Game of Thrones, the iconic HBO series, has been over for a while, but George R.R. Martin’s book series that started it all still feels like it’ll never be completed. A Song of Ice and Fire should theoretically continue one day soon with Winds of Winter … if Martin ever finishes writing it.
The Winds of Winter will be the sixth installment in Martin’s series, and there’s still no official release date. The book is long overdue, but thankfully, there’s enough information — including where the HBO series left us and what it could mean for the final two books — to keep readers occupied until it’s finally released, from some major spoilers revealed by actor Isaac Hempstead Wright in late May 2019 to Martin's writing updates through the Covid-19 pandemic that finally got Winds of Winter back on track.
Here’s everything we know about Winds of Winter and GRRM’s plans for the ending to the A Song of Ice and Fire saga, including the expected release date, plot, spoilers, currently available chapters, and all the latest news.
What does The Winds of Winter cover look like?
We’ve known since 2016 what The Winds of Winter cover will look like. Confirmed by Martin, the cover (included above) will be black and feature the Horn of Winter, the legendary instrument that is apparently able to bring down the Wall and allow the White Walkers to travel south.
If the Horn of Winter does factor into the story, then this will be a major point of diversion between the books and the show, which didn’t include the magical artifact at all. It’s unclear if Martin will still turn one of Daenerys’ dragons into an ice dragon, but with the Horn of Winter in the mix, it’s possible that he won’t.
When is The Winds of Winter release date? Is it in 2021?
The Winds of Winter has been delayed so many times now, that it's hard to predict when the long-awaited novel will actually be released. However, there is the chance that The Winds of Winter could come out sometime in 2022.
If true, that means there will have been an 11-year gap between The Winds of Winter and its predecessor, A Dance With Dragons, which was released in 2011.
In a February 2021 blog post, Martin offers fans an exciting Winds of Winter update, writing that he wrote "hundreds and hundreds of pages" of the novel in 2020 and that it was the "best year" he's had on the book since he began writing it.
Martin notes in the same post that he still has "hundreds of more pages to write to bring the novel to a satisfactory conclusion," before adding that he hopes "that’s what 2021 is for."
Martin holds off on making any hard predictions about The Winds of Winter's release date, writing only that he is "hopeful" about its future. While vague it does signal that Martin is making more consistent progress on the novel than he ever has before. Assuming he continues on his current pace — an admittedly large assumption — then there's the real chance he could finish The Winds of Winter this year.
Notably, Martin did also write back in June 2020 that he hoped Winds of Winter would be done by the time the 2021 CoNZealand came around (i.e. end of summer 2021), though, there's no telling if Martin will be able to meet that deadline.
What is the Winds of Winter page count?
While the official page count for The Winds of Winter is still unclear, it is shaping up to be a staggeringly long novel.
“I expect these last two books of mine will fill 3000 manuscript pages between them before I’m done,” Martin wrote on his blog, Not a Blog, back in May 2019 shortly after the Game of Thrones finale aired, “and if more pages and chapters and scenes are needed, I’ll add them.” The only thing we really know, then, is that this book should be at least 1,500 pages long.
Which Characters will be in The Winds of Winter?
To date, Martin has released nine chapters of The Winds of Winter for the public to read, likely as a way to ease frustration from readers about the book’s very delayed release date. A majority of the chapters exist on the World of Ice and Fire app, but you may also have to do some Googling to find some of these excerpts.
Based on what Martin has released, the following points of view will be explored: Sansa Stark (who is still going by “Alayne” in the books), Arya Stark, Arianne Martell (who was cut out entirely from the TV show), Aeron Greyjoy (Euron Greyjoy’s brother who briefly appeared on the show but has never been developed), Victarion Greyjoy (another of Euron’s brothers who was cut out of the show), Theon Greyjoy, Tyrion Lannister, and Barristan Selmy (who was killed off on the show but is still kickin’ around in the books).
Throughout 2020, Martin continued to tease a number of the characters appearing in The Winds of Winter. In June 2020, Martin announced that he had been "visiting" with Cersei, Asha, Tyrion, Ser Barristan, Areo Hotah, and Arya. The following month he revealed that he had completed three chapters of the novel in one week, and the month after that, he said that he had been spending time with Melisandre, Samwell Tarly, Victarion, Tyrion, and Arya.
In other words, The Winds of Winter is going to be a true ensemble novel, though, that won't come as a surprise to Martin's longtime fans.
Did a Game of Thrones actor really spoil how the books end?
