The Game of Thrones television series concluded this past Sunday, but I won’t be talking about the finale or its quality. (No spoilers follow) Instead, I want to talk about the mastermind behind the entire Game of Thrones phenomenon. Not the actors or showrunners, but the author of the books upon which the show is based, George R.R. Martin.
Of course, the last couple of seasons of the show weren’t actually based on Martin’s books because he hasn’t written them yet. A Game of Thrones, which Martin began writing in 1991 and published in 1996, was the first book of a planned trilogy called A Song of Ice and Fire. Over time, that trilogy ballooned into seven books, the last two of which he has yet to publish. There was already a ravenous fanbase of readers waiting for the conclusion of the book series before the television show existed, but now even more fans are eagerly waiting for the final two books—some a little too eager, admonishing Martin for doing anything with his time other than write those books.
Due to the popularity of his books and the HBO show, Martin has had the opportunity to work on other film, tv, and video game adaptations of his work, plus go to various public events, be a guest on talk shows, and go to red carpet movie premieres. With all that on his plate, there seems to be little time left for the writer to write. Some wonder if he’ll die before ever finishing the Song of Ice and Fire book series, which he’s called his magnum opus. While I hope Martin does complete the series, I think the impatient fans are wrong to criticize him for enjoying his fame too much and not writing enough.
First of all, Martin has been writing all this time. The reason people love the books so much is because they are enormously complex and detailed, with thousands of characters, settings, and backstories. He didn’t just write a series of fantasy books, he created an entire world with a rich history, most of which takes place “off-screen.” For a single person to create a literary world like that and hold all the storylines in his head is not easy. It takes time, so we must give Martin time. Would you rather have the final book rushed to be finished now with plot holes or wait a few more years until it’s done right?
In a sense, that’s what’s the final two seasons of the tv show became. Because the producers were dealing with aging actors and contracts, plus the costs of sets and production, they didn’t have the luxury of waiting a few more years. They had to continue filming the show. So George R.R. Martin met with the showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, to give them the plot points of how he planned to end the series. Martin may ultimately change his mind, but even if the general endings are the same, I imagine the book version will work better and feel less rushed than the tv show, because Martin will have taken his time to do every character and plot arc service.
Beyond the quality of the books, fans should also cut George some slack and let him enjoy his success. So many great authors throughout history (Kafka, Melville, Lovecraft) died poor and unknown, their books not attaining acclaim and popularity until long after their deaths. Martin himself worked in relative obscurity for most of his career. It wasn’t until the television series premiere in 2011 that he catapulted into worldwide fame and became a household name.
George R.R. Martin is the modern J.R.R. Tolkien, a true master of fantasy fiction, elevating the genre to literary levels. It’s rare for a great author to achieve both commercial and critical success during their lifetime—to be invited onto television talk shows, receive daily interview requests, and sell out speaking events. As I said, Game of Thrones is a phenomenon, so let the creator of the phenomenon experience the phenomenon.
Nobody wants George R.R. Martin to finish A Song of Ice and Fire more than George R.R. Martin. As a writer myself, I can’t imagine he is happy about seeing someone else (the tv showrunners) finish his story before him. So if you love the books and/or tv show, give George a break and let him take his time to write it right.