Exclusive: The Song of Ice and Fire author discusses the HBO hit concluding before his novels: 'It's not the end for me'

By James Hibberd
March 06, 2019 at 11:06 AM EST

George R.R. Martin’s masterwork fantasy saga is set to reveal its epic conclusion on HBO, and not on the printed page where he launched his tale 23 years ago.

Naturally, Martin has “mixed feelings about that.”

“It’s been an incredible ride,” the author tells EW. “And almost all of it has been great. Obviously, I wished I finished these books sooner so the show hadn’t gotten ahead of me. I never anticipated that.”

Martin, 70, has famously struggled for eight years to finish the sixth book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, with no publication date set. There’s also a planned seventh novel, A Dream of Spring. On paper, the sprawling epic, detailing a clash of kingdoms in Westeros and Essos, halted in 2011’s A Dance With Dragons with the cliffhanger murder of Jon Snow — a twist that capped the show’s season 5 finale in 2015.

Since then, it’s been unclear how closely the show’s story line hews to Martin’s future books. Years ago, Martin explained to Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss his rough outline for how he plans to end his saga. But the show started making significant departures from the books well before they reached the end of his published narrative (for example, Ramsay Bolton marries a minor character in the novels, not Sansa Stark).

Martin initially contributed one script per season to the series, then halted his contributions. “After season 4, George made a conscious decision to devote himself to the books,” Weiss says. “Anybody who’s read the books knows that task in and of itself requires about 64 hours a day to do properly, and the differences between the show and the books became difficult to track in parallel — it’s almost like he was in a weird science-fiction movie trying to keep two similar-but-different universes in his mind at the same time.”

The producers previously told EW one dramatic season 6 scene — the tragic reveal of Hodor’s backstory — came directly from their talks with the author. And Jon Snow’s parentage is almost certainly the same as his plan. But the rest of Martin’s narrative is a mystery, which is how the showrunners hope to keep it. “[The concern] used to be that the books would spoil the show for people — and luckily it did not for the most part,” Benioff says. “Now that the show is ahead of the books, it seems the show could ruin the books for people. So one thing we’ve talked to George about is that we’re not going to tell people what the differences are, so when those books come out people can experience them fresh.”

The showrunners note that they’re not entirely sure of Martin’s future storylines anyway (“George discovers a lot of stuff while he’s writing,” Benioff says). But more surprising is that Martin is likewise somewhat in the dark on the show’s ending. “I haven’t read the [final-season] scripts and haven’t been able to visit the set because I’ve been working on Winds,” Martin reveals. “I know some of the things. But there’s a lot of minor-character [arcs] they’ll be coming up with on their own. And, of course, they passed me several years ago. There may be important discrepancies.”

Benioff and Weiss invited Martin to film a cameo in Northern Ireland for the final episodes. He had previously filmed an appearance in the show’s original pilot, playing a guest in Dany’s wedding. But subsequent reshoots resulted in his footage being scrapped. “I was tempted to do [the final season cameo],” Martin says. “But I didn’t think, just for the sake of a cameo, I could take the time to return to Belfast.”

So for now, Martin will continue to work on Winds, and watch along with his fans as the television version of his saga that has obsessed millions around the world reaches its climactic finale.

“It’s the end for a lot of people,” Martin says. “It’s not the end for me. I’m still deeply in it. I better live a long time because I have a lot of work left to do.”

©Christopher Anderson / Magnum

Game of Thrones returns April 14. EW.com will continue to have daily coverage through the end of the season.  

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.
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