The INSIDER Summary:
• It’s been a full year since George R.R. Martin last gave a concrete update on his sixth book, “The Winds of Winter.”
• People are extremely frustrated, angry, or flat out apathetic now.
• But the wait time is consistent with Martin’s previous published works, and some fans are coming to his defence.
This coming summer will mark a major milestone for readers of Martin’s beloved “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series. Not only will the seventh (and penultimate) season of “Game of Thrones” air, but around that same time — this coming July — will mark five years since Martin last published a book.
Just after New Year’s Day in 2016, Martin gave a lengthy public update about his upcoming sixth book — “The Winds of Winter.” He admitted that it wasn’t finished, nor did he have a new expected publication date.
We haven’t heard from Martin since about “The Winds of Winter.”
In the year since that update, fractions of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” fandom have fallen further into a well of anger, frustration, and outright apathy, while others remain patient and sympathetic to Martin’s high-pressure writing situation.
GRRM’s last public update on “The Winds of Winter”
The fifth instalment of Martin’s planned seven-book series, “A Dance with Dragons,” was published in July 2011, just three months after the first season of HBO’s adaptation of the work, “Game of Thrones,” aired on television.
Fans (and Martin himself) hoped the next book in the series, “The Winds of Winter” (often abbreviated to TWOW), would be published long before the show had caught up with Martin’s published narrative.
But on January 2, 2016, George R.R. Martin posted on his LiveJournal blog at 12:24 a.m. It read: “You wanted an update. Here’s the update. You won’t like it. THE WINDS OF WINTER is not finished.”
The nearly 2000-word blog post went on to explain how he had missed two deadlines from his publishers that would have made it possible to release the sixth book in his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series before the sixth season of “Game of Thrones” aired.
“Believe me, it gave me no pleasure to type those words,” he wrote. “You’re disappointed, and you’re not alone. My editors and publishers are disappointed, HBO is disappointed, my agents and foreign publishers and translators are disappointed… but no one could possibly be more disappointed than me.”
So here we are, one year after the last TWOW update, and the “A Song of Ice and Fire” readers are more divided than ever.
The wrath of Redditors
One of the go-to internet hubs of “A Song of Ice and Fire” discussion and theorizing is the /r/asoiaf subreddit. The community is made up of over 325,000 diehard fans — many of whom began reading the books long before HBO had optioned them for “Game of Thrones.”
Some are sympathetic to Martin’s high-pressure situation and are waiting patiently for more updates or a publishing announcement of TWOW. But other (more vocal) followers are comfortable expressing their frustration, disappointment, and even anger towards the author for failing to produce the sixth book before HBO surpassed him.
The /r/asoiaf subreddit is dotted with debates over this fact, though there was a notable uptick in discussion of TWOW as December 2016 drew to a close and the one year anniversary of Martin’s update approached.
After it looked unlikely Martin would share a new update, an article from Paste Magazine was posted on January 3, titled: “George R.R. Martin is not our b—-, but the dude could throw us a d— bone.” It quickly hit the front page of /r/asoiaf.
The top comment in response to the article was simply: “I don’t give a f— anymore.”
Another Redditor expanded on the lack of care they felt now. “I used to love discussing the books with the community here but it’s just f—king sad now […] I’m not sure if getting TWOW would even bring me back at this point,” AfterlifeJaunte wrote. “It’s sad, because this used to be one of the best online communities I was a part of but it’s been dying a sad, slow death as we get increasingly more cynical and realise we were just wasting our time writing treatises on an unfinished work.”
“The show and the horrible wait has killed all my interest,” another Redditor replied.
Another post titled “I just realised something incredibly disappointing” lamented how “it’s looking increasingly likely, if not probable, that the show will have started and finished before [Martin] could manage a single book.”
Some people have expressed concern that Martin has simply hit a point in the books where the story became more complicated than he anticipated, and it’s taking him a while to untangle the knot.
One Redditor replied to this thought, saying: “The new knot is his advanced age, writer’s block, boredom with the story, fascination with his own fame and lack of incentive due to blowing the last meaningful deadline he had left and not needing the money from a new book.”
