For most of us, our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or quit smoking aren’t watched with eager anticipation by millions of fans around the world. Sadly George R.R. Martin, the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series that spawned the mega-hit TV show Game of Thrones, didn’t reach his 2015 goal and has disappointed readers around the globe.
Martin set out to finish the series’ sixth book (of a planned seven) The Winds of Winter by the end of 2015, making it available this calendar year. He announced in a blog post on Jan. 2 that he didn’t make his deadline. “I still thought I could do it … but the days and weeks flew by faster than the pile of pages grew, and (as I often do) I grew unhappy with some of the choices I’d made and began to revise,” Martin wrote. “And suddenly it was October, and then November… and as the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more.”
When we decide to have that second dessert or bum a smoke off a stranger on the street, usually the only person affected is ourselves, but for Martin’s fans a lot was riding on the book being finished—namely whether or not Martin’s book made it to market before the HBO show, which is going to air its sixth season (of a planned eight) this spring. This will mark the first time that the saga’s plot will make it to screen before it made it to page.
Though many of Martin’s fans understand his blown deadline, this creates a strange dynamic for the two schools that are following his epic: the book people and the show people. The book people, who have devoured his every word, some even before HBO got their hands on the series, have always been ahead of the show people, who haven’t made it through the heavy tomes. Many of the book people are also show people, tuning in to see how the books have been adapted and which of their favorite characters have made the cut.
In general, most book people have been very gracious about spoilers. For example, many didn’t tell those of us who only tune in to the show about the events of the Red Wedding or some of the shocking and game-changing twists the narrative takes. For that we can forever be grateful.
But will the show people be nearly as kind? I doubt it. Given that there seems to be so many more of them, and that there’s so much media frenzy surrounding each of the 10 episodes of the season, some of the plot points, especially the bigger ones, will be hard to miss. If #JonSnowLives trends worldwide on Twitter, it’s going to be hard to escape.
I’m firmly a show person. I’ve been obsessed since the first season, re-watching episodes and engaging in speculation and theorizing online, but I’ve never once cracked the books, probably because I watch too much television. This is rare for me. As an avid, life-long comic book reader I’ve seen plenty of my favorite sagas boiled down into bite-sized Hollywood entertainment both wonderful (Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies) and horrendous (Daredevil the Netflix how). I’ve learned that one needs to appreciate these things as separate entities or, in comic book parlance, separate “universes.”
Even when the X-Men films are triumphant, it doesn’t change my understanding or appreciation for the story that I’ve been following for more than 20 years. They are separate (though often unequal) in my mind, and I try to refrain from the worst sort of geeksplaining, basically any sentence that starts with the phrase, “Well, in the comics…” As well intentioned as it might be, the live-action fan doesn’t want to be burdened with the extra knowledge that the obsessive has. That’s our reward for putting in the effort of all that reading—having additional insight and being able to compare and contrast which makes for a better (or worse) story.
I feel the same way about people who try to tell me about what happens in the Song of Ice and Fire books. I’m watching a show that is constructed by people other than Martin and one that has, on occasion, diverged wildly from the source material. Just like those X-Men movies, I wanted to judge the show based on its own merits and judge the story and the upcoming plot based on the information gleaned from that “text,” as it were, absent from outside interference.
I hope that the book people will feel the same way about Martin’s next novel, whenever it hits shelves. It’s obviously much more intricate and expansive than a television show could ever hope to be, and there is sure to be plenty of enjoyment to be wrung from it, even if some of the key events have already been hinted at in the show.
Even Martin agrees that the two should be kept separate. “Some of the ‘spoilers’ you may encounter in season six may not be spoilers at all… because the show and the books have diverged, and will continue to do so,” he explained in his blog post.
The hardest thing for the book people is going to be having the tables turned on them, with the show people having the upper hand for once. I’m sure they’ll be much more infuriated to hear a show person get them back with the phrase, “Well, on the TV show…” something that just doesn’t have the same cache of exclusivity and superiority as, “Well, in the novels…”
But there is no reason why the book people and the show people can’t coexist in peaceful harmony. Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire may have all sorts of incredible similarities, but at the end of the day, what creates a successful television show and what creates a successful cycle of novels are two different things, and they should each be celebrated for doing what is necessary to make the best possible world for fans, even if HBO reaches the end of their sprint before Martin reaches the end of his marathon.