Speaking with Making Game of Thrones, actor Isaac Hempstead Wright, who played Bran Stark on Game of Thrones, implied that Bran would also become king in Winds of Winter or the planned final book A Dream of Spring. Per Hempstead Wright, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss confirmed via GRRM two major Bran-centric plot points that would happen on the show and in the books:
“[Creators] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] told me there were two things [author] George R.R. Martin had planned for Bran, and that was the Hodor revelation, and that he would be king. So that’s pretty special to be directly involved in something that is part of George’s vision. It was a really nice way to wrap it up.”
Just because Hempstead Wright has implied that Bran will become king because GRRM once decreed it so doesn’t mean that plans for Bran’s literary future won't change. With no confirmation or comment from GRRM about whether Bran will become king in the books too, this is just one more loose end readers will be clamoring to have tied up.
Is there any other overlap between The Winds of Winter and Game of Thrones?
Martin reportedly allowed Game of Thrones series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to alter the story to change the fate of certain characters, so that doesn’t mean Martin’s written version will follow what Benioff and Weiss chose to do with various characters.
We know that A Dance With Dragons ended where Game of Thrones Season 5 ended: the death of Jon Snow. Additionally, The Winds of Winter is not only the title of the sixth book, but it’s also the title of the Season 6 finale. That’s the episode where Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor with wildfire, killing Margaery and Loras Tyrell, as well as most of the nobility in King’s Landing. There’s been no confirmation from Martin yet, but The Winds of Winter will at least have to deal with Jon Snow’s death and resurrection, along with Cersei’s wildfire stunt.
It’s unclear how closely the plot of Seasons 7 and 8 of the show will resemble what happens in The Winds of Winter. Martin has previously teased that he had always had three shocking reveals planned out for the book series, including Shireen Baratheon’s death and the origin story behind Hodor (“Hold the Door"). The last probably involves Jon Snow killing Daenerys towards the very end.
Shortly after the Game of Thrones finale aired, Martin did tease that the ending in the books would be both similar and different to the show's conclusion. The author noted that, due to the show's exclusion of certain characters from the books, the final two novels will also give readers the chance to find out "what happened to Jeyne Poole, Lady Stoneheart, Penny and her pig, Skahaz Shavepate, Arianne Martell, Darkstar, Victarion Greyjoy, Ser Garlan the Gallant, Aegon VI, and a myriad of other characters both great and small that viewers of the show never had the chance to meet."
Noting the number of times he'd been asked if the ending in the books will be the same as that of the Game of Thrones finale, Martin wrote, "Well... yes. And no. And yes. And no. And yes. And no. And yes."
So it's highly possible that Martin's Winds of Winter will deviate quite far from the show. Does that mean Martin will have Arya kill the Night King? Or have Drogon fly away with Daenerys’ body? Or have everyone who survived the final battle against the Night King also survive in the book? Unfortunately, that all remains to be seen for the time being.
What else do we know about The Winds of Winter plot?
Other than these aforementioned plot points from the show, you can be confident that the books will continue to do their own thing. Apparently, a controversial Sansa POV chapter will be included, so brace yourself for possibly unexpected developments with the eldest Stark daughter.
You can also expect to see more of Arianne Martell and Dorne (a character and kingdom that have been mostly excluded from the TV series but which Martin clearly loves). Certain memorable sequences from the show, Dany’s Battle at Meereen, which took up one-fourth of one episode in Season 6 but occupies several Winds of Winter chapters, will also get more detail in the upcoming book.
Finally, we know based on comments from Martin that characters who are dead on the show will not be dead in the books. As he revealed in 2017:
“Winds of Winter will be different in some ways, but will parallel the show in others. At this point, there are probably a dozen characters who are dead on the show but alive in the books, so it would be impossible for the two to remain the same.”
This could mean that pivotal characters like Mance Rayder, Stannis Baratheon, or even Catelyn Stark (who currently exists as Lady Stoneheart in the books but hasn’t been resurrected on the show) will potentially still be featured prominently in The Winds of Winter.
Does George R. R. Martin have any other books planned in the series?
It’s been known for some time that A Song of Ice and Fire will be comprised of seven novels. With The Winds of Winter set to be the sixth in the series, fans can expect the seventh, currently titled A Dream of Spring, to follow.
This book will most likely work at the speed of Game of Thrones Season 8 in terms of wrapping up the story and hitting big beats fairly quickly. The Game of Thrones series finale hinted at the changing seasons as Bran was crowned king, the Seven Kingdoms became Six Kingdoms with Sansa taking over control of the North, Jon returning to the Wall, Arya sailing west of Westeros, and the citizens recovering from war. The title A Dream of Spring hints that a similar change of seasons for the story's characters could happen, too.
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