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Game of Thrones: TV To Overtake Books?

grrmartinSince Game of Thrones for television was first announced, questions about whether the books would be able to keep up with the rate at which HBO produced episodes were asked. Despite Martin having a 4 book head start, it seems that the producers of the show, David Benioff and Dan Weiss, feel that seven series in seven years is the limit for them and – at one a year – that means Martin has just three years left to write and publish books six and seven. Not only does this in itself seem highly unlikely, but at a Fantasy Convention in 2013 Martin told an audience that if the series required 8 books, which he felt it may, he wouldn’t fight especially hard to fit the story into his originally planned 7.

“I would say it’s the goal we’ve had from the beginning,” Benioff says. “It was our unstated goal, because to start on a show and say your goal is seven seasons is the height of lunacy. Once we got to the point where we felt like we’re going to be able to tell this tale to its conclusion, that became [an even clearer] goal. Seven gods, seven kingdoms, seven seasons. It feels right to us.”

In addition to the HBO crew feeling that seven is the right number for them, HBO’s programming president, Michael Lombardo, sounds pretty firm on that plan too: “I’m expecting to be sitting down with Dan and David to talk season 5 and we’ll talk about how things are looking … We’re all very mindful that they’re having conversations all the time with [author George R.R. Martin]. I think they do feel bullish enough that there’s enough story to deliver through season 7. I hate to sound greedy, but our longest shows have gone 7 or 8 seasons, so seven is a nice long run for us.”

Certainly, the comment that there is ‘enough story’ for seven seasons sounds strange. We know Martin has told the directors the eventual ending (at least we know there is one; unlike Lost!) and, to me, the comment suggests that Martin has revealed the extent of his plans for the seven books and that HBO feels that it can run with what he has told them. If this is, indeed, the case then it would lead you to believe that by season seven the show will be able to overtake the books; the problem, of course, will come with getting from A to B in terms of the intricacies that I imagine Martin hasn’t locked down himself yet. I say season 7, because from what we’ve heard Martin had written just 25% of book 6 as of April 2013… so, by the time the next season comes around we’d imagine he’d have enough that he can sharewhat he has written and fill in the blanks with the directors of the show for that book.

The mischievous part of me thinks that it will be interesting to see what happens if book 6 is still not released come 2016 when the series, we’d assume, will be set on a book not on the shelves. Would the show pick up even more viewers? Those who read the books, but don’t usually watch the show? How many liberties will the show take in terms of choosing its own direction? Surely these must be the same kinds of questions Martin is asking himself and part of me wonders whether the quotes from HBO and the directors are a bid to put pressure on Martin to get writing. A quote by Benioff that “There is a ticking clock here,” is especially revealing and Lombardo’s admitting that he shares the worry of many viewers: “I finally understand fans’ fear — which I didn’t a couple years ago: What if the storytelling catches up to the books?” was answered only with “Let’s all hope and pray that’s not going to be a problem” seem to suggest they’re hinting towards Martin throwing them a bone.

Issac’s Hempsted Wright (Medium)When asked about the TV show overtaking his books, Martin’s answer was: “I don’t think I’d be happy with that”. Martin did float an alternative: the idea of a prequel season to give him more time; something similar happened with Starz’s Spartacus. Martin even met with executives to discuss his Hedge Knight books being the source, but HBO disn’t seem at all interested and, to be fair, we can see their point: “We can’t wait too long because of the kids,” Benioff says. “Issac’s [Hempsted Wright] voice is changing. Everyone is getting bigger. We have this wonderful cast, but we don’t have an infinite amount of time … We don’t want to become a show that outstays its welcome and tries to turn each book into three seasons. Part of what we love about these books and the show is this sense of momentum and building toward something. If we tried to turn this into a 10-season show we’d strangle the golden goose.”

So, it seems that we are in an interesting point of the Martin and HBO relationship. Until now it had been an amicable one with everyone ignoring the elephant in the room, but it was inevitable that they’d have to face it eventually…



  1. Avatar Overlord says:

    Note: Quotes from Vanity Fair, New York Daily News & Entertainment Weekly.