The discussion threads in every post regarding TWOW is always contentious. Some Redditors believe TWOW (and the seventh book, “A Dream of Spring”) are never going to be published, either because Martin has lost interest in the project or doesn’t know how to end it and therefore cannot write it.
Though Martin has released sample chapters, and many have good reason to think there are hundreds of completed pages for TWOW, others speculate that this isn’t true. “The reason that TWOW is taking so long is because it isn’t being written,” Redditor common_crow wrote in another thread.
But others in the group are more sympathetic and patient. INSIDER reached out to the Redditors who help run the /r/asoiaf subreddit to see what they think of TWOW’s progress and the community’s reactions to Martin’s year-long silence. We spoke with three of the moderators — Samuel, Lauren, and Michael — to learn more about how fans are processing everything.
“I think the fandom’s frustration with the length of time the book is taking to release is understandable, but I think Martin’s issues with writing the series are also understandable,” Samuel told INSIDER. “The book will be done when it is done, and that’s up to Martin alone. It’s best to accept that and make peace with it, in my opinion.”
One of the reasons book readers have grown frustrated (and sometimes angry) could have to do with the expectation they had about TWOW being released much earlier, though Martin never gave an estimated publish date.
“Constantly seizing onto hopes of imminent publication, when there’s no clear indication by Martin that such a thing is in the wild cards, is a recipe for disappointment,” Samuel said.
Another moderator, Michael, believes the occasional uproar from the /r/asoiaf subscribers is cyclical.
“A lot of it, I think, is just plain contrarianism,” Michael said. “And that’s a Reddit thing, not an ASOIAF thing. There’s always this hive mind seesaw — first everyone thinks ‘[Martin] owes us the book!’ and then another bunch of people go ‘He doesn’t owe us anything!’ and then, when that becomes the new prevailing opinion, it becomes cool to go ‘He owes us the book!’ again.”
“Personally, I’m with the folks who don’t really want to talk about who [Martin] does or does not owe,” Michael says. “I get the sentiment, of course — I don’t think there’s a fan out there who would honestly say they didn’t care when TWOW comes out. But there’s no point in working yourself up over what you believe you’re entitled to – the book will be out when it’s done. Why work yourself into a frothy nerd-rage during the wait?”
Lauren, a third /r/asoiaf moderator we spoke with, thinks this attitude is not limited to Martin’s avid followers.
“Fans can be entitled in all forms of entertainment,” Lauren said. “I’m a pro-wrestling fan, and I’ve never met another fan who doesn’t think they could do a better job than [WWE CEO] Vince McMahon. In the case of ASOIAF, I think part of the problem is that some people conclude from the delay that he’s not working on the book very hard (or at all).”
This is a pervasive assumption among some book readers. Anytime Martin made public appearances or posted updates to his blog on other book projects he was involved in, people jump on the idea that he’s not truly devoted to finishing TWOW.
“I don’t think that’s true, but then again I have no proof,” Lauren said. “The trouble with fan criticism is that some people will always complain no matter what you do. If [Martin] rushed and came out with a mediocre book, he would face just as many complaints.”
Lauren’s fellow moderators have similar sentiments about Martin’s dedication to TWOW and its pending publication.
“I think he’s a fair way through writing TWOW, but I am not expecting it particularly soon,” Samuel said. “The ASOIAF books are large and complicated, and Martin has always had issues with time management, procrastination, editing, etc.”
Samuel has read most of Martin’s other published words, and noted that there are other books which had planned sequels which Martin never got around to writing.
“‘The Skin Trade’ and ‘Tuf Voyaging’ never got their planned sequels, ‘Avalon’ was never finished, ‘Doorways’ was never picked up, and so on,” Samuel said. “So I don’t find the fact ASOIAF is taking a long time to finish some radically strange idea or development in his career. He’s always been like this.”
“Martin has never been able to accurately gauge his own progress […] He freely admits the fact, and he’s never been deceptive about it,” Samuel said. “That January  post was full of him discussing his issues with assessing his own progress.”
The unpredictable publishing patterns for ASOIAF
As Samuel noted, Martin’s delays with TWOW are not a huge divergence from his past writing results. His process of writing the gigantic ASOIAF series (which currently totals nearly 6000 pages) has never been predictable.
