Will George R. R. Martin Change the Ending of Thrones?
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There is arguably no universe that has been more thoroughly dissected than George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. It exists in a unique space, an unfinished state that may diverge in several meaningful ways from its screen adaptation. Though Martin has informed the Thrones showrunners about the main elements that comprise the ending, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Martin could change how he chooses to write it. So would he do something that drastic?
There are a few motivations that Martin could have for breaking from what, at that point, would be established canon. Though it seems unlikely given the almost universal acclaim the show has received, the ending could be butchered so badly that the book ending is changed based on the reception the series finale receives. While we have proof of concept that the showrunners can put together exemplary, cohesive episodes without the safety net of source material (Hardhome, the Loot Train Attack, and the attack on Casterly Rock), there have been some criticized slip-ups (supersonic carrier ravens and everything about Dorne). Could they exacerbate to the point that the ending takes on a characteristic that spells doom in fantasy – unbelievability?
A somewhat lighter possibility is that Martin might want to keep the suspense and intrigue alive. He has stated that he wants to conclude the series with two more books, and if he continued at his current pace after releasing the sixth installment next year, he would be on pace to release the final book in 2024. By that time, Thrones prequel series will have been released, and the main series will be a distant memory. If it doesn't promise anything new, would there be enough of a draw?
But a journey this long isn't just about the ending. How we get there matters too. The written canon includes several characters that didn't make it to screen out of necessity and story arcs that were deliberately changed since they didn't ultimately matter in the endgame (oh hey, Quentyn Martell). In that sense, it would seem that there is plenty of new material to make the books worth a read. The counter, however, is that we know that all of these non-show characters would likely be killed off or have minor roles to play in the battle for the iron throne. The Dornish plot to crown Myrcella Baratheon, an incredible piece of writing that's still hasn't been entirely resolved, is far less interesting if the show did just fine killing her off several seasons ago.
And there's the matter of practicality – is it even possible for him to manufacture a different ending? Given the fact that Martin's long delay between the A Dance of Dragons in 2011 and the yet-to-be-released sixth book The Winds of Winter is primarily because (by his own admission) he was having trouble reining in all his increasingly diverging plotlines, changing the ending would betray the groundwork Martin has so intricately laid. While there's enough material there to create ambiguity – an ambiguity considerable enough that no one has definitively been able to put together how the ending will play out – Martin probably wouldn't want to throw out a framework he had spent years perfecting.