Game of Thrones (GOT) was just given a two-year renewal after their great season four debut, but amid all the celebration and congratulations, something more threatening than White Walkers lurks in the future of the show. The renewal will guarantee a fifth and sixth season of the popular HBO show, which is a delight to fans, but nothing that they did not see coming.
The fourth season debut was watched by six and a half million people, which is over 50 percent more than the season three debut. It is the second most watched HBO show since the Soprano’s finale, so it is a no-brainer they renewed for two more seasons. But there is something else that is troubling, and it has to do with the books, written by George R.R. Martin, on which the show is based. The Game of Thrones story line is catching up to the book series, which is not yet completed, and the bigger problem that lurks is if the TV show catches up to the books before they are finished, it may have to go on an indefinite hiatus, or even stop all together.
George R.R. Martin is not a fast writer and fans of his books know this. He is 65 years old and has written five books in the series. Those five books have taken him 23 years to write (he started the first book in 1991), which is an average of almost five years per book. The books are long, very detailed, contain numerous plot lines, many-many characters, average close to 860 pages each, and they are steadily getting longer; like the Harry Potter series. The first two books, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings were turned into a season each for HBO. The third book, A Storm of Swords, was the first book to be split; season three and parts of season four are from the third book.
Most would look at this and think, “no problem, just keep splitting the books between seasons.” That may work considering the books are long and there is plenty of material, but according to the creators of the TV show, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, that is not the plan. The plan is to finish the entire series in eight seasons. Books six and seven still have to come out and considering Martin has to wrap up a story of this magnitude, book seven is sure to be very, very long. That points to season six (presumed to air in 2016) covering book six, and seasons seven and eight (2017 and 2018) each covering half of book seven. This leaves seasons four (currently airing) and five to cover the remainder of book three, as well as all of books four and five.
Season four should cover the remainder of book three and parts of books four and five. Books four and five take place over the same time period, and, as fans know, there are many, many characters in GOT. Because of this, Martin wrote book four about half the characters and book five about the other half. Combined, the two books number 1,864 pages. It would seem like a simple solution to again chop up the books over multiple seasons, but that is not the plan, and considering the show is one of the most expensive shows to make, it has to be assumed that HBO is also pushing for the eight season cap. The bigger problem lurking for Game of Thrones is not worrying about if they will be renewed, but worrying what can be taken out to still tell the story correctly in their allotted amount of time, and hoping they get the material at a reasonable point to continue making the show at high levels.
Capping the number of seasons for a TV show is nothing new. Both Lost and Breaking Bad knew when their shows were going to end early on. In both cases it worked. Lost, as the creators acknowledged, did not know where it was going during the early seasons. Once they were given their cap, they were able to aim for the final destination and sum up exactly what was happening on the mysterious island; the jury is still out on that one. Breaking Bad was aided by this cap as well. It gave the writers and creator Vince Gilligan an allotted amount of time to use their best ideas and not milk the show for everything it has, which can slow a show and reduce its quality; the cap resulted in Breaking Bad getting better each season. The glaring difference between these two shows and GOT is that the latter is based on books, so worrying about getting all the best ideas on the screen is not the problem.
For fans of solely the TV show, this should not make much difference, unless the story becomes too confusing (which many out there probably already feel it is), but fans of the books may be disappointed as major scenes or characters could be cut to make time for the rest. What this all means, is Martin has to stop spending so much time advising the writers and crew of the TV show and start doing what he does best; writing novels. GOT is made year round when factoring in pre-production and tackling how to turn the lengthy novels into only 10 episodes. Martin should have book six delivered no later than the beginning of 2015 if HBO is to keep the show on schedule, and then the final book should come out no later than 2016, so the creators have enough time to start season seven by 2017. If the books get delayed, it could mean the same for the show or that the creators will have to rush to get the season delivered on time, which would be a huge disservice.
If the unfortunate comes to be, the show only has a few options. The first is that it goes on hiatus while Martin writes the final books, similar to what Mad Men did between seasons four and five. It is not ideal, and could lose some viewers, but it could also give others time to catch up and give the creators ample time to make the show correctly. The second is that the show actually passes the books. This is not a popular choice, and is sure to anger those who primarily read the novels, but in a recent interview the creators did say that they talked with Martin for a week during their break about what his plans are for every character. The main reason was so they could start to steer each character in the right direction during the current seasons. Martin told them his final plan and how the series will end, but said it was general outlines, not specific details; that may change if Martin does not sit down and write. The third, and most realistic option, is that HBO will have to split the seasons over two years, giving Martin extra time to write. The final season of Breaking Bad and Mad Men took a similar approach, airing half the episodes one year, and half the next. Although it is not ideal, and is normally done during a final season to maximize money potential for the networks, it could result in fans getting more than 10 episodes per season split between the years. For example, seven episodes one year and seven the next equal one season; five episodes a year just does not seem right. They could even try making them an hour and a half, pleasing fans and giving the writers more time to weave their magic; if it is extra dialogue it would not cost much more either. This option would ultimately give fans more total episodes, but the time between would be difficult. Either way, Game of Thrones was renewed through season six and should see no problems through season five, but lurking only one year and nine weeks away (estimated date of season five finale) could be bigger problems if Martin doesn’t buckle down and write.
Commentary by Chris Dragicevich