George R R Martin's sweeping fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire isn't right for television.
Which, at face value, is clearly bollocks. But stick with us on this.
Sure, HBO's adaptation of Martin's fantastical romp is the network's most successful franchise: by season four, it's clocked an average gross audience of 18.4 million viewers (beating the 18.2 million of The Sopranos), stuffing the HBO coffers to Casterly Rock levels and punting the network's new streaming venture into orbit.
Its popularity is undeniable, an incredible feat considering that the show’s source material is closer to Tolkien than Towie. While its subject matter would usually be resigned to a select group of passionate cosplay regulars, GoT has catapulted 'nerd' culture from the point of being accepted to one that’s expected. It is to fantasy what Star Trek was to sci-fi. Even the Liberal Democrats have (unadvisedly) joined the hype-train, attempting to remain relevant with a Thrones-themed photoshop attempt.
All this before season five finds its stride. But the end is surely cresting the ad break.
The point, as stated, is this: A Song of Ice and Fire isn't right for television.
Martin's series is a hard, heavy read. Literally. At 704 pages, A Game of Thrones is its briefest entry, with the tree-consuming A Dance of Dragons running an improbable 1,056. It's a slow, considered story, littered with political complications, tactical plays and rich character developments that HBO has chosen to ignore. Understandably - if it had stuck to the total number of sex scenes that were actually in A Game of Thrones, its first season would have struggled to establish the water cooler conversations the network was searching for.
But it's in ignoring the meticulously structured development that sees Martin take years to carve out his books that will be the undoing of GoT.
By rushing to the major action sequences, by hurrying through the deaths and betrayals, HBO's episodic squeezing of events is going to see the weekly instalments fall into a predictable pattern: waffle and action. Talking proceeds dying which proceeds more talking, with the occasional bonking breaking things up. There are no surprises left, no dragons waiting to hatch: someone will die, and it'll probably be upsetting. Tyrion, probably. Dany might get nibbled on by a hungry Drogon. Bron might discover he's allergic to tree bark and (finally) free up some time for the interesting stories to be told.
All that guile, all the subtleties that turn many off Martin's works is about to become abundantly lacking in GoT, as fans find that there's nothing much going on in their streamlined favourite fantasy series. As more characters die (don't lie - you already miss Joffrey, don't you?), there will literally be fewer people to kill, replaced by new faces that audiences just don't have the inclination to bond with - a predicament that doesn't derail a book series known for drawn out conversational posturing.
Sure, it will remain a hugely entertaining spectacle, fat on blood-soaked set pieces and the occasional surprising death - but the formula is now exposed, and set to feel very dull, very soon. GoT has peaked, and only those who really enjoy it for more than the boobs-and-blood action are going to stick around to see who wins the throne of Westeros.
Obviously, we'd love to be wrong but winter might actually be a lot closer than you thought…
Written by David Cornish (@D_Cornish)
Edit: Since the time of publishing, Game of Thrones show writers David Benioff and D B Weiss have made some interesting remarks about the future of the show. Speaking to Variety, Benioff has hinted that the show does have an end date and it may very well be in sight.
"We’ve just started writing episodes for season six. I think we’re heading into the home stretch. Hopefully, we’ll have a clear answer soon.
"We could go another four years — and we could come up with good stories — but the one thing that really got us excited when we pitched this to HBO was that this isn’t just a regular series. It’s a real story with a beginning, a middle and an end.
"We know what the end is, and we’re barreling toward it. So the idea that we’re going to try and stretch it out by an extra couple years just because we’re all having a good time doing it and people are making money off it just feels like it would be a betrayal."
You can read their full thoughts here.