The Transmedia Future of Game of Thrones

As a long-time fan of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I’m disappointed by the announcement that he doesn’t anticipate releasing The Winds of Winter this year.

However, as a transmedia creator, I find the potential in this announcement to be quite interesting.

Because it’s now almost assured that the HBO show will catch up to the published plot lines.

HBO and Martin now have a couple interesting choices to make.

Option One: HBO could try suspending production of Game of Thrones and give Martin time to write enough to catch up. This option relies on Martin being willing and able to produce the book on a deadline, though. And Martin has fairly firmly established that he writes at his own speed, and is resentful of pressure put on him to ‘write faster.’ So not only does HBO run the normal risk of losing momentum, they also run a more significant risk – they either don’t get what they need by the time they need it; or what they do get is unpolished. HBO doesn’t want people to forget Game of Thrones or lose interest; it’s in their interest to release a new season every year.

Option Two: Stretch out the seasons. Seasons 3 and 4 divided A Storm of Swords into two parts. Subsequent seasons could further divide up the books – taking three or four seasons to tell the stories of A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons. Or perhaps have a season based on some of the other Westerosi stories Martin has published. Of course, this option is not without it’s own risks. For one, money – as I sort of noted in my threepart reaction to Pirate Cinema, a single episode of Game of Thrones costs two to three times what a normal episode costs. HBO has deep pockets, but maybe not that deep. In addition, they have Jackson’s The Hobbit as a lesson – many fans were upset by the extraneous plots added into the movies, and resented that a very simple, short story was somehow made to cover three films.

Which brings us to….

Option Three: Continue the story in the show. 

Get an outline from Martin, and develop the story in the show. Cover the plotline of Winds of Winter in Season 7, whether or not the book has been published.

This option, of course, is not entirely without risk. The book fans will no doubt nerd rage. And while Martin, by all accounts, knows how he wants to end the series, he may not yet know precisely how to get there.

However, it presents a unique possibility when it comes to transmedia – to start a story in one form (book) and end it in another (film).

I suspect this may be Martin’s preferred solution, personally. Because, in all honesty, dude seems burned out. And I don’t blame him. There’s a lot of pressure on him – he’s not just a relatively well-known high fantasy author anymore, he’s a full-on mainstream celebrity. Everyone is watching and waiting for him to produce – criticizing him for not producing, and then criticizing what he does come out with (critical reception of A Dance With Dragons was… not kind). And that sort of pressure and criticism can kill the creative spark quite dead.

But moving media might be what he needs to revive that spark. Take away the pressure to put every word just in the right place for a million words, just write up an outline and hand it to the producers. Martin no longer has to worry about the details, he can focus on the broad strokes of the story.

I rather hope this is the direction the HBO/Martin partnership chooses to go – making Game of Thrones a transmedia pioneer. It’ll be sad to not get a new book to read… but instead of the excitement of seeing a story I know become translated to TV, now I get the excitement of not knowing what will happen next.