In a Monday blog post, George R.R. Martin shot down rumors that the final two books in his A Song of Ice and Fire series—The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring —have been completed in secret. But it’s just as common to read speculation that Martin has made no progress at all, with many fans fretting The Winds of Winter will never be completed or released, since Martin has supposedly lost interest in Westeros after Game of Thrones depicted the series’ ending before the author could get around to writing it. In reality, a lot of The Winds of Winter has already been written, since Martin, often affectionately abbreviated GRRM, has shared multiple excerpts from the upcoming ASOIAF novel at conventions and public appearances.

The Red Tea Detox

But to understand The Winds of Winter, it’s necessary to start with 2011’s A Dance with Dragons and 2005’s A Feast for Crows, the two most recent entries in A Song of Ice and Fire. Both books take place over the same period of time, with A Feast for Crows following events in Dorne, the Iron Islands, King’s Landing and Arya’s assassin training at the House of Black and White in Braavos. A Dance with Dragons follows events on both sides of the Wall and across the Narrow Sea, where Daenerys Targaryen tries to keep control over the city of Meereen.

Game of Thrones vs. A Song of Ice and Fire

Both novels roughly correspond to the major moments of Game of Thrones Season 5, including the death of Jon Snow, Cersei’s walk of shame, and Tyrion’s journey to Daenerys with Jorah Mormont. But where Game of Thrones begins narrowing after Season 5, uniting characters and closing plot threads, A Song of Ice and Fire is still expanding, with the most recent novels depicting events from the perspectives of characters never introduced on Game of Thrones , including Quentyn Martell, Victarion Greyjoy and Griff, who is Hand to yet another claimant to the Iron Throne, Prince Aegon Targaryen (no, not Jon Snow this time, he’s still dead in the books). So while the end of Game of Thrones may spoil some of what’s in store for A Song of Ice and Fire, the complexity of the novels promises a very different narrative ahead in The Winds of Winter.

The Winds of Winter POV Characters

game-of-thrones-davos-seaworth-winds-of-winter-release-date Will Davos Seaworth return as a POV character in ‘The Winds of Winter’? HBO

One of the biggest indications of what’s in store for The Winds of Winter are the perspectives from which it will be told. Each chapter in A Song of Ice and Fire is told from the perspective of a different character.  Here are the characters Martin has confirmed will tell The Winds of Winter:

  • Aeron Greyjoy – Known as Damphair, he’s a priest of the Drowned God and currently a prisoner of Euron Greyjoy.
  • Arianne Martell – Doran’s oldest daughter, Arianne leaves Dorne to investigate Aegon Targaryen, a new claimant to the Iron Throne.
  • Arya Stark – Still training as an assassin, Arya apprentices with a theater troupe, as seen in Game of Thrones Season 6.
  • Barristan Selmy – No, Selmy didn’t get killed by a bunch of rich, slave-owning kids in masks. Instead, he’s Daenerys’ Hand.
  • Sansa Stark – Hiding under the name Alayne Stone, Petyr Baelish is still trying to marry off Sansa when The Winds of Winter opens.
  • Theon Greyjoy – Theon escapes Winterfell with Ramsay Bolton’s wife, Jeyne Poole (who has been billed as Arya Stark to legitimate the Bolton claim to Winterfell) and is now a captive of Stannis Baratheon.
  • Tyrion Lannister – Enslaved by a mercenary army attacking Meereen, Tyrion hopes to sway the mercs to Daenerys’ side.
  • Victarion Greyjoy – Balon’s younger brother, Victarion sails across the Narrow Sea with plans to marry Daenerys.
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That’s eight POV characters for The Winds of Winter, compared to A Dance with Dragons’ 16. At various public appearances, Martin has mentioned several other character perspectives set to appear in The Winds of Winter (or possibly planned for A Dream of Spring), including Cersei Lannister, Bran Stark, Areo Hotah and Asha Greyjoy (Yara in Game of Thrones). In April, GRRM described Davos Seaworth encountering unicorns on the island of Skagos—where he’s been sent to retrieve Rickon Stark from hiding—suggesting the Onion Knight may also be a POV character in The Winds of Winter, bringing the total up to 13.

The Winds of Winter Sample Chapters

While perspective characters each have multiple chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the fleshed-out perspectives is a good indication that The Winds of Winter has at least its skeleton in place. In 2016, Martin confirmed that “hundreds of pages” and “dozens of chapters” have been written.

Martin has also released seven sample chapters from A Game of Thrones. In one, Arya Stark is in disguise as an actor playing Shae in a theatrical adaptation of Tyrion’s treachery. When she spots Raff the Sweetling, one of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane’s men, in the audience, she takes the opportunity to kill him and throw the body in a canal. In another sample chapter, Stannis makes plans to burn Theon.

