March 24, 2015

Game of Thrones is officially going to spoil its own source material


Subtitle: "Not this winter. The next one. Maybe."

Subtitle: “Not this winter. The next one. Maybe.”

HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, based on the projected fantasy book heptalogy A Song Of Ice and Fire, has been a massive critical and commercial success. This is what allows the lavishly expensive series to continue production at a regular and efficient clip since its premiere in 2011, with the fifth season set to premiere next month.

Author George “Rrrrrr, Ice Cold” Martin, however, is widely known as a slow worker, and this leisurely pace has resulted in an outcome long speculated but only recently confirmed, in which the show outpaces the long-awaited sixth and seventh books in the series. It’s now official that Game of Thrones will hit peak source material, and soon.

Via Vanity Fair:

Show runners Dan Weiss and David Benioff confirmed over the weekend that their show would be ending in the same place as the book series, and sooner than the books as well.

Speaking to the Oxford Union, Benioff addressed the TV series outpacing the books:

“Luckily, we’ve been talking about this with George for a long time, ever since we saw this could happen, and we know where things are heading. And so we’ll eventually, basically, meet up at pretty much the same place where George is going; there might be a few deviations along the route, but we’re heading towards the same destination. I kind of wish that there were some things we didn’t have to spoil, but we’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. The show must go on. . .and that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’s long been known that Martin has mapped out his final two books to the show’s writers, and that the upcoming season would be taking some liberties with its source book, A Dance With Dragons, for pacing. With the news that the sixth book The Winds Of Winter (the first with a definite article!) is nowhere near arrival, this then forces us to confront the idea that a book series over two decades old may be scooped by its own success on the small screen.

Which then begs the question: will viewers whose love of the show brought them to the books be satisfied with reading the same story after viewing it, as opposed to the other way around?

It’s a hard question to answer. Martin’s novels wouldn’t be mere novelizations of a previously-written teleplay, but the same labyrinthine, exhausting detail orgies that they always are. As a fan of both book and series, I would speculate that anyone who finds Martin’s writing style engaging will read through a familiar story, if only to search out any deviations and suss out what’s actually canon to them.

But it’s impossible to really consider the show and books as two separate entities. Sure, they diverge in plot, sometimes to very controversial results. The show has a more focused pace and is a proper ensemble, doing away with the books’ limited ensemble close-third-person structure. I’m also pretty sure nobody talks about boiled leather, which is mentioned in the books roughly three times per page. I would argue that the show turns flawed but engaging books which never turn down a chance to world-build into less flawed and more condensed storytelling.

But it’s not as if when I read A Dance With Dragons, the first book in the series published since the show began, I didn’t see and hear Peter Dinklage with his dodgy accent every moment Tyrion Lannister enters the narrative. I totally did, as did anyone else who’s read and seen both. And for a media-hungry fandom, the books and the show are two halves of the same whole, each providing variants on the same pleasure principle of battles + treachery + tawdry sex + murder + enough magic to keep things interesting. And since spoilers for hugely popular long-running series of anything are more accessible (and harder to avoid) than at any other point in human history, will it really matter if they come from the show or the book?

On a personal level, this is good news for me. I barely remember any of A Dance With Dragons, and I’m sure Martin’s next two doorstops will be just as forgettable. I can count on the show being more attuned to my attention span, which was long since destroyed by social media and a post-scarcity world of entertainment.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.