  2. “because from what we’ve heard, Martin has written the majority of book 6 and I’d imagine he could be coaxed into sharing what he has written and filling in the blanks with the directors of the show.”

    The last 100% hard info we had from GRRM was in April 2013, when he estimated that 25% of the book was done. There’ve been some articles since which have said he’s done more, but when I put these to George he replied (rather irritated about them) that they’d either been misquoting or making it up. Until he gives us another update, we don’t know how much of TWoW has been done. I’d certainly be hoping half or more by now.

    As for the sharing thing, yes, that’s probably happening now. In fact, George was sharing incomplete manuscripts of ADWD with the TV writers long before the book came out or the show started, so I’d count it a near-certainty that TWoW chapters are being shared with the TV writers as well as his editor once they are done.

    The TV show overtaking the books will be, I believe, unprecedented for live-action Western drama. It’s happened once on film with SCOTT PILGRIM (the movie came out before the final book), and happens a lot in Japanese animation, but I can’t remember a prior occasion when a TV show or movie series in the UK or USA overtook the books they were based on.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Hey Adam, obviously I feel into the trap of one of those misquotes then 😉 Just spotted this from Martin, which matches what you allude to:

      “But at the same time, sometimes I just wish they would stop pressuring me about it. It will be done when it’s done. I’m working on it. I don’t know what else I can say: I’m a slow writer, I’ve always been a slow writer, and these are gigantic books.”

      I think you are right in saying that it is rare for Western TV to overtake the books – what tends to happen is that they deviate hugely from the source material: Dresden Files, Vampire Diaries, True Blood and Bones for example. You mention anime & manga (something I’m a HUGE fan of, by the way: Anime-Faction coming soon? :P) and, as I’m sure you are aware, VERY rarely do fans of a Manga say ‘you know what… the anime was a great alternative’ – it tends to be: ‘what the heck have you done!?!?!?’

      • Avatar Hedin says:

        The thing that has always confused/made me wonder about that 25% comment was that I recall there being a large part of Dance that was cut with the intention of moving it to TWoW (I think it was the Siege of Winterfell sections but I could be mistaken about that). I’m not sure exactly how many chapters that may have covered but that means at least a good chunk of that 25% was material he had already written.

        • The 25% includes all of that material. All things being equal, 25% is probably between 15 and 20 chapters, at least 5 of which were completed before ADWD was handed in.

          However, the 25% doesn’t include first drafts and fragments of later chapters that need further revision. So he’s further along than that 25%, but it’s unclear how much, because that extra material might either be pretty much complete or might need to be binned and started again from scratch.

    • Avatar Overlord says:

      Note: now corrected the reference to the misquote that the book isn’t too far from done. Thanks for that, Adam.

      • Avatar kvoth3 says:

        You’re right about anime and manga, rarely have I ever seen an anime deviating from the manga and surpass or even match up to it. HOWEVER, martin’s book have degraded from the 3rd book onwards and I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing HBO’s alternative to it, since I’ve pretty much given up on a book from martin on the level of the 1st 3 books.

  3. Avatar Patrick J says:

    Alternatively, they’ll end the show on a bittersweet note – the television arch will end probably with book 6 (people who don’t read the books won’t know any better), leaving the fans of the books to complete the story in book 7, forever leaving ASOIF to the real fans.

  4. I’m pretty sure I have read somewhere (might have been Wertzone) that like you say D&D have been given a general overview of how GRRM intends the series to end – as in who lives, who dies and who wins/looses the battle between ice & fire – but he has not given the minute details. This does leave the show open to divert from the book if they please and have their own ending if they so wish.

    I’m not sure it would bother me if they did this as I treat the show and books as totally different, mainly because of changes already introduced on screen. As with The Hobbit films, Game Of Thrones is based on ASoIaF but not a direct adaptation. I think this opens up many possibilities of where the show can go after season 5/6.

  5. And of course the show could do what GRRM intended from the start. Have a 5 year leap from one season to the next. Would explain the older looking child characters.