The first book, “A Game of Thrones,” was released in 1996. Though Martin had originally submitted an outline to his publishers for a trilogy, by the time he completed “A Game of Thrones” he had changed his tune. Now he was going to write six books (two connected trilogies).
“A Clash Of Kings” followed in 1998 and was the first of the series to appear on The New York Times’ Best Seller list. His third book — “A Storm Of Swords” — was the first to be published slightly late. It was several months behind schedule when it was released in 2000. The first two books averaged 1,100 pages, but the third was immense at 1,521 pages.
The second trilogy, supposed to take place five years after the first, was scheduled to launch in 2002, but Martin ran into unexpected troubles. He had expanded the story’s settings and the page count was already longer than “A Storm of Swords.”
He had also started rethinking the five-year jump, originally meant to give time for younger characters and young dragons to age, and ended up abandoning it. Taking the advice of a friend, Martin divided the plotlines into two books, which took place at approximately the same time. Controversially, he saved some of the most popular (Jon, Tyrion, and Daenerys) characters for the fifth book.
The new target was for a seven-book series.
“A Feast For Crows” finally came out in 2005 — five years after “A Storm of Swords.” This was the longest people had waited yet for a book in Martin’s series. Fans were already frustrated by the delay and complained even more when they saw Martin had left out key characters in the 1100 page book.
Martin was initially confident he could release the next book (“A Dance with Dragons”) by 2006. To this day, printed copies of “A Feast for Crows” have a note from Martin printed at the end of the book saying the next instalment should be published within the next year.
But Martin struggled with a series of plot complications later nicknamed the Meereneese Knot. Though fans expected only a one year wait, the time passed and it was over five years before “A Dance With Dragons” finally came out in 2011.
Which brings us back to Martin’s last TWOW update, where he was explicit about his struggles when faced with deadlines and a tendency to underestimate writing time.
“Look, I have always had problems with deadlines,” Martin wrote in 2016. “For whatever reason, I don’t respond well to them.”
He was also clear about refusing to set a new expectation — for himself, for his publishers, or for fans. “When delivery [of TWOW] will be, I can’t say. I am not going to set another deadline for myself to trip over,” he wrote. “The deadlines just stress me out.”
So for fans who have been following along closely for more than a decade, this five-year gap between “A Dance with Dragons” and the upcoming “The Winds of Winter” is not a new waiting experience. But the presence of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is new.
ASOIAF fans and watching “Game of Thrones”
“Game of Thrones” is the most notable example in book and television history where a show adapted from written work has completely overtaken the source material. Though season six definitely hit upon two major plot points we expect to see in the coming books (namely Jon Snow’s resurrection and his parentage), most of the other story lines might have been completely different from Martin’s plan.
Though Martin has told showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss his planned ending for the series, he hasn’t written full episodes for “Game of Thrones” since season four. Benioff and Weiss have acknowledged that while the endings should be the same, the way the books and the show get to that end point will be different.
The events leading up to the show’s ending could be steering far from Martin’s planned written narrative (but we won’t know for certain until they are published).
But most ASOIAF readers will find it impossible to avoid hearing what unfolds, and will continue to tune into the series on HBO each year.
“I will watch it through the end,” Samuel said. “I would have preferred reading the ending of the books first. But, just like the world of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and ‘A Game of Thrones,’ our world isn’t perfect, and we don’t always get what we want.”
This line of thinking was echoed by fellow moderator Lauren.
“The show went a little more quickly than expected, and the book was delayed longer than expected, and here we are,” she said. “In some ways this is unfortunate — I still think of the books as the ‘real’ version, even though I quite like the show — but on the pro side, at least we’re getting an ending in about a year and a half […] it will at least be an ending, and then we’ll have another ending a few years later, more detailed and probably more fulfilling. There are worse fates.”
So as season seven approaches and Martin continues writing TWOW, fans are left to decide which side they fall on. Whether you feel entitled to a written ending or are resigned to seeing the events unfold on HBO, “A Song of Ice and Fire” and “Game of Thrones” are set on paths that were determined years ago. All that’s left to fans is choosing how to deal with the reality of this unexpected and unprecedented pop culture phenomenon.