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How George R.R. Martin's missed deadline will affect Game of Thrones

Author George R.R. Martin began 2016 with a controversial confession: he didn't make deadline. HBO's sixth season of Game of Thrones will air before Martin's sixth book, Winds of Winter, is finished, leaving fans to wonder who will reign over the story's legacy: a mighty cable network or a beloved novelist? To recap: Martin is the creator of A Song of Ice and Fire, an epic fantasy series that spans at three continents and seven kingdoms. There are dozens of main characters whose dynastic ambitions fuel a complex plot line of romance, revenge, and fear. There are dragons and knights, a multitude of ethnicities and religions—enough material to make Martin's world a way of life for his fans. When finished, seven books will comprise the series. Martin finished the fifth, A Dance with Dragons, in 2011, shortly after HBO aired its first season of Game of Thrones, named after Martin's first book.

Fast forward to 2016. The story that took Martin 20 years to tell, HBO regurgitated in less than five. When season six debuts in April 2016, HBO will overrun the books. Will that help or hurt the Game of Thrones franchise?

Hurt: HBO Needs Martin to Craft a Good Story

No offense to showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, but Game of Thrones needs Martin's imagination to maintain its quality of character, plot, and place. This show, perhaps more than any other television series, has remained extremely committed to Martin's pages, often using the book's dialogue verbatim. Critics say the show's weakest moments are when it veers away from Martin's text. With no more books to follow, new episodes could feel like cheap bar room covers of the "Song of Ice and Fire."

There is a silver lining: the show has braced for this scenario. "Luckily, we've been talking about this with George for a long time, ever since we saw this could happen, and we know where things are heading," Benioff told the Oxford Union. "We'll eventually, basically, meet up at pretty much the same place where George is going." That statement eventually, basically, pretty much takes us back to the bar.

Help: Martin Can Focus On His Writing

Martin's mea culpa hit us right in the feels. "I failed," he wrote on LiveJournal. "The days and weeks flew by faster than the pile of pages grew...a gloom set it, and I found myself struggling even more. The fewer the days, the greater the stress, and the slower the pace of my writing became." Shouldering full responsibility, he wrote, "There are no excuses. No one else is to blame...It's on me. I tried and I am still trying."

How can we be mad? Martin's last book was more than 1,000 pages. Can you imagine using your imagination to invent and jot down that much grammatically correct material for world consumption? The thought might make you want to leap from a sky cell. Perhaps missing the TV deadline will relieve some pressure. Based on Martin's previous rate of production, trying to keep pace with HBO was always an unrealistic quest. Though fans are certainly disappointed, droves of supporters responded to his note, expressing empathy and patience. "I cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the kind words and good wishes," Martin blogged. "I'll keep writing. Chapter at a time. Page at a time. Word at a time. That's all I know how to do."

Hurt: Readers Sentenced to Spoiler Purgatory

Faithful readers will find themselves in spoiler hell as HBO rolls out additional seasons of Game of Thrones. Until this point, the television series did an laudable job of adhering to the timeline of the books. Sure, there have been differences: omissions, killings, and plenty of made-for-TV-moments. But for readers, the small-screen has not yet spoiled any massive literary mysteries. That will change in 2016 when the show overtakes the books.

"I kind of wish that there were some things we didn't have to spoil, but we're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place," said showrunner David Benioff to the Oxford Union. "The show must go on...and that's what we're going to do." So unless you live in a dungeon, you are going to hear about Game of Thrones. Delete your social media accounts, cancel cable, do what you will, but the day will come when you will find yourself in an innocuous waiting room, and that waiting room will have innocuous magazines on its tables, and—BAM!—you'll see a character on the cover of one of those magazines and you'll just know. And once you know, there's no unknowing. Winter is coming, readers. Winter is coming.

Help: Readers and Viewers Unite!

If you're a book reader, you have a choice to make. One choice is that you can exist in spoiler purgatory while waiting for Martin to finish A Song of Ice and Fire. Keep in mind, he's been at this for for 25 years with five books down and two to go. The other choice: you can just watch Game of Thrones on TV with the rest of the world. If it makes you feel better, Martin gave you permission to tune in. "It does not need to be one or the other," he wrote on LiveJournal. "You might prefer one over the other, but you can still enjoy the hell out of both."

Keep in mind, the show and the books are destined to diverge, which will preserve some mystery for readers. Is a spoiler still a spoiler if the book is not yet written? Does Martin know for certain how his odyssey will end, or will the writing process organically lead him in new directions? We once worried that HBO was wagging the dog, but now there is no dog (unless the Hound is still alive, as some readers believe). Regardless, the quibbling between bookworms and couch potatoes can finally simmer down. We're all in this together.

Hurt: The Worst-Case Scenario

If there's one thing these tales have taught us, it's that there is always another plot twist we have yet to consider. This is our absolute worst-case scenario: sweet George Raymond Richard Martin passes from this world without finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. Don't hate us for saying it out loud. You've considered it too.

But we're not through yet, because this scenario is dark and full of terrors. The other conceivable scenario: HBO cancels Game of Thrones prematurely, before giving the saga a happy or otherwise ending. Don't say that's not possible. Remember Deadwood? So that's it. Everyone is sad and everyone is mad. Game of Thrones becomes some sort of ceaseless "Other."

Help: Best-Case Scenario

Because we believe in the power of positive thinking, here's our best case scenario: HBO continues to make history with Game of Thrones. The television series flies blind but soars high, delighting the masses with its enterprising script and unparalleled acting. The program comes to an end, and we feel peaceful. Martin feels peaceful too. Freed from the pressure of TV land, his pen catches fire. He finishes his series with an ingenious plotline all his own. Longtime and new readers revel in the magic.

A long summer follows, as generation after generation delights in the onscreen and off-screen portrayals of the Seven Kingdoms. We all live happily ever after.