The wait is long and full of terrors.
In 1991, George R.R. Martin began writing the first installment of his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. In 1996, he finished this first installment and A Game of Thrones was published. Two years later he followed up with A Clash of Kings, and two years after that he published A Storm of Swords. Books four and five had considerably longer waits — five years for A Feast for Crows, and then another six years for A Dance with Dragons. Martin is now writing the sixth book, The Winds of Winter, and is currently planning a seventh book (tentatively titled A Dream of Spring) to be the series finale. In 2011, HBO launched the hit series Game of Thrones, and now the televised production threatens to clash with Martin's writing.
A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) is a big series. The epic saga has been lauded as a "monumental achievement" and earned Martin praise as the "American Tolkien." In 2011, as HBO launched its version of his storytelling, Time magazine named Martin one of the 100 most influential people in the world and USA Today named him Author of the Year. The Game of Thrones television series, adapted by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, has been an enormous success and won numerous awards including Emmys and Golden Globes. Martin has served as an executive producer and writer for the series.
Season One of the HBO series covered the events of book one, A Game of Thrones. Season Two covered the events of book two, A Clash of Kings. The third book in the saga, A Storm of Swords, is generally regarded as the best book in the series and has been split into two seasons by HBO. Season Three included the infamous Red Wedding, causing a social media meltdown, and just recently ended. Season Four is set to broadcast in 2014.
Among the published books of ASOIAF, the fourth is generally considered to be the weakest. In order to keep plot momentum going and make life easier, Benioff and Weiss have indicated that they will likely blend elements of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons into one season. This means that there are probably only two more seasons — that is, two more years — until the HBO series catches up to Martin's writing. Given the fact that it took Martin six years to write the most recent installment, that naturally has some people concerned.
Some, including Martin, have suggested that HBO can stretch out the series if need be by taking its time with the existing stories in the vast world of Westeros. From a production perspective, though, that's a non-starter. First of all, this wildly popular series needs to keep its momentum going and does not want to risk getting stale. Secondly, the longer a popular show goes on, the more expensive it can be — even if they keep killing off Starks, the show's cast will remain huge and looking for raises when their contracts expire. On top of that, several young actors and actresses play very key roles. HBO will want to try get as much as it can out of Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Bran Stark) before he becomes too much of a teenager. Just in case they catch up to Martin, however, Benioff and Weiss are no doubt making contingency plans.
Thankfully, this type of conversation only exists in hypotheticals at the moment. Martin has two or three years left before any of this becomes a problem. There were only two-year gaps between the first three books, so maybe he can get onto that type of schedule again.
Martin, for his part, is annoyed at the impatience and will only say that his books will be done when they are done. Some have expressed concern that Martin's age and health might mean he could die before he finishes the series, causing the so-called American Tolkien to scoff: "It never would have dawned on me to write to Professor Tolkien and say, 'You better hurry up with The Silmarillion before you die, old man.' What kind of cretin does that?"
Fans should back off and give Martin some breathing room. We do not want him to rush. For his part, Martin seems to pay little heed to our impatient demands anyways. Nothing, not even a potential disaster for HBO, seems capable of deterring him from his own writing pace. It may be three years before we learn who will finally rule Westeros from the Iron Throne, or it may be 10 years. All we can do is wait with the understanding that, whether or not HBO is prepared, winter is coming. Let's hope for the best.