What Happens When Game of Thrones Runs Out of Books to Adapt?

Game of Thrones

“I think the odds against that happening are very long. I still have a lead of several gigantic books. If they include everything in the books, I don’t think they’re going to catch up with me. If they do, we’ll have some interesting discussions.”- George R.R. Martin

So what happens if HBO runs out of Game of Thrones books to adapt? The simple answer is an extended hiatus. The author of A Song of Fire and Ice series (renamed Game of Thrones for television), George R.R. Martin, is notorious for taking years between installments in his fantasy series. He even went so far as to crash a concert at Comic-Con by Paul & Storm who wrote “Write Like the Wind (George R.R. Martin)”. Of course, this was not done with malicious intent, but his actions speak louder than his words, he is in no hurry to finish A Song of Fire and Ice. Other writers, such as Neil Gaiman (author of The Sandman series and much more), have come to Martin’s defense saying “He is not your bitch”. But Martin has taken more than 15 years to release five books of the A Song of Fire and Ice series.

Martin began his series in 1996 originally planning it to be a trilogy, but eventually extending it into seven books. Now 2013 and only five of these seven have been released, with a five-year period between books four and five; the latter released in 2011. Based on the television show’s current schedule we will be caught up to the book series by 2015. The show just wrapped its third season, bringing to life one half of the third book (A Storm of Swords.) This leaves the fourth season to cover the rest of the third book-with the fifth season chronicling the currently remaining two books.

HBO has announced that they will be combining book four (Feast of Crows) and five (Dance With Dragons) into one TV season because the plot of these books happen simultaneously. Additionally, there are a large number of subplots in these two books that will probably be eliminated for the television adaptation. While some fans of the books may be upset at the thought of story lines being cut, the reality is that it is not feasible for all of them to exist. Game of Thrones typically has ten episodes per season, a minuscule timeline, making it virtually impossible to include all the story lines of thirty different characters across a vast landscape. While it is plausible to change character perspectives every chapter (as Martin does in the books) it does not translate as well to television. It is already difficult for even the most avid readers to keep up with character relations (who is connected to who and in what way) so bringing the same fate down on television viewers is an unwise decision. On top of everything, straying from the main characters who the audience has developed feelings for could lose HBO many of its less-hardcore fans.

If the writers on HBO decide to turn books four and five into individual seasons, I can only foresee disaster. As mentioned, these two books introduce a huge array of new characters. This would probably discourage a lot of viewers, ruining the phenomena that Game of Thrones has created.

Martin’s statement referring to HBO having enough material to adapt before they catch up is true if they follow the book exactly, but he’s wrong in that they should follow the books exactly. The writers cannot undertake on his suggested plan; so a hiatus is our only (viable) option. I doubt that HBO would try to write its own ending, but if it did I fear what that would mean for the series. Considering other books that have been adapted into television series, such as The Walking Dead, taking liberties on the television show have in my opinion led to disastrous results. While season one of The Walking Dead started off amazingly, keeping true to Robert Kirkman’s vision, I feel that the following seasons strayed from the ideas Kirkman presented. Kirkman does admit that he wanted the show to go in a different direction from the comics, however the choices made have in my opinion hurt the television series.

The show turned the main character into one of the most boring characters on the show, while killing off one of the comic’s cooler characters (Andrea). Rick Grimes in the comic book was a character who worried over the survival of his family, but also realized that the new world they were in did not allow him to partake in the mourning habits of the past. This shaped him into a leader with a clear vision of their situation, while also pushing the limits of humanity that the reader felt comfortable with. On a similar strain, Andrea of the comics was a strong female character renowned as a sharp-shooter, getting her group out of tight-jams and developing from a scared girl to one of Rick’s closest confidantes. (TWD season 3 spoiler alert) Yet, in the television show Andrea was so disliked by the audience that the only plausible solution at the end of season 3 was to kill her off in a very anti-climatic manner (she dies in a room with a single walker, talking to this infected person for several minutes before trying to remove her restraints). The writers taking the series into their own hands, has ruined some of the comics best characters. Writers creating their own endings of adapted series can be a dangerous move.

At the same time, the idea that HBO would actually write its own ending to Martin’s epic fantasy seems preposterous. If they did, I fear that in an effort to please fans they would stray from Martin’s trend of killing off characters. Martin knows that in real stories characters die, and that has been one of the crowning glories of Game of Thrones, how grounded in “reality” (fantasy reality) it is. No one survives merely because we wish they would, so to give the series a “happy” ending would be a betrayal of everything the fans have come to love about the show. 

