Game of Thrones HBO

Game of Thrones now has three seasons under its belt and work on the fourth is already under way. But this finale felt a little different than the ones preceding it. Since the HBO series was originally announced, there has been worry the show would be able to catch up to George R.R. Martin’s books series, A Song of Ice and Fire, before he can finish writing it. That worry has never been stronger than it is now. Season 3 adapted about two-thirds of the third book, A Storm of Swords, and Season 4 will likely wrap that book up and continue with the next books. This is where things get complicated and the timetable much smaller.

Books four and five present an interesting challenge for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. For the most part, the plots of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons play out concurrently, with each book focusing on a different group of characters. Trying to jumble the plots of two books into two or more seasons of television will be a lot of work. With so many characters already in play, introducing more, with their own subplots, might be too much for viewers, so things will need to be left out. Weiss said it best to EW: “Time for negative population growth.”

But if the show start leaving plots on the wayside to simplify the story, wouldn’t that ultimately speed up the pace of the adaptation, increasing the risk of the show catching up to the books? Martin doesn’t seem to think so, saying “I think the odds against that happening are very long.” But he seems to be operating under the assumption Benioff and Weiss will include the majority of Feast and Dance’s subplots. “If they include everything in the books, I don’t think they’re going to catch up with me. If they do, we’ll have some interesting discussions.”

And what happens if that were to happen? Say Martin takes an extremely long time to finish The Winds of Winter, the sixth book, and Game of Thrones has nothing left to adapt. Does the show take a hiatus? It’s a tricky scenario to figure out. If the show takes a break, the actors would need to be paid to keep them from wandering off and taking other jobs. And don’t even get me started on the troubles of having young actors in the production. Bran Stark isn’t getting any younger. Eventually he’ll be much too old.

Of course, there is the fact Martin has revealed his top secret ending to Benioff and Weiss, so they could conceivably end Game of Thrones before the books are finished. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s an option. Especially considering A Dream of Spring, the planned seventh book, isn’t guaranteed to be the final book in the series. Martin may remain optimistic about the show not catching up to him, but he’s been writing Winds since 2010 and there’s no publication day in sight.