Fans have also long accepted that Game of Thrones will finish before every chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire hits bookstores. Even if Martin had finished The Winds of Winter last year as he intended, he would have had to turn around the seventh and supposedly final entry within a year or two to beat the show. He hasn’t worked at that pace in a long time: The shortest turnaround between books was just under two years between the second and third novels in the series, and the last entry came out in 2011, the year Game of Thrones premiered. But when Martin announced to fans that Winds of Winter wouldn’t be done in time for season six of Game of Thrones, he tried to reassure readers. “Some of the ‘spoilers’ you may encounter in season six may not be spoilers at all ... because the show and the books have diverged, and will continue to do so,” he wrote.
The new Arianne chapter, which Martin has read aloud at fan conventions, is a perfect example of that divergence, coming at an opportune moment since the show has begun killing pivotal characters. Arianne, the heiress of Dorne, isn’t a character in the show at all—she was replaced by a male heir, Trystane, a minor character in the books. His elevation sparked outcry from fans who thought the show was losing a compelling female leader, but in Martin’s pages she endures, negotiating the future of her kingdom and reckoning with a new contender to the throne.
That character, the pretender Aegon Targaryen, also isn’t in the show. Neither is his companion Jon Connington, who’s discussed extensively in the new chapter. Martin has also released chapters about Stannis Baratheon and Barristan Selmy (both killed off by HBO last season), and Victarion Greyjoy (who doesn’t exist on the show and likely never will). As the show came closer to overtaking Martin’s books, he made more and more references to the “butterfly effect” of TV plotting, where Game of Thrones’s attempts to simplify the grander story arc would only lead to bigger differences between the books and show. What first felt like a cop-out now feels on point: Readers are no longer worried the show’s going to spoil the novels, just that it’ll move forward clumsily with its adaptation efforts.
Consider a semi-humorous Kickstarter campaign to “fix” the show’s Dorne plotline, which was largely dispatched in the opening episode of this season. In Martin’s books, Dorne is a powerful sector of Westeros under the rule of the infirm but wise Prince Doran, who’s scheming to position his children for greatness as the realm falls into chaos. On the show, Doran was an ineffectual fool, eventually betrayed and murdered by his brother’s paramour. His death scene, and the subsequent murder of his son, felt like Benioff and Weiss washing their hands of a plotline they never quite knew how to weave into the larger story. The Kickstarter campaign says it needs $20 million to replicate the show’s style and production value and shoot enough material to paper over the problem areas. The campaign’s creators probably aren’t going to make it (currently, backers have pledged almost $24,000), but their project captures just how strongly many readers feel about the show’s new direction.