Additionally, if a hiatus is enforced this presents the problem of the child/teen actors growing up. While there is a considerable amount of time between each book, allowing for the actors to age naturally, a hiatus would probably throw off this illusion. The harsh reality is that Game of Thrones fans will probably be left hanging for a few years. This has the downside of not only leaving viewers waiting and maybe abandoning the series, but also the actors moving on to bigger things, which may further delay the series; for example Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman of Sherlock. Following Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman’s high-profile movie careers (Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Hobbit, respectively) the third season of Sherlock was sent into a longer hiatus than originally planned. The same thing could happen with the actors of Game of Thrones, further delaying the series.

With an impending hiatus, this will hopefully prompt more fans to read the books; because once the remaining books are released there will be a waiting period before production on the television series can begin. Our day of reckoning draws near with little hope of Martin getting ahead of the television series.

Another option is the series waiting until all the books are released and creating one movie to wrap everything up. Personally. I am against this because there are too many characters and story arcs left hanging in Dances with Dragons for it to be wrapped up in one movie.

My fellow Game of Thrones fans should raise a goblet with me in the hopes that George R.R. Martin will have another book written by 2014, giving HBO time to adapt it for television.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. elliot tarter

    I would not mind the show taking multiple seasons for each book instalment as long as it is faithful to the source material. Like I would not mind watching longer LOTR films if they covered the source in its entirety. I do understand that this would result in dreadful pacing compared to normal adaptations, and the breaks between seasons would not help things along, but if it meant seeing the books to completion in time to provide a complete source material for the cable series, I think arguments could be made for both sides.

  2. This is a good topic but you could have explored it more (than expressing your personal opinion). I do enjoy a discussion though. I think the show does a minor disservice to people who have never read the books. There are just so many characters. Unless you have read all the books, I imagine it can be hard to follow. I’ve a coworker who never read the books, loves the show, but admits he kind of has no idea what’s going on lol. He gets the story week-to-week, but doesn’t fully understand the overarching relationships and the bigger picture. I’m not saying the show should be slowed down like The Walking Dead where we have to wait eight episodes for one payoff, but I think there could be a happy medium.

    • I don’t understand how your coworker watched the show, avidly, and is still lost ? I never read any of the books but immediately took to the show, to the point of re-watching each season, and can confidently say I have never once felt lost. I find the show easy to follow, and anyone who shows genuine interest in the show, that I know, has never complained of being lost and finding it hard to follow.
      The show has encouraged me to read the books and I find them just as pleasant. Besides a couple of friends, most I know, have never read any of the books and I have never heard any complains. If your friend has no idea of what is going on, how much is he really into the show? My friends and I are diehards; hence, I cannot wait another nine months for a season. It’s book time ; )

  3. The Chang

    All of you should stop worrying this much and just enjoy the ride of this great series. George M. will be in time on his books and the producers and screen writers will have plenty of material to create with. I would only worry about the actors growing out of their characters. Bran Stark has already hit puberty this season from the last season.

    • katherina

      Honestly I don’t think anyone cares much about Brad growing up. Sansa did not look like a 14 year old right from the start, nobody cares about that did they…? Even if someone would look older than he is in the book, it is irrelevant, because it is a TV show about a fantasy world, maybe children grow up faster there? =) We don’t know that…but maybe! =)

    • I agree ; ) Just enjoy the wonder of it all.

  4. Joel Soriano

    I believe that there will be at least 3 seasons based on the 4th and 5th book; they are just huge literary pieces. That will provide george martin 3 or potentially 4 years to finish the 6th book, therefore no one should worry about that one, because he most probably is going to finish the book after 2 years, maybe a half. With that being said, the real problem is the last – 7th book. It will take years for him to write it, but GoT can not push through more than 2 seasons from the 6th. I would have to say that Benioff will get pieces of finished chapters from book 7th so that he can start filming them and so on, until the 7th book comes out. Then he can release the last season, which he has filmed almost fully years ago. In my opinion, that is the best scenary for Got as a TV show.

  5. I really hope he gets the book done. I know he isn’t beholden to us, but he does have a responsibility to finish what he has started, I think. Great article!

  6. Abby Wilson

    A trying time for both George R.R. Martin and HBO. Deciding on what’s best for the author and the producers of the TV series will be a hard road to travel down. I believe HBO should have been more patient in allowing Martin to complete his series, or slow down the production of the TV series so they could essentially stay true to the essences of the books themselves. For a series as great as A Game of Thrones, HBO cannot risk their reputation by ruining the ending of which Martin has not been able to finish. Let’s just hope there’s a happy ending for HBO and Martin consecutively.

  7. The show could go for 10 whole seasons. Although this whole “season” thing is just ridiculous in the modern era. Take yourselves a month or two break and call it a new volume, don’t take a year off.

  8. Alexander Stickney

    The author, Martin, has said he’s worried the TV show will influence the way he ends the series. He writes for the show too so I can see where it could get confusing. Michael Crichton threw out his own Jurassic Park novel and wrote a sequel to the movie instead, while Stephen King insists his sequel to The Shining has nothing to do with the Kubrick movie. If anything, maybe the TV show will nudge Martin towards better pacing.

