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We’re Going To Learn How The ‘Game Of Thrones’ Books End On HBO

I don’t think George R.R. Martin is going to finish his “A Song of Ice and Fire” books before HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is over.

I’ve looked at the pace at which the books and shows are being produced before, and the writing has been on the wall for a while; HBO knows how the series will end, so the network doesn’t need to wait for the final book to air the final episode. But since Season 5 of “Game of Thrones” premiered Sunday night, I took a closer look at the pace at which Martin writes (just to depress myself): The man will have to write faster than he’s written in over a decade if he wants to finish before the HBO series does.

First, the dates. The most recent book in the series, “A Dance with Dragons,” was released on July 12, 2011, and was 422,000 words. Let’s make an assumption that the next book, “The Winds of Winter” and the final planned book, “A Dream of Spring,” will each be 354,000 words or so, which is the average length of a novel in the series.

Barring a substantial shift in how the show is produced and released, the final season — the one presumably based on “A Dream of Spring” — will probably come out in Spring 2017. The show typically premieres in late March or early April. On average, the show has premiered on the 97th day of the year. That’s Friday, April 7, 2017. (I realize “Game of Thrones” airs on Sundays, but let’s just work with that Friday for now.) For the past two seasons, the premiere and the finale have been 70 days apart, so let’s say the show will end once and for all around June 16, 2017.

For one moment, let’s pretend that “The Winds of Winter” is done and Martin starts working on “A Dream of Spring” tomorrow. This means he’ll have 2 years, 2 months and 2 days to publish “A Dream of Spring” before the finale. That’s 794 days to write a guesstimated 354,000 words. He’d need to write at a pace of about 445 words per day.

The fastest pace at which Martin ever wrote a book was when he was working on “A Storm of Swords,” which came out in 2000. He turned that book out at a rate of 673 words per day. He’s never come close to that on any other book. The second-fastest he’s ever written a “Song of Ice and Fire” book was when he worked on “A Clash of Kings,” which he wrote at a pace of 392 words per day.

So even pretending the sixth “Song of Ice and Fire” book is done — a wonderful and terrible fantasy — Martin would have to find a gear he hasn’t found since the Clinton administration to beat HBO to the finish line.

Indeed, let’s say that Martin pushes out the next two books at a “Storm of Swords” pace. He can grind out a little more than 530,000 words between now and the finale, which is one and a half books. Is Martin halfway done with “The Winds of Winter”? Reports indicate he might be as much as three-quarters finished, but that promising-sounding estimate would mean he’s working much slower — around 200 words per day — than his fastest or even second-fastest pace. And that rate seems more realistic; if he were working as fast on this book as he did on “A Clash of Kings,” he’d be done already.

So I have given up on Martin finishing the books before the show. All is lost. All hope must die.

How could this be different? Let’s check our assumptions:

  • If the last two books are substantially shorter than their predecessors, perhaps it can be done.
  • If HBO does something different with the final season — maybe splitting it in two and airing the finale later than anticipated — perhaps it can be done.
  • If Martin substantially changes the pace of his work, perhaps it can be done.
  • If Martin has completed more of “The Winds of Winter” than we know, perhaps it can be done.

I don’t know how likely any of these are. The most interesting point is the second one — drawing out the final installment of a series has become relatively normal for movies and prestige television — but then the question is, how much time could that actually buy?

I have emotionally prepared myself to see the show scoop the books. I’d suggest all “Game of Thrones” fans do the same.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.