It’s no secret, Game of Thrones has taken over the world slowly but surely in the past nine years, breaking records and raising the stakes for television to unprecedented heights. Behind the phenomenal series, however, lies one of the most complex literary universes I have ever set eyes on, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. With five books out (A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons), and two to come at some point in the future (The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring), the series propelled Martin to worldwide fame and secured him a place as one of the greatest fantasy writers of our age. A lovely success story like many before it. However, the rise of what was once a mere TV adaptation has made this success story rather unique.
For the record, as a literature student I have always been a book purist, simply because the books are always better. However, my relationship with Martin’s universe has been quite complicated. After discovering and binging the first three seasons of the show, I read the first book right before the fourth season aired, and then the next couple of books before the fifth season aired, and then stopped reading the books because they’re just too long for a student who already has to read at least a book a week (although I obviously kept watching the show). A royal mess. Regardless, the interconnectedness of the two made me appreciate them both for different reasons.
Although the books’ descriptions of events are rather Tolkien-esque in their weight and length, they offer astonishingly detailed insight into the world that the show has only been able to hint at. Every minor character, every place, every thought process contribute to the creation of the ASOIAF universe, and the fact that it can all be the product of a man’s imagination is quite awe-inspiring. On the other hand, the TV series excels in depicting this universe with the gritty realism required by the writing. A visual feast of jaw-dropping battles, compulsive scheming, and brilliant sets and costumes, seasoned with flawless performances, Game of Thrones has managed to bring Martin’s world to life while revolutionising TV in the process – not too shabby.
Indeed, the TV show doesn’t always stick to the books (Lady Stoneheart who?). To be honest, I think that if it did, it would have been a lot more boring, since Martin’s universe is way too complex for a TV series to be able to depict it in its entirety without losing audience interest. Regardless, it was a nerve-wracking experience to watch it completely fly from the books’ nest from the end of Season 5 onwards, when creators David Benioff and D.B.Weiss finished A Dance with Dragons and entered uncharted territory. Uncharted to the audience, anyway. Martin has been involved with the show even after its departure from the books, and everything that aired ever since is said to be ‘original content with outline from The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.‘
The speculation could run wild from here. What does ‘outline’ even mean? It could be something as scarce as ‘Cersei is punished and then gets revenge’, or ‘Cersei does the walk of shame and then blows up a church with pretty much everyone she hates in it.’ Until Martin publishes the books, we can’t know how much of what we’ve been seeing onscreen is his brain child and how much is Benioff and Weiss’. But there could be a while until then. Martin has been quite the procrastinator (and nobody understands him better than us students, surely), and written pretty much anything else instead of The Winds of Winter, which he has now been working on for nine years. It’s quite safe to say that he himself doesn’t know how the sheer magnitude of Game of Thrones will impact his work, and frankly, it is quite difficult to deliver knowing that the final product will be constantly compared to one of the greatest TV shows in history.
Will the books still be of interest if we already know who ends up on the Iron Throne? To me, definitely. Martin’s writing is meant to be savoured, and the uniqueness of this world is meant to be absorbed and visualised without any distractions from Jon Snow’s beautiful hair, CGI dragons, or children screaming on walls. Don’t get me wrong, I love those distractions, but there is nothing quite like the charm of a good fantasy book, even if you already know the plot. And if Martin surprises us with some different plot choices, all the better – the fans who weren’t happy with the series finale would definitely appreciate it.
George R.R. Martin’s The Winds of Winter will probably be published at some point in the future. Until then, dive into the Game of Thrones vs A Song of Ice and Fire debate by watching the video below: