Why Game Of Thrones Will Have A 'Very Different' Ending In The Books

Thanks to the upcoming premiere of "House of the Dragon," George R.R. Martin is back in the press, giving us weekly reminders that yes, he is still hard at work writing the final two installments of "A Song of Fire and Ice." Ad die-hard fans already know, the first book came out in 1996, and the fifth in 2011, so 2022 marks the 11th year of waiting for "The Winds of Winter" to arrive. If you're hoping for an estimate on when book six might be ready, then you must be new here: Martin has no intention of predicting when he'll finish the books. But every now and then, he does offer a morsel of new information to desperately cling to as we await the next tome. This time around, Martin is once again providing an answer to the much-asked question: will the novels have the same ending as the TV series?

This isn't the first time Martin has answered this particular query. Back in 2019, before the "Game of Thrones" finale even aired, he shared, "I don't think [showrunners] Dan [Weiss] and David [Benioff]'s ending is going to be that different from my ending because of the conversations we did have."

But that was before "Game of Thrones" came to its controversial close. The finale was met with a massive outcry from fans who have pretty much spent the past few years debating whether the ending ruined the entire show and, in some extreme cases, petitioning for HBO to "redo" the season. In the wake of all that, Martin's answer to this question was even more urgent — would the books provide the do-over that fans so desperately wanted? Or would it be a repeat of everything that went wrong? The answer is, unsurprisingly, complicated.

A tale of two endings

In the beginning, the plan was always for George R.R. Martin to finish the books before "Game of Thrones" came to a close. But that's easier said than done. In the end, only one new novel was released throughout the series' run on HBO. Writing "The Winds of Winter" took much longer than expected and eventually, HBO's adaptation outpaced the books. To compensate, Martin had many long conversations with showrunners Weiss and Benioff, where he shared the endings he had planned for each of the major characters in the story. But that ending was hashed out nearly a decade ago. Nine years later, Martin has made more progress on the sixth book, and along the way realized that the ending won't go exactly as he originally planned.

In short? After years of working on the novel, his answer to the question has changed. He recently told the New York Times, "My ending will be very different."

While some of the events in "The Winds of Winter" will occur similarly to the final seasons of "Thrones," Martin insinuated that the ending he originally had planned (the one he shared with Weiss and Benioff) has changed significantly. And because of that, "A Song of Fire And Ice" won't necessarily match up the way he expected it to.

Tending a winter garden

In a blog post from July 2022, Martin explained more in-depth, comparing his writing process to tending a garden:

"Another question that I get a lot, especially since the end of 'Game of Thrones' on HBO, is whether 'A Song of Ice & Fire' will end the same way. An architect would be able to give a short, concise, simple answer to that, but I am much more of a gardener. My stories grow and evolve and change as I write them. I generally know where I am going, sure ... the final destinations, the big set pieces, they have been in my head for years ... for decades, in the case of 'A Song of Ice & Fire.' There are lots of devils in the details, though, and sometimes the ground changes under my feet as the words pour forth."

He added that while writing, he's noticed the story veering "further and further away from the television series." He conceded that "some of the things you saw on HBO in 'Game of Thrones' you will also see in 'The Winds of Winter' (though maybe not in quite the same ways) ... but much of the rest will be quite different."

The idea of the book diverging from the show shouldn't be too hard for book readers to grasp; it's pretty much what was happening the entire time. Even when the books were providing a clear roadmap, "Game of Thrones" made a habit of diverging from Martin's novels: like sending Sansa back to the Winterfell or killing Ser Barristan Selmy in Meereen.

Wherefore art thou, catharsis?

Thanks to the butterfly effect, making small changes often results in larger ones down the line. In the case of GOT, sometimes there were entire characters who never made it onto the screen at all, but played roles that other characters could fill. And then there are those who died off in the show, while they still live in the books. What will become of characters like Young Griff, Jeyne Poole, and Lady Stoneheart? Those aren't questions that the show had to answer, which inherently makes the book ending different.

For years, fans have speculated that the show cutting those characters out must mean they were destined to die anyway. At the very least, it seemed to hint that they would have no significant impact on the novel's story — how else would they be so easily removed? But that's only true if Martin is working towards the same endgame as Weiss and Benioff which, as he hints, might not be true anymore. 

In the same post, Martin shared that when it comes to the deaths we saw in "Game of Thrones," nothing is set in stone.

"Not all of the characters who survived until the end of 'Game of Thrones' will survive until the end of 'A Song of Ice & Fire,' and not all of the characters who died on 'Game of Thrones' will die in 'A Song of Ice & Fire.' (Some will, sure. Of course. Maybe most. But definitely not all) ((Of course, I could change my mind again next week, with the next chapter I write. That's gardening))."

All of this to say that we are right back where we started: crossing out fingers and hoping this book actually arrives in our lifetime.