You can’t tell everything about a person by looking at their social media feeds, but trust me: It is meaningful, or at least somewhat meaningful, that George R.R. Martin hasn’t made a single mention of HBO’s Game of Thrones on his Twitter or blog since the April 14 premiere of the show’s final season. No chef’s-kiss congratulations to the cast, no hashtagged episodic livetweeting, no nerdy defenses of “The Long Night”’s brightness settings — just some announcements of his speaking engagements, some #tbt photos, and some Perd Hapley-ish commentary on the NFL Draft. (“Neither the Giants nor the Jets have a second round pick today”).
Though he’s never explicitly voiced his dismay, it’s practically on the record that Martin has mixed feelings about the direction of the HBO adaptation. For season eight, he didn’t visit the set or read any of the final scripts; he thinks there should be more seasons to finish everything up; in a recent video interview with Fast Company, he alluded to the “traumatic” creative differences between himself and HBO showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
You might expect an eccentric, gnomish fantasy writer like Martin to have highly specific feelings about everything — nerds of all stripes will recognize something of themselves in his general demeanor and affectations — but his barely concealed bitterness parallels with the increased fun made at his expense as his literary output has long laid fallow, while the show has continued to win acclaim and audiences. The last Game of Thrones book Martin released was 2011’s A Dance With Dragons, just after the completion of the show’s first season; the adaptation caught up to the books by 2015’s season five. Meanwhile, The Winds of Winter, the planned sixth novel out of seven in the series, has no release date. The author having no pages is a popular meme by now, despite the odd preview chapter he’s released here and there. It’s easy to imagine his pen sitting dry as he jetsets around the world, enjoying his vastly monied literary fame, and working on any number of projects that don’t demand the frankly insane effort of weaving together the dozens upon dozens of narrative strands he’s tangled over the books thus far.
For a while that wasn’t a problem, as the HBO show did an expert job of simplifying and translating the stories and characters of Westeros to the screen. But it’s not controversial or contrarian to say that by many standards, the show’s ongoing final season has been a mild disappointment. It’s got the lowest critical and audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes of any season, by a wide margin. The show’s most-anticipated episode ever was met with a lot of jokes about how it was literally unwatchable. There are the same issues of characters zooming around the map that plagued the last season. There’s only two episodes left, and yet by the end of Sunday’s episode, it felt like they were still laying the groundwork for more action while shortchanging some crucial stories. There’s been plenty of good stuff this season, but even aside from fan culture complaints like “why isn’t this character acting exactly how I want them to,” there’s just enough that’s... missing.
Partly it’s an issue of time: Six episodes is hardly enough time to wrap up everything on the show, even with some expanded run-times. That’s led to some massive truncation — such as, for example, the passing mention of the new prince of Dorne, a country that factored massively into the earlier seasons, but has now been brushed aside entirely now that there’s just no more room. A few years ago, such a passing mention would’ve eventually bore narrative fruit; now, with barely more than two hours to finish the show, it feels like a checked box allowing the writers to move on.
To be clear, the show is still a good time, assuming your brain isn’t calibrated to go “wait, but why didn’t they…” at every potential plot hole. (Why didn’t the dragons wear armor? Why didn’t Bran warn them about the dragon-hurting arrows? Why didn’t they just see Euron’s ships from over the mountains? The last direwolf is just... gone? You know what I mean.) But you know who stands to benefit from all of this? George R.R. Martin! He’s literally the one person who can provide the “true ending” of Game of Thrones, now that it seems unlikely the show can wrap up every emotional and narrative thread in the final two episodes.
A satisfying ending isn’t out of the question; I’m still betting on it, at least. But a perfect final season would’ve greatly reduced the need for Martin’s version. Millions of people would have bought the book, of course, but mostly out of a sense of duty (for the fans who followed him this long) and literary pleasure (because they’re fun to read). “I need to know what happens” would not have been the predominant motivation, had the show answered that to its fullest extent. Now, there’s ample opportunity to give us something like the director’s cut, which at the very least should include more about what’s going on in Bran’s head.
The pessimist might say, “Dude, he is never finishing those books.” Martin is 70 years old, and the last book came out at 1,016 pages. That’s a lot of material to be finished for a guy who, by any measure, is entering the back nine of life. But spite is a fantastic creative motivator, especially since Martin has said that his ending is somewhat different from the show’s. For what it’s worth, he recently told Entertainment Tonight that the writing has been “going very well, lately.”
For years, Benioff and Weiss have sucked up praise as the geniuses capable of bringing his books to the screen; now that they’re fumbling the ball in the final stretch, Martin is uniquely positioned to redeem all the damage his reputation has suffered as a guy who can simply not get the work done. He can be something like the prince who was promised, the legendary figure in Game of Thrones mythos who delivers the realm from darkness. (A thread that the show seems to have… dropped entirely, after years of focusing on it.) All he needs to do is leave the NFL Draft analysis to someone else, and get back to the typewriter.