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A Brief Timeline of George R.R. Martin Focusing on ‘The Winds of Winter’

We’ve come a long way since Martin predicted the book would drop in 2014

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are two types of A Song of Ice and Fire fans: Those who’ve accepted that the final two books will never come, and the well-meaning, gullible fools who cling to perpetually fading hope that George R.R. Martin will bless them with an ending. Since Martin’s A Dance With Dragons came out in 2011 and ended with a shocking cliffhanger, we’ve completed seven seasons of HBO’s on-screen adaptation Game of Thrones—said cliffhanger was summarily resolved—and the show will culminate in 2019 after six more episodes.

Meanwhile, Martin has missed deadline after deadline for The Winds of Winter, the planned sixth book in the series, while simultaneously adding more projects to his slate—mainly TV-related ventures—and releasing other written work. (Plus, of course, plenty of updates to his personal blog with a display that looks like it came straight from Windows 95.) To think that The Winds of Winter was once expected to drop in 2014. Yes, really!

While Martin’s literary legacy is sacrosanct—he‘s created a vibrant fictional world that spans twice the length of recorded human history, and A Song of Ice and Fire fans’ insatiable desire for him to finish the series says as much about its brilliance as his propensity to procrastinate—the constant delays are aggravating. So in honor of Martin’s epic procrastinating, here’s a timeline of The Winds of Winter’s many postponements, and other assorted non–Winds of Winter ventures.

June 2010: The First Chapters Are Done!

Martin announces on his blog that he’s scrapping a couple of point-of-view chapters of Arianne Martell from A Dance With Dragons and throwing them into The Winds of Winter, adding that he had four chapters already finished: the two for Arianne, one for Arya, and one for Sansa.

One of the top comments on Martin’s post, from the user “Madbard,” jokes: “Dude, it’s been years. Do you really expect us to remember what ‘Dornish’ means?” The user was complaining about a six-year gap between A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, which hadn’t yet been released. Oh, sweet Madbard, six years would’ve been considered mercy.

July 2011: “I’ve Repeatedly Been Guilty of an Excess of Optimism”

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly published in July, Martin says that he’d get back to writing The Winds of Winter at the start of 2012 once the publicity cycle for A Dance With Dragons winds down. Martin declines to give a firm timeline on when fans should expect to see the sixth book. “There’s an element of fans who don’t seem to realize I’m making estimates,” he says, while admitting he does tend to be a bit optimistic on his deadlines.

Keep that last part in mind.

October 2012: Martin Admits He Sucks at Making Predictions

Martin has an interview with Adria’s News, which, to the best of my knowledge, is a Spanish blog. (The interview itself is in English, however. The writer jokes about having a Dornish accent, nice!) Martin tells the interviewer that he’s about 400 pages through The Winds of Winter, and he expects the book to be finished in 2014.

“The sixth volume won’t be released in 2012 or in 2013,” Martin confirms. “I really look forward to publishing it in 2014, but I am really bad for predictions.” Don’t worry, George, there are other outlets that can do that for you!

June 2014: FiveThirtyEight Makes a Bold Prediction

FiveThirtyEight’s Walt Hickey brought Winds of Winter theorizing to another level, taking certain Reddit fans’ “Martinology”—using Martin’s previous writing speeds for the first five books, combined with the expected length of the sixth novel—and incorporating extraneous factors like the performances of the New York Jets and New York Giants (teams Martin follows studiously) and how that might affect his writing process. I’m not sure how much of FiveThirtyEight’s time and resources were spent on MartinWatch 2014, but it was worth the investment.

In the end, Hickey’s formula comes up with three likely completion dates: April 2014 if Martin was writing really fast (he wasn’t, and that date had already passed); November 2016 if he was following a Dance of Dragons–esque writing pace; and April 2018 if he really decided to stretch things out. About that. (Unfortunately, FiveThirtyEight’s predictive Martin model going bust was an omen for crappier predictions to come.)

January 2015: “Yeah … It’s Not Coming This Year, Sorry Everyone” — HarperCollins, Basically

HarperCollins’ Jane Johnson told The Guardian that fans shouldn’t expect the book to come out in 2015, citing the growing complexity of Martin’s world. “I have no information on likely delivery,” Johnson says. “These are increasingly complex books and require immense amounts of concentration to write. Fans really ought to appreciate that the length of these monsters is equivalent to two or three novels by other writers.”

Rebuttal: J.K. Rowling.

March 2015: Hope Springs Eternal

Martin announces on his blog that he won’t attend the World Fantasy Convention or San Diego Comic-Con—sorry, nerds!

The good news is Martin plans to use this time to wrap up the rest of The Winds of Winter. Martin, who four years before confessed he can get carried away when he’s feeling hopeful, admits that he’d totally change his mind on Comic-Con if he gets The Winds of Winter completed beforehand. Naturally, this gave wind to very optimistic posts from entertainment outlets implying that The Winds of Winter could be finished by the end of 2015.

In the same month, he tells Access: “I still have a lot of pages to write, but I also have a lot of pages that are already written.” Indeed.

April 2015: All Right, Spring 2016 Is the New Goal!

