In the beginning, George R. R. Martin created A Game of Thrones—words printed on paper and bound into books sold in shops around the world, to be read by a moderate-but-mighty number of fantasy fans. That was 1996. Fourteen years and four books later, HBO said “Let there be a TV series!” And nothing was ever the same.
Since Game of Thrones began, Martin has published just one new book: A Dance with Dragons, the fifth in the Song of Ice and Fire series. (OK, he technically released A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, but that was a prequel and—actually, let’s just not speak of it.) Martin thinks he could finish the next one, The Winds of Winter, this year. Maybe. Who knows? Last year, during Season 6 of the TV series, the show fully bypassed the published blueprint of Westeros, the world of Martin’s fantasy epic. Fans freaked out—how could he let this happen? George, stop going out and having fun, these fans demanded, get in your house and finish the series. The internet’s favorite joke since around 2012 has been to yell at Martin whenever he’s found to be doing something other than furiously typing. The animating theory of the joke is that it’s his duty—his imperative—to finish the story he began.
Guess what? It’s not. Twitter, you, me, everyone, needs to get over it. The Song of Ice and Fire is not the Westerosi enchiridion any more. Martin’s story, the world he built, lives on TV. And now that HBO is cooking up spinoff shows based on the original, it’s official: The TV universe has eclipsed the books and become the Game of Thrones canon.
And that is fine. It really is. Not in a “the world is burning down around me and I pretend this is fine” kind of way. It’s OK because the world of Westeros is not a concrete thing— it’s still being built. Hell, it’s being realized beyond Martin’s imagination, faster than he’s able to write sentences. You know who that’s good for? You, the fan of that world. More for you!
There’s no reason Game of Thrones can’t be like The Godfather or The Shining or Blade Runner or even Jaws. None of these offerings ruined the source material. None of them ruined the stories that came before.
There’s this notion that whatever came first—a book, a film, a TV show—has to be the sacred writ of any major pop culture property. That’s simply not true, especially in the case of Game of Thrones, where the global phenomenon has largely been about HBO’s series. And there’s no reason the show can’t be like The Godfather or The Shining or Blade Runner or even Jaws. (Full disclosure: That’s a film I have a personal and ambivalent stake in.) The cultural impact of all those films surpassed the books upon which they were based. Or think about the Star Wars novels and comic books that came out after the original movies. Are they verboten? More than anything they’re just more windows into a world people can’t get enough of—something Martin’s future books are about to become. Either way, none of these offerings ruined the source material. None of them ruined the stories that came before.
Look, we can hear you hyperventilating with rage through the computer screen. For fans who started reading The Song of Ice and Fire long before the show began, thinking that the saga could finish on HBO is a letdown—particularly for those who don’t want to watch the show until they’ve finished the books. For the last few years being able to say “Sure, yes, but the books are better” has provided a nice little dopamine rush. But beyond that thrill, what Game of Thrones fans really want is more Game of Thrones. And right now, their best bet for getting that is on premium cable.
And the Game of Thrones world has been outgrowing Martin’s writing for a while. In an interview with The New Yorker, he said that he sometimes relies on fans running the Westeros.org wiki to remember the details of his own complicated plot. “I’ll write something and e-mail him to ask, ‘Did I ever mention this before?’ And he writes me right back: ‘Yes, on page 17 of Book Four,’” he said, referring to a particular super fan with whom he works closely. That fact suggests Westeros is already out of his hands, and if he’s comfortable with having a little less canonical power, fans should be too.
And for those worried Martin won’t have control of his creation at all, fret not. He’s reportedly involved in not one, but two of the proposed writing teams for the spinoff shows HBO is considering. There’s no telling which programs will ever make it to the small screen, but it’s practically a given that he’ll be on board. That means it’s also almost certain the completion of the Song of Ice and Fire series will be delayed even further. But if Martin never finishes the last book, and instead the story of the winter in Westeros is wrapped up in a series of multi-million-dollar, special-effects-laden episodes of TV? Well, there are worse fates.