I’ve been writing a recurring feature1 on how much source material HBO’s “Game of Thrones” still has available to it. But after Sunday night’s season finale, it’s probably time to retire this series.2
From now on, HBO will be cruising off-book for most of the main characters.
Each of the books is made up of chapters told from the point of view of one character. I tracked each of these point-of-view chapters to see how far HBO has progressed into each character’s story arc.3 Until this season the show’s producers — while definitely creating character turns of their own — were by and large sticking to the books’ plot, meaning I could break down the book chapters into two categories: chapters that we had not yet seen on screen and chapters that we either saw or were implied to have taken place off-camera. The fifth season, however, swung wildly off-script. Now, there are basically four categories that a chapter could be in.
- Chapters that were seen on screen.
- Chapters that have not yet been used by HBO.
- Chapters from character arcs that have probably — but not necessarily — been cut from the show altogether.
- Chapters from arcs that HBO has already deviated from, but could still occur.
The first category is the easiest to tally up. For most of the main characters on the show, we’ve run out of material. We have seen the end of the published arcs for Cersei, Sansa, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon and Theon. Their final scenes in “A Dance With Dragons” have already happened on the show, as of the end of Sunday’s finale. We’ve got nothing left.
Then we have published chapters we haven’t seen on screen, mostly the stories of the Iron Islands from “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons.” Without going into too much detail, there are 10 chapters from assorted (non-Theon) Greyjoys yet to be filmed. Some casting calls for next year suggest that at least some of these chapters will soon be seen on HBO. We also have one more Bran chapter — the second-youngest Stark was absent this season — and Arya’s two chapters from “A Dance With Dragons.” So that’s 13 unfilmed, published chapters
Next, let’s pick out what has been published but not filmed, but also probably won’t be seen on the show. I’d argue that the Quentyn arc, the Jon Connington arc, the Barristan arc4 and the one Melisandre chapter in the series won’t find their way onto your local premium cable channel anytime soon.
And finally — and most interestingly — there are the chapters that have been written, ignored by HBO, but to which the network might return. You could argue that a lot of Brienne and Jaime’s chapters from the latter two books may find their way on screen in whole or in part.5 Between them, that’s 14 chapters worth of premium Riverlands content. We have the final Samwell Tarly chapter from “Feast” (the one where he’s in Oldtown), Davos’s four-chapter, Rickon-seeking arc from “A Dance With Dragons,” and two remaining Dornish chapters to draw from. That’s 21 chapters to potentially mine inspiration from, if not exactly film verbatim.
So the main point is this: Realistically, Arya is the only character for whom the readers can predict what comes next. The rest are either out of chapters or way off-book.
“Game of Thrones” is striking out on its own path. We know a couple of things that might happen to Arya, we can guess that we’ll catch up with the Greyjoys, and we can make a few inferences about what a few ancillary characters might get up to in the early part of the next season.
But as of right now, George R.R. Martin no longer has his hand on the till of the HBO show. Let’s just hope he has his eyes on the prize with “The Winds of Winter.”