Note: The following article does not contain any spoilers for Season 8.
Winter is finally here. This is the beginning of the end.
Years of waiting came to an end of sorts for Game of Thrones fans with the the first episode of the eighth season on Monday when the chessboard that is Westeros came back to life for millions of viewers across the world.
Those years were particularly long for those, who like me, picked up the books years before the series developed the mammoth fan base that it has today. More so, because the show moved past A Song of Ice and Fire, the incomplete fantasy series started by George R.R. Martin in 1996 that it is based on.
No one likes people who say they read the books before watching the series and to feel lorded over. But try putting yourself in the shoes of a kid who started reading the series when they were 12, only to get to know the end of the story as a 29-year-old.
So if you’re under the impression that the 20-month hiatus of the TV show was excruciating, think again.
That being said, it has been a difficult journey over the years.
For instance, when people initially begin to talk about something you’ve loved for a very long time that has suddenly popped into the limelight, there’s a natural reaction to clutch on to it a little harder – before learning to accept that the object or art in question belongs to the world.
But I can’t deny that it wasn’t a lot of fun to know what lay in store and mess with TV-only fans while the first few seasons were on. I couldn’t wait to watch my friend’s reactions to Ned Stark’s execution, the Red Wedding, Joffrey’s poisoning, the Red Viper’s defeat and countless other jaw dropping plot twists.
It was even fun to dangle a spoiler or two back then.
Season 6 onwards, we’ve all been put on equal footing.
Martin built a complex world, full of politics, gore, incest, magic and dragons – where the story moved at such a fast pace that the reader was hooked from the moment the first head was lopped.
The first book, A Game of Thrones, my sister and me had excitedly agreed in the mid-2000’s, was right up at the top in the fantasy genre with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.
All the same, Martin made it easy for his readers to feel alienated.
After years of promising a book, he published A Dance With Dragons, the fifth instalment of what was meant to be a seven-book series in 2011. The book didn’t sit that well with readers – the momentum of the story had sputtered. Even 2005’s A Feast for Crows didn’t grip readers the way the first three books had.
The years of empty promises were wearing readers down.
Martin kept promising his fans that a book was in the works, much as in the music world, Tool had been promising an album for a decade. But ultimately, Season 6 premiered even though Martin had planned to have his sixth book, The Winds of Winter, on bookshelves by then.
In a blog in early 2016, Martin, in a rare self-flagellating mood, wrote:
“The book is not done, not delivered. No words can change that. I tried, I promise you. I failed. I blew the Halloween deadline, and I’ve now blown the end of the year deadline. And that almost certainly means that no, THE WINDS OF WINTER will not be published before the sixth season of GAME OF THRONES premieres in April.”
Martin had also once said: “I’m still getting e-mails from assholes who call me lazy for not finishing the book sooner. They say, ‘You better not pull a Jordan’.” Jordan died in 2007, before his Wheel of Time series was finished. That task of ending the 14-book series then went to Brandon Sanderson and Jordan’s wife Harriet McDougal.
“It’ll be done when it’s done,” Martin again said on the red carpet for the show’s Season 8 premiere. Then he added: “It’s been going very well lately, so knock wood.”
Sure, let’s knock wood.
But as much as you want to hate him, he is the mind behind the world of Westeros.
There’s no doubt that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done an exceptional job in presenting the fantasy world that Martin sculpted from his imagination. Though Martin worked in television earlier, even he probably didn’t have any idea that his series would become one of the biggest blockbusters on television the world had ever seen. Martin is a co-executive producer.
The two reigned in the unwieldy beast, sharpening the show’s focus on its main characters – even though one major complaint from fans has been directed at how characters traverse distances in record time.
Still, it’s no mean feat controlling such a large set with so many moving parts, exotic locales and actors, and Benioff and Weiss did have to cut up a fair bit of the original books to streamline it. Many characters and narratives were changed to make the storyline more cohesive – even Martin admitted hat “one of the biggest ones would probably be when they made the decision not to bring Catelyn Stark back as Lady Stoneheart”.
Over the seasons, the arc has also been moving away from some of the extreme cruelty we initially saw, to quiet moments of redemption, long-awaited reunions and strong alliances.
But Game of Thrones, as a book or a series, has never quite given us reason to have much hope that a certain character would survive the long, dark night: Ned Stark losing his head, the Red Wedding, the breaking of Theon Greyjoy and Sansa’s wedding night made for some of television’s most squeamish moments.
The new season, the long-awaited final, is bound to see main characters meet gruesome fates, and perhaps even near-miraculous saves like Benjen Stark saving Jon Snow from the Night King’s army of the dead last season.
And finally, fans can rest easy after spending years of theorising what the end brings with it.
Then again, the very backbone of fantasy is this question: who will triumph – good or evil?
Will the White Walkers finally be defeated? Who will reign at the end?
The next few weeks hold those answers.
Featured image credit: Game of Thrones season 8 trailer screen grab/HBO