Martin tells Entertainment Weekly that he really wants to get the book out by spring 2016, which would coincide with the sixth season of Game of Thrones. As the first Thrones season that really goes beyond the books—Season 5 ended with A Dance With Dragons’ Jon Snow cliffhanger—if Martin did not meet this date, the show would officially surpass its source material’s narrative. Martin was, you guessed it, pretty optimistic.

“I wish it was out now,” he said. “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about how quickly I can finish. But I canceled two convention appearances, I’m turning down a lot more interviews—anything I can do to clear my decks and get this done.”

I’m just going to let Ramsay Bolton take it from here.

January 2016: “Look, I Have Always Had Problems With Deadlines” — George R.R. Martin

“You wanted an update,” Martin writes on his blog. “Here’s the update. You won’t like it.” Martin concedes that The Winds of Winter is not finished, and that by the time Thrones’ sixth season airs in April, it still won’t be completed. “I am not going to set another deadline for myself to trip over,” he adds. “The deadlines just stress me out.”

I am not one to deride the stressful nature of hitting a deadline. As any writer will tell you, nobody likes deadlines, but you’re still expected to meet them more often than not—lest you feel the terrifying wrath of an editor. (Just picture the Night King snooping on a Google Doc. It’s the same vibe.) Anyway, Martin is now entering uncharted territory: a writing process free of any deadlines, even if the fans are still pestering him for updates. Hopefully, that means he can narrow his focus on the writing and—

January 2016: “I Hate Football”

The following day, Martin, ever the blog boy, laments the terrible play of both the Jets and the Giants to start the new year. The Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills, which meant they didn’t qualify for the playoffs. Martin’s Jets fandom was kind of perfect that year, however, considering Martin’s beard is rivaled only by the scruffy chin of then–Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.

“I want the Pats to lose, of course,” he said, which is a good take. “Elsewise I don’t much care.” Martin got his wish: The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl after beating New England in the AFC championship. But, yeah, he’s definitely focusing all of his attention on The Winds of Winter.

June 2016: George R.R. Martin Wants to Know How Stephen King Writes So Fast

The headlines write themselves.

January 2017: OK, for Real This Time, 2017 Is the Year

A fan asks Martin on his blog for a Winds of Winter update, and while Martin’s a bit peeved to be asked about it again, he offers a glimmer of hope: “I think it will be out this year. (But hey, I thought the same thing last year).”

To be honest, my naive ass bought this a year ago. By now, Thrones had already surpassed the novels, and if that was something in the back of Martin’s mind in earlier writing years, not having to compete with the show could be a blessing in disguise. He has no imposed deadlines; he doesn’t have to worry about the show. Just hole up in New Mexico for a bit and we’re golden!

May 2017: Syfy Adapting Nightflyers for TV

Syfy announces that Martin’s 1980 novella Nightflyers is being adapted into a television series, and Martin will serve as an executive producer. While the actual responsibilities of an executive producer are all over the place—sometimes execs are actually involved in the process, sometimes they’re just token credits, like those for the original Solo: A Star Wars Story directors—it’s hard to imagine Martin having a passive role in any adaptation of one of his books. (He wrote a few of Thrones’ scripts, including the Purple Wedding episode.)

Also, god dammit.

July 2017: ???????

Another month, another cryptic Martin blog about his writing progress. Is The Winds of Winter coming out by 2018? Maybe! Or maybe he’s going to publish the first of two volumes on the history of House Targaryen—interesting supplemental text, but also not the penultimate installment of the most popular contemporary fantasy series.

“I am still working on [The Winds of Winter], I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that’s all I care to say. … I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018.”

[Inhuman wailing]

April 2018: Yeah, It’s the Targaryen Book

Martin confirms that the first volume of his Targaryen tome, Fire and Blood, is coming before The Winds of Winter and will be published in November 2018. Martin has obviously anticipated more reader backlash—because, you know, The Winds of Winter isn’t finished years after he was optimistic he was getting very close—so he writes in the comments about all the famous authors who were never able to finish some of their books, for, uh, “the sake of argument.” “Many many people invest their time into works without endings. F. Scott Fitzgerald never finished The Last Tycoon, Charles Dickens never finished Edwin Drood, Mervyn Peake never finished Titus Alone, yet those works are still read.”

We live in hell.

June 2018: Game of Thrones Prequel Ordered to Pilot by HBO; Martin Promises He’s Still Writing

HBO orders a pilot for the first—of what could be as many as five—Thrones spinoff, and this one will take place 10,000 years in the past and focus on the Age of Heroes. While Martin cowrote the pilot with Jane Goldman—who’s worked on Kick-Ass, a couple of X-Men films, and the Kingsman franchise—not to worry, it’s Goldman who will serve as the showrunner.

Martin assures fans on his friggin’ blog that he’s still plugging away at Winds. “Work on Winds of Winter continues, and remains my top priority,” he writes. “It is ridiculous to think otherwise.” Is it? I think this painful exercise spanning eight years proves it is ridiculous to think The Winds of Winter is coming in the near future—if at all.

I do not need FiveThirtyEight stats to hold my doubts about Martin’s ability to churn out this book. Mark this down: If The Winds of Winter comes out before the final season of Thrones, I will eat my copy of A Storm of Swords. Even at the risk of my health, George, I’d love to be proved wrong.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.