Author George R.R. Martin has been crazy busy—but not in the way a lot of fans might want. He’s watching rough cuts of the upcoming HBO Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon, and joining forces with Marvel for an official comics adaptation of his long-running Wild Cards stories. Last year, he inked a five-year deal with HBO to develop more series for the network and its streaming platform HBO Max. There’s apparently a Game of Thrones Broadway stage play in the works. More Wild Cards books are coming. He even released a 700+ page book of Targaryen history (Fire & Blood, the basis for the aforementioned House of the Dragon) and is apparently working on a second volume. The man is rapidly approaching Alexander Hamilton levels of non-stop.
But what it very clearly appears he’s not doing is writing The Winds of Winter, the long-awaited and highly anticipated sixth installment in his bestselling A Song of Ice and Fire series.
Sure, according to a March 2022 blog post, Martin claims that “of course” he’s still working on Winds and he complains tetchily about the “wearisome” fact that people have the nerve to keep asking him about it.
“Yes, of course, I am still working on THE WINDS OF WINTER. I have stated that a hundred times in a hundred venues, having to restate it endlessly is just wearisome. I made a lot of progress on WINDS in 2020, and less in 2021… but “less” is not “none.”
These are words that are all technically true and correct, of course. But it’s been over a decade since A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in A Song of Ice and Fire, hit shelves, and in the intervening years, the blockbuster HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones has come and gone, spoiling Martin’s apparently long-planned ending and souring many viewers on the purported conclusion of his long-running tale. (I mean, Bran? Really? Sansa is right there.)
At this point, the jokes practically write themselves, especially given that Martin is so openly engaged in what feels like a dozen other projects that aren’t the one that most people so desperately want to see him complete. Are we all likely to watch House of the Dragon and read the next installment in his Fire and Blood Targaryen history? Probably! But that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t rather be reading Winds. After all, it’s been over 25 years since A Game of Thrones was first released, and it’s understandable that fans are starting to feel a bit anxious about whether we’ll ever get to read Martin’s take on the end of his story. (No matter how we feel about the way the HBO series presented Daenerys’ descent into madness.)
Because, let’s be honest: Even if The Winds of Winter arrives sometime in the next handful of years, that still leaves one more presumably gargantuan novel left to go. And that’s assuming, of course, that A Dream of Spring is actually the final book in the series and doesn’t get split into two volumes because of the increasingly unwieldy nature of the story that Martin is telling. And not to be morbid—-truly, I hope Martin lives forever—but the man is 73 years old. If A Dream of Spring also takes a decade to write, Martin would be well into his mid-80s before its publication arrived.
So maybe it’s time to face facts: Martin is clearly struggling with—if he hasn’t outright lost interest in—the end of this story. Despite all his protestations to the country, the fact is if he wanted to finish Winds, he would be finishing Winds. Or have already done so. Or at least he would be treating it like the biggest priority on his admittedly gargantuan to-do list. A Song of Ice and Fire, for good or ill, will be Martin’s legacy, and if he was still concerned about that, well… we’d be reading Winds already.
We all know the HBO series was never supposed to pass the books and was likely never meant to reveal the ending of Martin’s story before he had time to write it himself. But now that it has, and now that fans have reacted so divisively and largely negatively to it, is it any wonder that he’s suddenly more interested in all these other ASOIAF side projects than in finishing the main event?
And look, you know what? That’s his prerogative. Technically, Martin doesn’t owe us anything, and if he’s become as disenchanted with this particular piece of his universe as many of the HBO series’ former viewers then I think we can all probably understand the urge. And to be fair, he’s written so many of the major book characters into such complex narrative corners spread across opposite ends of Westeros (like Arya, Tyrion, and even Daenerys to mention just a few) that I don’t envy him trying to bring them all back together again. But at this point, isn’t it time to start being realistic about whether we’ll ever see the series’ final two books? And working on processing our grief if we’re not?
As someone who loved both the books and the TV show (at least, right up until the very end), even I’m torn about whether it matters anymore whether the final novels ever see the light of day or not. Yes, I want to read the end of Martin’s vision—and I’d prefer it if he actually got to write it rather than, say, Brandon Sanderson or some other fantasy big-name tapped to finish the series in the event that he won’t or can’t. Maybe it would be different if I thought the delay was because Martin watched the HBO series and was determined to fix the mistakes its final season laid out. And yet, mostly I look at Martin and see my own exhaustion with this story reflected back at me. Truly, that sort of bone-deep weariness is understandable—but it’s a tragedy all the same.