Game of Thrones is currently at its height of global popularity, with the hit HBO television series the centerpiece of an expansive multimedia franchise. Yet, as the show readies to take a commanding chronological lead past the novels on which it is based, something ominous imminently approaches, almost as threatening as the Night’s King and his undead army of popsicle corpses: Massive spoiler-filled narrative deviations from the literary source material!
Sure, this phenomenon has already occurred in numerous instances on the show, but the existing (prospective) book spoilers, such as King Stannis’ fate and Tyrion and Varys’ cushy new jobs running Meereen, are peanuts compared to the potential spoiler consequences that will occur. It’s the long-held fear of book readers that is now virtually guaranteed to occur, given recent revelations as George R.R. Martin’s regretful confession that The Winds of Winter, the novel series’ upcoming sixth entry, will not be ready before the April 24 launch of Game of Thrones Season 6, which is presumably packed with plot revelations that fans hoped to learn first in Martin’s novel. Compounding that, recent reports state that HBO is in negotiations with showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to renew the series for not only a seventh, but an eighth season!
Put it all together and a winter of some kind is, indeed, coming for fans of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series, who will likely see substantive plot points of The Winds of Winter let loose on the show this year. Besides even more spoilers in 2017, this could eventually lead to Season 8 in 2018 possibly exposing the endgame of the entire mythology’s grand finale, set to occur in the series’ concluding novel, A Dream of Spring. Seeing as Martin is still laboring over Winds in 2016 as we speak, we can safely presume that the denouement of Dream will not arrive on bookshelves anytime before the television series has run its natural course.
Could this lead to the disastrous implosion of a popular franchise? Ignoring any “just don’t watch the show” rebuttals, my short answer is “not necessarily.” I think that the grand finale of Game of Thrones will be a monumental occurrence that will generally reward patient audiences, but will also be ambiguous, leaving questions that will be answered definitively in a bittersweet manner when A Dream of Spring is released (likely years later). So, let’s get to it, then!
Hardly set in Valyrian steel.
When delving into the final trajectory of George R.R. Martin’s novel series, it’s important to remember that only the fundamentals exist in his mind. The author has been open about the fact that, for the sake of general consistency, he relayed most, if not all of the guidelines for where the Ice and Fire mythology is headed to Thrones showrunners Benioff and Weiss. While only Martin truly knows the answers, they are still rather loose, even for him. As Benioff told Variety last August, “We’ve had a lot of conversations with George, and he makes a lot of stuff up as he’s writing it. Even while we talk to him about the ending, it doesn’t mean that that ending that he has currently conceived is going to be the ending when he eventually writes it.”
That might not mollify formerly clairvoyant “Book People” who, like Arya “No One” Stark, have been left after Season 5 with the cliffhanger fate of a humbling blindness. However, it could mean that the ultimate resolution of the mythology realizing the fate of Westeros in the wake of its political power struggles and impending war against the frozen undead could be in a state of flux. This seems true, given the increasing time disparity between the inevitable conclusion of the television series (possibly in Season 8 in 2018) and when Martin’s final novel punctuation in A Dream of Spring hits at a point we can safely presume will be sometime after 2018. Indeed, book fans now need to accept the idea of the show ending before the books as a certified fact.
The Scouring of Westeros?
At this point, there are things about the ultimate end that we do know for a fact. In a number of interviews, Martin has gone on record saying that the Ice and Fire book mythology will NOT end in some appalling apocalyptic event. Rather, his thoughts allegedly center on the concept of tones. Perhaps, in typical Martin fashion, that tone is “bittersweet.” A fan and admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien, Martin evokes the infamous segment in the penultimate chapter of The Lord of the Rings book trilogy called “The Scouring of the Shire” as his inspiration.
In that chapter, Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin finally return home to Hobbiton after saving the Middle Earth, only to find the Shire a blackened, pilfered landscape due to the sinister industrialized exploitation of the land by the migrated evil wizard Saruman. Frodo and the gang are forced to organize a resistance and fight “The Battle of Bywater” to liberate their lands. The skirmish is won, culminating with Saruman’s abused lackey, Grima Wormtongue, stabbing Saruman in the back, killing him, before being filled with arrows by Hobbit archers.
“The Scouring of the Shire” thickened the plot at a point in the novels where things would have presumably settled down after the destruction of the Ring of Power and the ultimate banishment of the evil that plagued the lands. Consequently, despite it being a darkly poetic representation of Tolkien’s homecoming from the First World War, it has always drawn a certain portion of criticism, unlike the rest of Tolkien’s otherwise impeccably appreciated novels. Tellingly, fans exposed only to the Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings film series remember Frodo and company simply strolling on horseback into the untouched Shire triumphantly. This is because, barring a brief nod to the chapter as a vision in the first film’s Galadriel’s Mirror scene (embedded above), Peter Jackson omitted the Scouring from his Rings films. It’s an understandable move, since it was an anti-climactic diversion that would have frustrated movie audiences and sabotaged the pacing.
However, for Martin, the Scouring chapter represented something quite profound that he evidently wishes to emulate in the conclusion of the Ice and Fire novels. He sees the Scouring as a testament to the way that war deals irreversible changes to a country and that no one (in this case, even Hobbits) were safe from its consequences. As Martin explained to Observer of the chapter, “Every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that’s the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge.”
Thus, we begin to get a generalized picture as to where Martin may be heading with the long-down-the-road conclusion in A Dream of Spring. However, where would such an idea leave the television show? Might this kind of ending leave viewers frustrated and dissatisfied? While such controversially bittersweet finishes ended up occurring in some of television’s greatest, fan-obsessed dramas (Lost, anyone?), Game of Thrones might still be able leave it out in the interest of narrative and pacing, which would give book fans an entire portion of the ending all to themselves.
Having its lemon cakes and eating them.
Just as Peter Jackson had to make a necessary creative concession with “The Scouring of the Shire,” Showrunners Benioff and Weiss have to consider how satisfying this mysterious finale will be for less-accommodating television audiences who have invested so much time and energy into the Game of Throne global phenomenon. While the showrunners' creative compasses are mostly synchronized with Martin’s direction, there is a lot of narrative leeway that could make the ending of the show into a scenario in which our cliffhanger-imperilled heroes, notably Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen finally WIN, conquering evil and giving Westeros’ wicked power-seekers their overdue comeuppance.Like the divergences between The Lord of the Rings novels and Jackson’s films, we could get a dynamic where the show’s ending, while satisfying, leaves the story incomplete, opening an opportunity for A Dream of Spring to provide the complementary answers whenever that book ultimately hits shelves.
In a sense, this dynamic would allow the broader Game of Thrones franchise to have it both ways. The show could “spoil” the grand finale, but do so in a way that assigns a greater importance to A Dream of Spring for getting the definitive answer. Think of HBO’s The Sopranos, which concluded resolving its loose ends properly, but ended with an abrupt cut to black at a moment in a diner when Tony and his family seemed destined for doom. Unlike The Sopranos, Game of Thrones will have an opportunity with the subsequently released final book to find out who, if anyone, “got whacked.” I would say that’s something to be excited about, in spite of all the gloom and doom about Martin’s writing pace and the spoiler situation. So, chin up, Game of Thrones fans and enjoy the ride!
How do you think the grand finale of Game of Thrones will play out? Head down to the comments section and sound off!