This time three months from now, Game of Thrones will be over. For many, it will mark the end to an epic eight-year story. For fans of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, it’s a little more complicated. The show is going to end, but the books it’s based on are far from over. Martin still has two books to write: The Winds of Winter, which has been eight years in gestation, and A Dream of Spring. It’s possible that Game of Thrones will reveal the ending to the Song of Ice and Fire saga, or at least a version of it, something Martin didn’t think would ever happen.
Naturally, the author has “mixed feelings” about all of this. “It’s been an incredible ride,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “And almost all of it has been great. Obviously, I wished I finished these books sooner so the show hadn’t gotten ahead of me. I never anticipated that.”
I haven’t read the [final-season] scripts and haven’t been able to visit the set because I’ve been working on Winds. I know some of the things. But there’s a lot of minor-character [arcs] they’ll be coming up with on their own. And, of course, they passed me several years ago. There may be important discrepancies.
No one knows exactly how many discrepancies we’re talking about. Years ago, when it became clear that the show was going to outpace the books, Martin sat down with Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss and told them what he had in mind for the rest of the saga. Benioff and Weiss have singled out a couple of major events on the show as being drawn directly from that session, like Shireen getting burned alive and Hodor’s time-bending backstory. We assume we’ll see more of that in season 8, but it’s impossible to tell how much. “[The concern] used to be that the books would spoil the show for people — and luckily it did not for the most part,” said Benioff. “Now that the show is ahead of the books, it seems the show could ruin the books for people. So one thing we’ve talked to George about is that we’re not going to tell people what the differences are, so when those books come out people can experience them fresh.”
Really, Benioff and Weiss couldn’t spoil Martin’s books in their entirety if they wanted to, because as Benioff notes, “George discovers a lot of stuff while he’s writing.” Sure, Martin told them what he was thinking a few years back, but who knows what’s changed since then? Anybody who’s ever looked at Martin’s original outline for A Song of Ice and Fire knows he’s not a fan of staying on script.
While I think the ending of Game of Thrones will generally reflect the ending we get in A Song of Ice and Fire, I could be wrong. As the show went on, it became more and more independent of the source material. “After season 4, George made a conscious decision to devote himself to the books,” Weiss explained. “Anybody who’s read the books knows that task in and of itself requires about 64 hours a day to do properly, and the differences between the show and the books became difficult to track in parallel — it’s almost like he was in a weird science-fiction movie trying to keep two similar-but-different universes in his mind at the same time.”
The upswing is that just because fans watch the ending to Game of Thrones doesn’t mean they’ll know the ending to A Song of Ice and Fire. “It’s the end for a lot of people,” Martin said. “It’s not the end for me. I’m still deeply in it. I better live a long time because I have a lot of work left to do.”