Tyrell, Ser Garlan the Gallant, Lord Wyman Manderly, the Shavepate, the Green Grace, Brown Ben Plumm, the Tattered Prince, Pretty Meris, Bloodbeard, Griff and Young Griff, and many more have never been part of the show, yet remain characters in the books. Several are viewpoint characters, and even those who are not may have significant roles in the story to come in THE WINDS OF WINTER and A DREAM OF SPRING.
5) The ending won’t be the same at all. Sure, Martin supposedly told the HBO producers how his books will end, but the devil is in the details. And even if the two endings have the same one-sentence summary, along the lines of “the dragons and snow zombies kill each other off, and everyone dies except Theon, who becomes King of Westeros,” you could imagine that playing out a lot of different ways. There’s probably a lot of stuff that might land better or worse, depending on how you set up all the dominoes.
And some people are going to hate the ending of the HBO show. This is pretty much a given, because it’s rare to find an ending that pleases everybody. Already, some cracks are appearing in Game of Thrones, but I’m hopeful they can stick the landing. At the same time, I guarantee that even if George R.R. Martin publishes A Dream of Spring 10 years after the HBO show ends, people will still be desperate to read the “real” version of the ending.
So even if Game of Thrones gets to reveal the fates of Arya, Sansa, Tyrion and Daenerys before George R.R. Martin does, in a very important sense, we still won’t know how the story ends. The TV show may “spoil” the books in some ways, but there’s no need to worry that it’ll replace or supplant them.