The story of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire spans untold thousands of years. At least, that’s what many Game Of Thrones fans likely feel after waiting for a conclusion to a saga that began in 1996.
Personally, I have been a fan since 2011, quickly devouring the five available books in anticipation of the HBO adaptation. I could have never anticipated finishing this story through the version that David Benioff and Dan Weiss have put to screen. Yet, with the power of green dreams and hindsight, it now seems not only inevitable but the best possible outcome.
This realization did not come about because the novels remain unfinished, although that certainly plays a role in audience perception. Author Neil Gaiman’s admonishment of fans heard ‘round the internet (“GRRM is not your bitch”) remains true. Martin does not, technically speaking, owe us a conclusion. But I do think he owes it to himself, and with each passing year I am unsure he will be able to do so.
I would love to be proven wrong in the future, yet setting aside his advanced age and the gargantuan task ahead of him, I am doubtful.
His fourth and fifth novels A Feast for Crows (2005) and A Dance of Dragons (2011) were originally meant to be one novel, and notoriously split up their characters. The cast ballooned even further, new schemes were introduced, and the pace slowed dramatically.
Everything with Daenerys in Meereen is a drudging slog filled with characters we know don’t matter, as the show has long since ditched them in Essos. Last we heard of book Dany, she’s shitting herself alone in the desert (really). The plotline in Dorne seemed intriguing, with Doran Martell revealing a plan for vengeance against the Lannisters, but the show has unceremoniously killed off that entire family over the years, leading most to think their actions are ultimately inconsequential. A book-only plotline involving the seemingly alive son of Rhaegar Targaryen invading Westeros seems poised as another go-nowhere storyline given his complete excision from the show. To add insult to injury, some huge reveals, like “hold the door” were spoiled by the show first. Sometimes the journey matters more than the destination, but here, the destination is obscured by miles of fog, and we the readers are unsure if we’ll get there.
Martin has constantly compared his writing style to that of a gardener. He knows in broad strokes where the story will end for the major characters, but he often feels inclined to plant a seed in one storyline just to see where it goes. This, along with his truly impressive world-building, is one of the main appeals of his novels.
If he’s unable to grow any of these seeds past their roots in the two books he has left, then disappointment is inevitable, something that readers have been given many years to prepare for.
Even if he manages to complete Winds of Winter, let alone A Dream of Spring, there will be angry Game Of Thrones fans, disappointed readers, and those who won’t even bother, having abandoned hope of completion in the years prior. For those that stick around, the actual story will likely be unable to compete with their endless theories and boiled-over anticipation. It happens with every great tale, much less one that is as old as I am.
This is not to say the show is perfect, far from it. Its Dorne storyline played out more like a bad cosplay. (“You want the bad pussy” is tied only with Martin’s description of Sam’s “fat pink mast” for worst line in the series.) As a book fan first, certain minor characters’ exclusions from the show did hurt. The Game Of Thrones writers seemed dangerously close to reveling in Ramsay Bolton’s sadism at times, and the fast travel of season 7 still lingers in audiences’ minds.
Despite all of this, it is appointment television, in part because the Game Of Thrones showrunners have streamlined Martin’s massive narrative. For the better part of a decade, Game Of Thrones has shattered ideas of what was possible in the medium. The massive cast, global production, battles that are better than the movies, and an unprecedented budget all play a role.
Pitching Game Of Thrones to any network would have left you at the door, and now it is a phenomenon.
Most importantly, the Game Of Thrones TV adaption will finish in a scant three weeks. There were exclusions and narrative shortcuts, but the spirit of the source material is alive, well and will be complete in Benioff and Weiss’ adaptation. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to stick the landing. Maybe we’ll all be as upset as we were when Lost finished. It might not matter. Like the novels, there will still be angry fans at the series conclusion. What will matter is that its character arcs will end, its threads will be tied up and it will be one story. I’d love to be able to say the same about A Song of Ice and Fire.