A few people emailed me after the last time I had an open call for post requests asking me to “rip into” George R.R. Martin for taking such a long-ass time finishing the A Song of Ice and Fire books, which… no. I mean, just no. Even if we could get around the amazing hypocrisy of me calling someone out for taking a long time to finish a creative work, it’s something I just wouldn’t do regardless, because writers work at their own speed and it’s not a uniform process that’s the same for everybody so expecting Martin to crank out books on a yearly basis like Terry Pratchett does is silly and also Neil Gaiman said stuff I agree with. And so forth.
But I will say this: by getting HBO to sign on to a Game of Thrones series, Martin has – intentionally or not – set himself a deadline. And he’s set himself this deadline for one reason: he’s written a series which features young characters which is now being converted into an ongoing telefilmic series. In order for that series to work, it needs to film itself as quickly as possible. (It can be released on whatever schedule HBO likes, but that’s a different thing entirely.)
Think about it for a second. People complain quite frequently that the young actors in the Harry Potter movies have aged too quickly to portray the characters effectively. Now, granted, this is a pretty stupid complaint given that the first movie started production in 2000, when Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were all eleven (just like in the book), and thanks to a fanatical devotion to cranking the movies out on a schedule that would probably be considered near-slavery if it weren’t for the enormous salaries involved for everybody working on it, they’re just about finished shooting the double-film adaptation of Deathly Hallows now, ten years later. Filming seven years’ worth of progression in ten years is honestly pretty amazing – and people still complain that Radcliffe, Watson and Grint have aged too much.
But the Harry Potter experience is nothing compared to what awaits production on A Game of Thrones and so forth, because the latter is a series of novels where young protagonists go through much more in an even shorter timespan: as of the end of the fourth book, they’ve covered in between two and a half and three years. Assuming that the rest of the series follows this pace, that’s seven novels covering about five years and change. Given that some major characters – Bran and Arya Stark, for example, as well as lesser characters like Thomen Baratheon – are out-and-out little kids (not even tweens), these series are going to have to film relatively close to one another, even faster than release times in order to keep from aging the younger characters too fast onscreen. (Especially considering that it’s been made clear that the show plans to produce one season per novel.) If they don’t, the show has the danger of pulling a Walt-from-Lost, where they have a young character clearly aging faster than the timeline of the show he’s on can handle.
Now, this isn’t impossible to film. Difficult, yes, but certainly not impossible – especially given HBO’s production budgets and the likely enormous return on investment. But all of this difficulty puts Martin’s back up against a wall, because up until now it was just his ass on the line if he got further delayed in finishing the books. Now it’s not just him: it’s everybody working on these shows. Previously the only other people affected by Martin’s slow writing speed were maybe a few people at a publishing company and some fans with an enormous sense of entitlement. Now, though, it’s a horde of people who are completely dependent on him finishing the books so they can produce the TV shows.
I don’t know if Martin can handle that pressure or not. I hope he can. I just know that I wouldn’t want it.