The Winds of Winter, explained: what we know about the next Game of Thrones book

game of thrones

Now that we face many long months without a new Game of Thrones episode, it’s time to return to that eternal question — when is the next book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series coming out?

Fans have been anxiously waiting for Martin to complete The Winds of Winter, which has the same title as the TV show’s season six finale, for nearly five years now. And so far, they’ve been waiting in vain — there’s currently no release date for the book, and Martin says there will only be a date once he’s finished writing it.

Indeed, Martin’s progress has been so slow that HBO has filmed and completed five full seasons of Game of Thrones since the last book came out in July 2011 — meaning that the show has zoomed past Martin in his own story and revealed several major twists that the author has been planning for years, if not decades. (However, since the showrunners have also made big changes to the source material, much of what we’re seeing may not be book spoilers at all.)

One small consolation to fans, though, is that what probably amounts to about one-seventh of The Winds of Winter has already been released, bit by bit. Martin has released the full text of seven chapters at this point, and read another four aloud at various events.

So here’s a guide to the latest information on the release date, why it’s taking Martin so long to finish writing, which chapters the author has already released (and where to find them), and how much of the book the show seems to have already “spoiled.”

1) How far along is George R.R. Martin in writing The Winds of Winter?

Martin’s status update of January 2016, posted at his LiveJournal. Sad!

Martin gave his last substantive update on his progress in January 2016, in the form of a lengthy, self-flagellating blog post revealing that he wasn’t done or even close to done.

In the post, Martin wrote that he had “a lot [of the book] written. Hundreds of pages. Dozens of chapters.” But he added that he was still “months away” from finishing, “and that’s if the writing goes well.”

Since then, more than five and a half months has passed without any further substantive updates, other than a clarification in May that the book is still not done. And so we wait.

2) Why has Martin taken so long to write The Winds of Winter?

Here’s Martin promoting his last Song of Ice and Fire book, A Dance With Dragons, back in 2012.

Martin himself is the only one who can say, and in his telling, his biggest problem is that he has been struggling with the writing itself.

“You can blame my travels or my blog posts or the distractions of other projects and [his movie theater] the Cocteau and whatever, maybe all that had an impact,” Martin wrote in that January 2016 blog post. “You can blame my age, and maybe that had an impact too.” But, he continued, “If truth be told, sometimes the writing goes well and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Indeed, to rebut accusations that he’s lost interest in the series, Martin wrote that he was desperate to get The Winds of Winter out before this spring, when the sixth season of the HBO series was to premiere, and set several deadlines to that effect. “Unfortunately, the writing did not go as fast or as well as I would have liked,” he continued. “As the suspicion grew that I would not make it after all, a gloom set in, and I found myself struggling even more. The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became.”

It’s worth noting that this slowness is nothing new for him. He finished the first three books in the series relatively quickly, but then took five years to write book four (A Feast for Crows) and nearly six years to write book five (A Dance With Dragons).

I think it’s also noteworthy that Martin’s writing style seemed to change around that time. The first three books were taut, fast-paced thrillers, but beginning with A Feast for Crows, the pace of the main story slowed down notably. Martin added a plethora of new point-of-view characters and subplots, and seemed to grow more interested in cerebral, complex explorations of themes like the difficulty of governance and the aftermath of war.

Some readers love this new style and others find it dull, but whatever’s the case, it may well be slowing down Martin’s writing, as he now seems less interested in simply getting from Point A of the plot to Point B efficiently, and more obsessed with perfecting (in his mind) the work that it’s now clear he’ll be remembered for.

3) But wait, aren’t there some chapters from The Winds of Winter floating around out there on the internet?

Indeed, there are! Martin has officially released the full text of seven completed chapters from the book. Plus, he’s read another four chapters aloud at conventions — and those chapter contents have been dutifully summarized and posted on the internet by fans who attended those events.

We don’t know what order these chapters will be in in the final book — and the book will begin with a prologue that Martin hasn’t yet released — but if you want to devour the full-text versions right now, here’s where to find them:

  1. Theon Greyjoy
  2. Arya Stark (“Mercy”)
  3. Sansa Stark (“Alayne”)
  4. Arianne Martell (first chapter)
  5. Arianne Martell (second chapter)
  6. Barristan Selmy: Released in the US paperback version of A Dance With Dragons
  7. Tyrion Lannister: Available for free in the World of Ice and Fire app on iTunes or Google Play

The other chapters that Martin has read aloud at events, but not officially released the full text for, are:

Since Martin’s longest book in the series so far contains 82 chapters, the fact that we’ve already seen 11 from Winds means that probably about a seventh of the book is already publicly available in some form.

