You may or may not have heard about the new miniseries gearing up to premiere on HBO in April. If you're in any way familiar with the epic fantasy genre, you've doubtless been anticipating Game of Thrones since the project was announced back in 2007. It's based on the first book in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, which has won acclaim for its often brutal depiction of life in the land of Westeros (as well as Martin's penchant for unexpectedly killing off popular characters).
Even if you aren't a fan of the book, the miniseries' cast should pique your interest: Mark Addy, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage are among the leads, with former Boromir Sean Bean (Ned Stark) bringing further geek cred to the proceedings. The budget for the pilot alone is reported to be between $5 and $10 million, which puts GoT in Rome territory.
The first season covers the first book, with the second-third-fourth already published. Three more are planned, with the fifth due to be released Real Soon Now (more on that later). And while normally I wouldn't worry about an author knocking three more books out in the four or five years it would reasonably take to air four seasons of a television program, I have next to no confidence that we will ever see the conclusion of Martin's epic story on the small screen.
First, let's hear from Martin himself:
"I'm writing the series and I have a considerable head start over them," he said in a group interview Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "The fifth book is almost done. I hope to deliver that one soon, and then there will be two more after that. They have many seasons to catch up with me."
But it's not just one book per year. Martin says that by year three his books will take more than a season of TV episodes to finish. "If we get a renewal for a second season, that'll be Clash of Kings. Then if we get a third season, the next book is Storm of Swords. If you're familiar with the series, you may know that Storm of Swords is a monster. Storm of Swords was 500 pages longer in manuscript than Clash of Kings, which itself was 100 pages longer than Game of Thrones. They're going to have to divide Storm of Swords into two seasons, I would think. That's three more seasons right there." [...] "Then they'll have Feast for Crows and Dance with Dragons, which are two books that take place simultaneously, separated geographically rather than chronologically. They'll have to be recombined, and once you recombine them, you've got a monster that's even longer than Storm of Swords. You're talking another two seasons, maybe three seasons.
Math is hard, so let's sum up:
Game of Thrones = 1 season Clash of Kings = 1 season Storm of Swords = 2 seasons Feast for Crows/Dance with Dragons = 3 seasons
Seven seasons, in other words, to tell the story of the first five books? The fifth of which still hasn't been completed? Forgive me for some mild skepticism, but ha fucking ha.
HBO's most popular series to date, The Sopranos, ran for a mere six seasons. And even though it was one of the most financially and critically successful TV programs of all time, it still took eight years to air the thing from beginning to end. Martin would have us believe the network, in its infinite patience, will be willing to shell out for what will likely be at least ten years' worth of sprawling, expensive period piece. And as for the last books:
"By that time, hopefully, I should be finished with the sixth book and even the seventh book -- hopefully."
Martiiiin! You so crazy! See, the elephant (or "oliphaunt," we are discussing epic fantasy here) in the TCA press room everyone appears to have ignored is how long it's taking Martin to finish the damn thing. Game came out in 1996, Clash in '98, Storm in 2000, and Feast in...2005. We're entering our sixth year waiting for the next book, and Martin's fan base has found itself divided. The last official update (on Martin's Web site) is three years old, and some have actually expressed concern the 62-year old will "pull a Jordan" and pass away before finishing the series, à la the deceased Wheel of Time author.
And while I remember Arli$$ lasted an inexplicable seven seasons on HBO, there's a big difference between a 30-minute studio comedy and a cast-of-hundreds medieval production shooting on three continents (specifically, Game of Thrones will probably have fewer Jerry Jones cameos).
Even charitably allowing Martin another five years to finish the final two books means the series won't see completion until 2016, and if we assume -- given the arithmetic progression of season length he's already outlined -- four more seasons to cover those, that would put HBO and the audience on the hook until 2026, a year in which the only surviving programs on TV will probably be 60 Minutes (with Andy Rooney as the sole remaining contributor, no doubt) and Two and a Half Men, starring a hologram of Charlie Sheen projected from his villa in an as-yet undisclosed non-extradition treaty country (where he fled after his murder spree at the 2018 AVN Awards).
Since beginning the Song of Ice and Fire series and waiting ten years for two books, I've learned my lesson: no more trilogies or series until the last volume is published. I didn't read any of the Harry Potter books until Deathly Hallows hit the shelves, and were I so inclined to take a stab at the Wheel of Time (13 books and counting), I wouldn't start until 2012 when the (alleged) last volume is due to come out.
But by all means, watch Game of Thrones in April. It's chock full of sex, intrigue, beheadings and everything else that makes for great television. Just don't expect to ever find out what ultimately happens to Daenerys Targaryen or
Rand al'Thor Jon Snow.