  9. Nitpicky, but your first paragraph incorrectly names the title of the series. It should read “A Song of Ice and Fire”, not “A Song of Fire and Ice”

  10. First off…something that is missing from this article,and would completely change the premise of it, is that the producers already know the nuts and bolts ending of the series….if and when the show surpasses the books, the hbo series will not have to fabricate their own ending.

    Also, the execs at hbo already stated they will not wait for grrm to finish….so, there will be no hiatus and they certainly won’t drag feast and dance out to three seasons….if anything they will condense them into one season total….I’m not going to sit here and rip books 4&5 but there wasn’t much plot movement and tv series need plot to succeed. Also, hbo won’t go more than 8 or at the very most 9 seasons with the show which means they will have 4 or 5 seasons to capture the final 4 books. Swords is far and away the best of the books so far which is why they broke it out to 2 seasons and I could see them doing that again with the final book, but not feast or dance…..I have a feeling the show will see a decent drop off after this season viewer wise which will also effect how long the series goes for…..below is my idea of how the timeline will go (keeping in mind that the series shoots the year prior to our viewing it)

    2014 SOS part2
    2015 feast dance part 1
    2016 feast dance and first half of winds
    2017 last half of winds and beginning of dream
    2018 final season making up 2/3 of dream

    I realize this isn’t set in stone by any means but other than animated series or law and order, what decent show has gone for 10 or more seasons? Not many if any… So this is a good estimate in my opinion ( contracts for actors also needs to be considered as they aren’t going to recast a now in demand Jon snow)….so by this estimate we will need to see winds by the end of 2014 or early 2015, and leaves him 2 years to write the last book which I’m fairly confident is outside grrm’s ability….

    We will see the show finish the series before the books…we should probably just accept it…

  11. Lachlan Vass

    All I want to see is Tyrion being a badass

  12. Because of the way the events unfold timeline-wise in the books I think it’ll be something like this:

    2011 – Season 1: GOT
    2012 – Season 2: ACOK
    2013 – Season 3: ASOS
    2014 – Season 4: ASOS/AFFC/ADWD
    2015 – Season 5: AFFC/ADWD/TWOW
    2016 – Season 6: AFFC/ADWD/TWOW
    2017 – Season 7: TWOW/ADOS
    2018 – Season 8: ADOS

    Keep in mind that in the books the events don’t line up perfectly. There’s certain scenes that happen in ADWD that take place after the start of TWOW. There’s also certain storylines that would be difficult to drag out. For example, Bran is already into his ADWD story and he only had three chapters in the book. They can drag it out for now, but there’s no way they can have filler for three seasons. GRRM has told the writers what happens so it’s not like they aren’t capable of bringing things forward.

  13. I genuinely don’t care about the books. Not because I am not an avid reader, I am, but I found this particular TV series first and it’s pointless now going back to the books. You would be amazed just how many of us there are who don’t care, at all, what happens in the books. And the series is perfectly easy to follow without having read the stories, to anybody who is paying attention.

    I want to see a lot more of The Hound. I do not care if that doesn’t happen in the books. I want to see the stories we have been following come to satisfying conclusions, even if the conclusions involve mayhem and death, as is likely.

    I don’t think the writers/producers/directors of the TV series are frankly daft enough to hang around waiting for years for stories that might, or might not be written so I think we will see a lot of the writers’ own interpretation to continue the story, as opposed to following the books, as it would be ratings suicide to suddenly bring in a raft of new characters and ditch the plot lines we have been avidly following. And on the plus side, perhaps we will hear a lot less of “Oh, but in the book…” in these sorts of forums.

  14. SeanHutchings

    I won’t deny I find George R. R Martin’s literary style almost unreadable. I read “A Game of Thrones” for a module at university and haven’t pursued the others. But as a fan of the TV series, I can’t see why they would have to merge two books together into a single ten episode season simply because the storylines overlapped. It made me think of how Peter Jackson and his team adapted LOTR, they drew the timeline from the books and pieced together the film narrative- but there is still a book to a film, if you see my meaning.

    • Read books four and five and you will understand why it can’t be any longer than one season.

  15. Its definately going to be interesting to see how it all unfolds, but looks to me like the tv series will catch up with the book series before a dream of summer is released. It seems no one knows when The Winds of Winter is going to be released hopefully 2014 but GRRM has said back off it’ll be done when its done. I could see HBO making the finale season ahead of the book having knowledge of the endgame already, and out of fear of loss of viewership if fans are made to wait several years for the last book to be completed.

  16. I am fully expecting Game of Thrones to pass the books, and I just hope that it doesn’t take away from the impact of the ending when GRRM finally completes them. At the rate that GRRM writes, we’d be lucky to see The Winds of Winter before Season 8.

  17. As of now, this question has already been responded with clarity.

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