4) Wow, I want to read all these! But it’s been years since I’ve read A Dance With Dragons. Can you remind me how things left off, in comparison with the show?

This is where the books left Jon Snow.

Sure — here’s where the major characters and storylines were at the conclusion of A Dance With Dragons:

Jon Snow has just been repeatedly stabbed by his own Night’s Watch brothers after vowing to march south with an army of wildlings to fight Ramsay Bolton, and his fate is unclear. Melisandre, Stannis’s wife Selyse, and his daughter Shireen are all alive and still at the Wall, never having ridden south with Stannis’s army.

Stannis Baratheon is preparing for battle against Roose and Ramsay Bolton near Bolton-held Winterfell. Theon Greyjoy just escaped the Boltons’ abuse alongside Ramsay’s bride — who isn’t Sansa but instead a Northern girl named Jeyne Poole being passed off as “Arya Stark.” These fugitives are now in Stannis’s camp alongside Theon’s sister, Asha Greyjoy. Also, several Northern lords ostensibly in the Boltons’ camp are plotting against them. One, Lord Wyman Manderly, has sent Davos Seaworth on a mission to go find the long-missing Rickon Stark and bring him out of hiding.

Bran Stark traveled north of the Wall to the cave of the Children of the Forest and the three-eyed crow, and was last seen exploring his magical powers — skinchanging into animals, speaking through trees, and seeing visions of the past. Hodor and Summer remain alive and well, as does Jojen Reed … or does he? The White Walkers themselves, meanwhile, have not been seen on the page since book three.

Sansa Stark remains safe — well, relatively — in the Vale with Littlefinger, but since there’s still a royal warrant out for her head, she’s posing as his bastard daughter “Alayne Stone.” Littlefinger has increasingly gained influence over the Vale, and is plotting to marry Sansa not to Ramsay Bolton but to “Harry the Heir,” a strapping young lad who would become Lord of the Vale should anything unfortunate befall the young and sickly Robert Arryn. Littlefinger has also suggested that he plans to restore Sansa to power in the North.

Arya Stark remains in assassin training with the Faceless Men of Braavos, having just carried out her first successful assassination for them.

Jaime Lannister has been estranged from his sister Cersei since discovering that she had had affairs with other men. After retaking Riverrun, he was unexpectedly reunited with Brienne of Tarth, who claimed to have finally found the long-missing Sansa Stark. But this is a lie — Brienne instead appears to be unwillingly leading Jaime into a trap set by Lady Stoneheart, the resurrected Catelyn Stark. Stoneheart is now leading the Brotherhood Without Banners and is hell-bent on revenge against the Lannisters and Freys for the Red Wedding, and she holds two of Brienne’s friends hostage. (Stoneheart has yet to appear on the TV show, and almost certainly will not, at this point.)

Cersei Lannister has just been subjected to her “walk of atonement” and is now sidelined from power in King’s Landing and awaiting trial by the Faith (though she has the undead Gregor Clegane to protect her). Margaery Tyrell is also awaiting trial in the capital, but the Tyrell army has occupied the city to try to ensure her acquittal. Her brother Loras (never arrested by the Faith) is said to have been badly burned in battle.

King Tommen is still on the throne, but he’s much younger and not at all an independent actor in the books. Cersei’s uncle Kevan Lannister had really been running the show in King’s Landing, but at the conclusion of the fifth book, he was murdered by Varys, who announced that he hoped to deliver the Iron Throne to…

Aegon Targaryen! Wait, who’s that? Well, if you’ll recall, back during the rebellion, Dany’s late older brother Rhaegar had two young children who were murdered by the Lannisters — or so we thought. Varys is now claiming that he, in fact, managed to spirit baby Aegon to safety and has had him raised and educated in secret, so he could be prepared to take over Westeros. Aegon is backed by a formidable group of mercenaries called the Golden Company, and even though he was supposed to travel east and ally with Daenerys, he instead decided to turn west and invade Westeros without her. There is much fan debate about whether Aegon truly is who he claims to be, and this storyline, which was cut completely from the show, looks to be a major part of The Winds of Winter.