In addition to the sample chapters, GRRM has confirmed other plot points he will cover in The Winds of Winter, beginning with major battles at Meereen and Winterfell, where Stannis Baratheon died in Game of Thrones Season 5. It’s unclear whether the fight will resolve differently in Martin’s telling. But while the two battles expected early in The Winds of Winter have their parallels in Game of Thrones, there are three other major plot points from the upcoming books that were never addressed on the HBO adaptation at all.

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The Winds of Winter Goes Beyond Game of Thrones

From what we know of The Winds of Winter there are three main plot points that were never touched on in Game of Thrones. Two of them will likely have a substantial impact on the struggle for the Iron Throne, while the third could radically alter the fight against the Others sweeping down from the North. If The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring contain substantial deviations from Game of Thrones, this is where you’re most likely to find them.

The Greyjoys

winds-of-winter-damphair-song-ice-fire-asoiaf-game-thrones Aeron “Damphair” Greyjoy is a much more important character in “A Song of Ice and Fire.” HBO

While Game of Thrones kept the Greyjoy focus tight on Theon, at least until the introduction of the swaggering pirate, Euron Greyjoy, there’s a lot more going on with the Ironborn in A Song of Ice and Fire. For now, the Greyjoys are working to play all sides in Westeros. Euron has been declared king of the islands in the North, while Victarion travels to curry favor with Daenerys Targaryen. But it’s Dragonbinder, a magical horn, which may be the biggest game changer. With Dragonbinder, it may be possible to control Daenerys’ dragons. We may find out soon enough, because the horn’s bearer, Victarion, is docking the Iron Fleet in Slaver’s Bay at the beginning of The Winds of Winter.

Aegon Targaryen

Jon Snow in Game of Thrones Not this Aegon Targaryen, a different one. Helen Sloan / HBO

While we fully expect A Song of Ice and Fire to resurrect Jon Snow and reveal his Targaryen parentage, it’s a different Aegon Targaryen most likely to shake up politics in Westeros. Unlike on Game of Thrones, where it’s only the invader Daenerys Targaryen left to challenge Queen Cersei for the Iron Throne, ASOIAF introduces another claimant, a young man claiming to be Aegon Targaryen, the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Elia Martell.

There’s just one problem with that story: Gregor Clegane killed Elia and both of her infant children at the end of Robert’s Rebellion. According to Aegon, Varys switched him out for a peasant child and snuck the true Targaryen infant to Essos, where he was raised by the Mad King’s Hand, Jon Connington.

Aegon initially plans to marry Daenerys, but after listening to Tyrion, decides the better move would be to leave Essos behind and invade Westeros while it’s in disarray from the War of the Five Kings. He lands in the Stormlands south of King’s Landing with an army of Golden Company mercenaries and quickly sets about conquering territory.

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With Aegon in the mix, King Tommen and Daenerys have another claimant to the Iron Throne to worry about. Even more consequential, Aegon could find backing from Dorne, who still hate the Lannisters.

The Others

Game of Thrones Inspired Ice Hotel Lets Vistors Sleep Like the Night King Nope. Courtesy of HBO

Except for children’s stories and legends, there is no Night King in A Song of Ice and Fire. The Others, or White Walkers, are much more mysterious, so far, in the book series. But that will change fast in The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring. In a 2012 interview with a travel magazine, Martin said A Song of Ice and Fire will journey further north of the Wall than Game of Thrones ever did. “What lies really north in my books—we haven’t explored that yet, but we will in the last two books,” Martin told Smarter Travel. “You’re definitely going to see more of the Others.”

While Game of Thrones never voyaged further north than the Frostfang Mountains (though it’s unclear how far north the Three-Eyed Raven’s weirwood tree is located), there remains to explore the uncharted Land of Always Winter. Maps of Westeros don’t even have a Northern border, with the continent continuing for an unspecified distance. There could be a lot up there to explore. How A Song of Ice and Fire handles the White Walkers could end up being the biggest difference between the book series and Game of Thrones.

The Winds of Winter Release Date

GeorgeRRMartin Winds of Winter The proposed cover for George R.R. Martin’s “The Winds of Winter.” Bantam Books

Martin has offered periodic updates on his progress with The Winds of Winter, most recently in March, when he told Entertainment Weekly, “I’m still deeply in it. I better live a long time, because I have a lot of work left to do.”

But our best indication of progress on The Winds of Winter came in November of 2018, when The Guardian described Martin retreating to “a cabin he visits when he wants to hunker down to finish a book.” As one A Song of Ice and Fire podcaster pointed out, he did the same just a few months before the release of A Dance with Dragons. The same timeline hasn’t panned out for The Winds of Winter, but it wouldn’t be unrealistic to believe that Martin is approaching the end.

The wait for A Dream of Spring is likely to be a lot longer. In a blog post published Monday, Martin confirmed that nothing of the final book has been written. “Dream is not even begun; I am not going to start writing volume seven until I finish volume six,” GRRM wrote.

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