    • That might have been possible if Season 4 was solely ASoS Part 2. With AFFC and ADWD storylines thrown into the mix as well, there now isn’t a good break-point for the gap, unless they artifically create a new one further down the line.

      As it stands, between 2 and 3 years have passed on the TV show which does explain some of the aging. If they thrown in a reference in Season 4 to even more time having passed, that takes care of the problem without the need for a gap.

  6. Avatar Calibandar says:

    Extremely unlikely in my opinion that Benioff and Weiss would find that acceptable.
    Much more likely is that they will use season 6 and 7 to wrap up the story based on what they know, and yes, that will include many spoilers from book 6, and stuff from book 7.

    I don’t think they’d end season 7 on a note where there is clearly much of the story left to be told. It basically leaves their own masterpiece hanging. ASOIAF is a story that is building towards something grand, a face off, confrontation, in several areas. If you don’t finish those storylines one way or the other, the tv show ends in a disappointing and open ended manner.

    Personally I am lookingf forward to season 6 and 7 showing us stuff from the books yet to be published.

  7. Avatar James says:

    The first three books appeared ’96, ’98, 2000. I guess this suggests George can write faster – although it’s likely he was working with a buffer, already in the advanced stage of book three when book two was published.

    My rough guess is that George might typically produce 100K or so of polished prose per year. Which I don’t consider bad going given the sheer expansiveness AND detail of his story, and given the truly exceptional quality of his writing. Unfortunately at that pace he’d be finishing between 2018 and 2020 if he has (say) another 600K (one and a half typical-length ASOIAF novels) to go.

    Maybe the next two novels will, by necessity, be shorter?

    Or maybe George will surprise us all? He’s a great writer and who are we to underestimate him?

  8. Avatar James says:

    One more thing:

    Many have criticised George for varying his projects and, er, enjoying his life (cons, football, whatever).

    News: authors do need time away from work to gain perspective on their work, stay fresh, and avoid blocks.

  9. Avatar Mark says:

    It can’t be good for an author or a story to be rushed I don’t see why they can’t delay filming it a little to give him room to create the story.
    It would be interesting to read an article on TV vs film the pros and cons and the money difference you can make

  10. Avatar HJP says:

    Look, I understand the difficulties of wringing a second act out of a massive series and getting to the final act, but, like most things, that’s never going to happen without a lot of hard work. And the available evidence suggest that Martin just isn’t putting in that kind of work on the series. I had hoped that the inexorable progress of the series would light a fire under him, but that does not appear to be the case. Unfortunately, both the show and the (eventual) books will likely be the worse for it.

  11. Sounds like Game of Thrones will suffer the same fate common to shounen anime like Bleach and Naruto when the anime outstrips the manga: the dreaded FILLER ARC.

  12. Avatar Natalie says:

    All I can say is… no. No. No no no. No. There are already some departures from the books I don’t like (taking Gendry’s storyline and saying “how’s about we keep you around a bit longer, but render your journey… completely redundant.”) No more characters shall suffer this treatment. No. No. No no no.

  13. Avatar Jamie says:

    I’d love to see some prequel action – Robert’s Rebellion would be pretty cool – but I understand the need to get these seasons locked down before many of the cast hit puberty.

    The show is taking increasingly more liberties with the source material (under GRRM’s watchful eye, it seems) and that there’ll come a point of absolute deviation where the show will merely be “based on the Song of Ice and Fire series by GRRM” as opposed to being an adaptation of any particular book. Will that happen by the time season 7 wraps up? Probably not, but I don’t think it’ll be that bad if the TV show goes one direction and the books another when it comes to concluding the series. The main plot points are laid down; some details will change, but so long as GRRM has a hand in the proceedings we should be okay.

  14. […] Last week we brought to your attention the fact that there was a battle of words and intentions going on between George R.R. Martin and HBO. To give you the short version: HBO said that although they didn’t want to they would write their own conclusion to Game of Thrones if George doesn’t finish book seven by the time they are ready to film series 7. George’s reply was that HBO would need to do more than seven seasons (maybe a prequel season) to give him more time, but HBO said that wasn’t something they’d consider. […]

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