In Dorne, Prince Doran Martell had a secret plan to ally with Daenerys Targaryen against the Lannisters, and sent his son Quentyn to propose marriage to her — but his plan went awry when Quentyn died in Meereen. So Doran and his daughter Arianne Martell (another character cut from the show) must now decide whether to ally with Aegon instead. Meanwhile, some of the Sand Snakes are on their way to King’s Landing alongside Cersei’s daughter Princess Myrcella (who is alive but had her face badly scarred in an assassination attempt).

Euron Greyjoy won the kingsmoot and was named king of the Iron Islands, and he has big ambitions to marry Daenerys and use her dragons to conquer Westeros. But first he and his ironborn are pillaging the Tyrells’ kingdom, the Reach — and they’re threatening to take over Oldtown, the city where Samwell Tarly has just arrived to begin his training as a maester. The Faceless Man Jaqen H’ghar has also infiltrated the maesters’ headquarters, for reasons unknown.

Daenerys Targaryen, after having flown away from Meereen on dragonback, is somewhere in the plains far away from the city. She has just been discovered by a group of Dothraki, but unlike on the TV show, this encounter takes place while she’s standing proudly beside her dragon, so she may not end up in their captivity.

Barristan Selmy is alive and well and trying his best to run the city of Meereen, which is besieged by the slave masters, in Dany’s absence. Meanwhile, Euron Greyjoy’s vicious but simple brother Victarion Greyjoy is sailing toward Meereen with the Iron Fleet, hoping to spoil Euron’s plans by claiming Dany for himself. He has in his possession a magical horn given to him by Euron that can supposedly control dragons.

As for Tyrion Lannister, he’s currently in the camp of the slave masters who are besieging Meereen, but he recently escaped bondage by making a deal with a mercenary company, the Second Sons. Tyrion’s companions at this point are Jorah Mormont (who does not have greyscale) and a female dwarf named Penny. Tyrion hasn’t actually managed to meet Dany yet, and he’s currently trying to convince the Second Sons to defect and fight with Dany’s forces during the upcoming Battle of Meereen.

5) How much of The Winds of Winter has the HBO series spoiled?

Hodor’s big twist was Martin’s idea. But he says it will be handled very differently in the books.

It’s difficult to say. We know that Martin has told showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in some detail about his plans for the major characters and the ultimate ending he had in mind for the series.

And indeed, Benioff and Weiss have confirmed that certain twists in recent seasons of the show — like Shireen Baratheon’s death by burning and Hodor’s origin story — came directly from Martin. Jon Snow’s resurrection and true parentage are likely in this category too.

However, there are three caveats here. First, the context and specifics of how these twists happen in the book may be different. For instance, Martin reportedly said at a recent event that the big Hodor reveal will happen in a different way in the books.

Second, Martin may not have solid plans for many characters and storylines at this point. He does make up a lot as he goes along, and Benioff and Weiss have confirmed that when he told them about his future plans for the series, he left certain storylines “more open” than others. So for some characters, the showrunners could well be making things up for themselves, in the absence of a detailed plan from Martin. (Benioff and Weiss said in an interview with Deadline that they were really making things up from scratch this season “other than a few key things.”)

Finally, Benioff and Weiss have already made a great many changes to the plot of the novels. They’ve dropped some seemingly important subplots and characters (like Aegon Targaryen and Lady Stoneheart) entirely, and condensed others. So it’s possible that Martin has told Benioff and Weiss of his plans for some storylines, but that they’ve decided to take their own tale in a different direction.

Furthermore, nearly all of the chapters that have been released from The Winds of Winter are wildly different from anything we’ve seen on the show to date. The Battle of Meereen, for instance, was dispensed with in about 15 minutes on the TV show, but there are already five sample chapters of Winds devoted to it, with very different characters taking key roles. If all you care about is who wins the battle, well, the show probably spoiled that fact (not that the outcome was seriously in question here). But practically every detail of how it will play out in the books will likely be new.

So even though some of Martin’s biggest twists may have lost a bit of surprise by the time we finally see them on the page, I’m looking forward to reading them regardless — and hopefully we’ll have the chance to do so someday soon. Or ever.

Comments are closed.