Thursday, 18 April, 2024

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About the Betrayal – George R.R. Martin and Game of Thrones as a Case Study

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Where Does a Writer's Commitment to Their Fans End? How Far Can We Separate a TV Series from Its Literary Source? And What Does Google Have to Do with All of This?

This is the story of a typical fantasy reader who, one day, walked into a bookstore on his way home. Perhaps he had just seen the movie “Independence Day” in the local theatre and felt the need to read something different after the deep disappointment from the effects-laden and plot-hole-riddled film. There, on one of the shelves, he stumbled upon a promising new book. The cover was a bit extravagant, with an illustration of a knight in the center surrounded by what could have been the skeleton of a dragon, but hey, those were the nineties. Have you seen what people wore back then? So, this fantasy reader, who had just returned from a disappointing movie (or a raging D&D game), bought this book, and way before he reached its end, he realized that it wasn’t just another fantasy book that he held in his hands. The problem? It was only the first part of a series. He would have to wait a little over three years to read the next book. And then another year for the one after that. And then five more years for the one after. And then six years for the next one. And then what? Twenty years later, he’d still be waiting for the next books.

If you’ve read the title, you can probably guess the book the geeky reader acquired on his way home. You all know it. If you haven’t read it, you’ve probably seen the TV adaptation. But even if you haven’t seen a single episode of the series, you should have hidden underground in a bomb shelter and sealed your windows to avoid hearing about it. Since its first episode aired in April 2011, “Game of Thrones” has become a global phenomenon, sweeping more and more fans yearly. The series, for those who don’t know, is based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” fantasy book series, with “Game of Thrones” being the book that started it all. The show’s success turned Martin into a wealthy man and a celebrity featured in the gossip columns and the realms of dedicated geeks. And, in my opinion, he deserves it.

George R.R Martin
Image Source: Wikipedia

The problem is that George R.R. Martin isn’t the fastest writer in the world. He’s certainly not Stephen King, who can write two 700-page novels in a year (and that is only because he is very busy). In fact, It sometimes feels like it takes longer to read King’s books than it takes him to write them. But Stephen King is not the issue here. When “Game of Thrones” first aired, the first four books of the series had already been published, and during that same year, the fifth volume was published out of seven planned. The TV series, cleverly designed so that each season more or less corresponds to one of the books, could keep running smoothly for five seasons. But what next? During those first five seasons, fans wondered what would happen when the sixth season arrived if Martin didn’t finish writing the sixth book in time. About a month ago, we got the answer when the TV adaptation veered off from the literary narrative, with no hint from the author regarding the expected release date of the upcoming books. To be honest, Martin’s slow writing pace has long been a running joke among fans who have left the confines of closed forums. For example, the reaction of the detective Clive Babineaux from the TV series iZombie when asked what George R.R. Martin is doing now:

george martin not writing

But George R.R. Martin’s “betrayal” of his loyal readers is not expressed in the time that has passed since the first book was released. The readers of “The Wheel of Time” had to wait more than twenty years for the last volume of the series to be published, and that was only after Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, and Brandon Sanderson took over and wrote the three books that concluded it.

No. The problem is that George R.R. Martin sold his faithful readers to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (the creators and showrunners of the TV series) because now, that same reader who started following the series 20 years ago, read all the books, and waited patiently is now forced to watch TV adaptation if they didn’t want to fall behind. That same reader, who agonized for five years in ignorance about the fate of Jon Snow and wrote numerous theories and speculations on forums about the future possibilities of Westeros, is now forced to hear the bank teller (who never opened a book in her life and started watching the series two months ago) talk to her friend about what Khaleesi (not her real name!!) did in the last episode and how handsome Kit Harington is, even though she doesn’t call him Kit Harington because to her, he’s Jon Snow. The same way that what’s her face is called Khaleesi (not really). That loyal reader, emotionally invested in the imaginary world of George R.R. Martin, and in a classic example of prosumership (a portmanteau of the words producer and consumer) increases his own interest in the series through blogging, theories, and participation in various forums, only to lose his relative advantage over the viewers of the series.

In his essence, you might say that George R.R. Martin is taking the startup perspective and raises it to another level. You develop a product, and the moment it has thousands of users, you sell it to Google. Or in his case, to HBO. George R.R. Martin reflects to his readers that they are only in second place, after the mighty dollar and their flashy productions, and along the way, he also creates a dangerous precedent that other authors can adopt (yes, Patrick Rothfuss, I’m looking at you).

The only question remains whether the loyal readers will read the upcoming books, which will presumably come out long after the TV series has ended and no one remembers who Eddard Stark was. And if they do, will they read them with the same enthusiasm that characterized them at the beginning of the journey, or will the reading be accompanied by a bitter sense of betrayal?

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