The threat of "Game of Thrones" catching up with George R.R. Martin has always been very real — but never more so than it is now.
With the season four finale of "Thrones" less than two weeks away, fans of Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels have more than a few reasons to be concerned. As of season five, show runners and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will start digging into the next two novels in the series: "A Feast for Crows" and "A Dance with Dragons," two behemoth-sized books that take place concurrently, but feature different sets of characters and locations.
Many believe that "Feast" and "Dance" contain enough material to carry across two seasons of "Game of Thrones." Except that "Thrones" has already started adapting material from those books, as early as season three, in fact. At the current rate, certain characters on the show will have caught up with their book counterparts by the end of this season, let alone next season.
Fans hope that "The Winds of Winter," the penultimate novel in Martin's series, will be on shelves before much longer. Even then, there's cause for concern, based on the fact that Martin's editor Anne Groell recently said (via Hypable) that the "Ice and Fire" saga, currently planned to end with the seventh book, could go as long as eight books.
"There are really technically eight kingdoms," she said, "So, maybe eight books for Seven Kingdoms would be okay."
At Martin's current pace, an eighth book in "A Song of Ice and Fire" probably wouldn't hit shelves until 50,431 AE, which is totally his prerogative, assuming he has the cloning and/or cryostasis technology to back it up. Either way, and even if "Ice and Fire" ends with the seventh book, "A Dream of Spring," as planned, it's time to face the facts:
"Game of Thrones" can't wait for George anymore.
There are millions of dollars invested in the series. There are thousands of jobs on the line. There are countless fans who have been dazzled and wowed by the world of Westeros as rendered by HBO. These things can't be at the mercy of Martin's deliberate pace. They have to be at the mercy of Benioff and Weiss, the creatives at the helm of the HBO series.
"Game of Thrones" is its own beast now. Even if it's always tied to "Ice and Fire," even if they always share DNA, they are two separate properties. There are already significant differences between the two stories: Characters who die or exist on "Thrones" that don't die or exist in "Ice and Fire," and story lines that are accelerated or wiped off the board entirely.
The White Walker ending of "Oathkeeper" is the best example. This is a scene that does not even exist in "Ice and Fire." It's little more than a sneak peek at the threat beyond the Wall, but it's much more than we've glimpsed in "Ice and Fire." It's more than Martin is ready to give us.
And that's not to say that Martin can't or shouldn't tell his story at his own pace. He has to move at the speed that works for his creative process, and fans of his novels have to accept that. But "Thrones" can't wait for him anymore.
Benioff and Weiss have a story of their own to tell. Maybe it'll be an exact mirror of what Martin has planned for the books. Maybe it'll be a close approximation with a few twists and turns. Maybe it'll be wildly different from whatever happens in the final pages of "A Dream of Spring." Who knows.
But with "Thrones" targeting seven seasons, and the series all but poised to completely catch up with "Ice and Fire" by the end of season five, it's time to let go of the idea that the show needs to wait for the books to finish on their own terms. In a perfect and just world, Martin releases the final two (or is it three now?) books in his series well before "Thrones" wraps its run. But as a wise man once said, "If you want justice, you've come to the wrong place."
Martin will finish when he wants to finish, and we will read the final chapter when it's ready to be read. Benioff, Weiss and the rest of the team behind "Thrones" (and the fans in front of it) have more than earned that same luxury. As always, winter is coming. It's win or die time for the record-breaking show — and there simply is no time to wait.
Does "Game of Thrones" need to wait for Martin to finish his books, or is it time for the show to move forward at its own pace?