4 Behind-the-Scenes Problems That May Kill 'Game of Thrones'
Appropriately, raising the show about fantasy espionage and murder to this seemingly untouchable position can only mean that it's about to get cut down in its prime, thanks to a series of inescapable problems looming on the horizon like a shambling horde of White Walkers that both George R.R. Martin and HBO seem as content to ignore as the people of King's Landing.
They're Running Out of Books
Seasons 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones were primarily a split-up version of A Storm of Swords, Martin's third book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. (Seasons 1 and 2 knocked out the first two books.) The end of Season 4 also covered some material from the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. Now, although A Song of Ice and Fire is projected to eventually be seven books long, only five of those books have been written, and the show has already covered four of them. That means we have roughly one and a half more books of story left (two stretched-out seasons at most) before all of America unanimously turns to Martin and politely coughs. When questioned about this in interviews, both Martin and the show's producers have been breezily optimistic, because two seasons of show should be plenty of time for Martin to fart out a sixth book, right?
Actually, it took Martin six goddamn years to write the last one, and that came out in 2011. He spent five years apiece on each previous novel in the series, meaning that at best the sixth book will be out sometime in 2016, and at worst it will be out sometime in "Who the hell knows?" which was literally the projected release date Martin gave back in 2011. Even he doesn't know when the fuck that book is going to come out.
He was 19 when the first book was released.
Even if by some miracle (granted by the enchanted amulet he no doubt keeps hidden beneath his longshoreman's cap) Martin manages to heave out the sixth book in time for a 2016 photo finish, that still doesn't factor in the yearlong production schedule that each season of Game of Thrones requires. That means the soonest we'd see Season 6 would be 2018, and then we'd have to wait another five fucking years for Martin to put out the seventh book, putting the series finale somewhere in the realm of 2023.
So what exactly is going to happen? Not only does no one seem to have any idea, but no one involved in the production seems to be overly concerned, as the possibilities range everywhere from taking a really long hiatus to George R.R. Martin's suggestion of creating a totally unrelated mid-series to shift to some of his other books and novellas in the Game of Thrones universe, because what every Game of Thrones fan absolutely wants is another 1,000 character names to futilely try to memorize.
"If The Walking Dead can get a season and a half out of the prison, we can get 10 episodes out of Arya on a boat."
It's in Danger of Collapsing Under Its Own Production Costs
This may seem hard to believe, but a fantastical story about lavishly dressed warriors battling mythological creatures across impossible landscapes of imagination costs a shrieking amount of money to produce. Game of Thrones carried a $60 million price tag for its first season alone, an amount that increased 15 percent in the second season after it became clear that cutting away from sprawling battle sequences and just having the characters discuss how epic they were in the aftermath only serves to piss your audience off. As fans demanded more, so did the show's production, which spans from Belfast to Croatia to Iceland to accommodate the story's numerous exotic locations.
Take the Battle of Blackwater, an epic $8 million sea-and-land explosion-laden battle sequence so expensive and elaborate that they almost didn't film it (which would've resulted in Tyrion and Bronn standing around a table and saying, "Gosh, that Battle of Blackwater sure was crazy, as anyone who failed to witness it for themselves will surely be able to glean from both our current conversation and the many references we will make to it in the future").
"I can't believe Thor, Sauron, Conan, and Jack Sparrow all showed up. No one's ever going to see something that incredible again."
And before they could take a breath, the giant-size budget of the recent "Watchers on the Wall" episode managed to ramp up the game of financial chicken by implementing elaborate battle sets surrounded by Europe's largest green screen backdrop. It's a gamble that will continue to pay off so long as the fans keep watching.
So what happens if they stop watching? Just look to HBO's other series about ancient incest and violence, Rome, which was cancelled shortly after clocking in at an impressive $100 million for 12 episodes, or roughly $3 million per naked boob (which is right around what a season of Game of Thrones currently costs). When Rome was cancelled in its second season, budget was the number one reason given, meaning that the moment we see a ratings dip in Game of Thrones is the moment we'll see either an immediate cancellation or people in dragon costumes making fireballs out of Bic lighters and mouthfuls of whiskey. And when do you think that ratings dip might happen? Probably right around the time they go on hiatus or start adapting George R.R. Martin's other stories to kill time until Book 6 comes out.
"We're introducing the characters of House Pancake next season to get some of that sweet endorsement money."
The Child Actors Are Growing Up Too Fast
There are a ton of child characters in Game of Thrones who, according to George R.R. Martin, were exceptionally difficult to cast because of how much bullshit those characters are going to be subjected to over the course of the series. In the first season, everything was fine, but as we already mentioned, each subsequent season has taken a year to produce, which basically means we're watching these kids age dramatically over the course of what is supposed to be a few months of story. Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran, a character who is 7 years old in the novels, is currently deep in the trenches of puberty, making him an ever-growing weight on Hodor's tired shoulders.
The inevitable "Winterfell Prom" episode will be awkward as shit.
Bran can't walk, so they can hide his monster legs underneath a blanket and pretend that his voice isn't getting freakishly deeper each episode; otherwise, they'd have to send out casting calls for sickly bowl-cut British children every single year. The character of Arya Stark is facing a similar problem, being that she is a 14-year-old girl played by a 17-year-old actress. The show's producers have a very short window of time before they're forced to either recast her or make some bold costume and makeup decisions. But it's not like they're going to have to stop the show for an extended period of time or anything, right? (See: "They're totally going to have to do that exact thing," above.)
The Fans and Actors Might Start Dictating the Plot
While the average Game of Thrones fan has learned to accept heartbreaking death with the curdled stoicism of a Russian grandmother, it would be a completely different beast if a fan favorite character or storyline suddenly disappeared for an entire season. And while Martin can kill Tyrion Lannister any time he wants in the books, HBO would be very, very reluctant to suddenly have to continue the show without Peter Dinklage.
"King Kong ain't got shit on me!"
This is exactly what happened when the producers were faced with adapting Book 4 of the series, which focuses mostly on completely new characters and plot lines while leaving the familiar characters from the first three books on hold until Book 5. The result was the producers deciding to fold the two stories together to focus on the characters and storylines that fans of the show already knew and loved, simplifying both actor contracts and production time constraints while pruning some of the seemingly inconsequential characters and side stories Martin decided to write into his novel for whatever reason.
The thing is, the producers of the show have absolutely no idea how important those seemingly inconsequential characters and storylines are going to be, as they've only been told how the overall story is eventually going to end. Anything between now and then is a total fucking mystery to them. They just made the best decision for their television show without any consideration for how it might affect the story they're adapting (which, as we cannot stress enough, is still being written).
"He's back ... with a vengeance. Season 6, only on HBO."
Basically, eventually there will be two entirely different timelines for Game of Thrones fans -- the timeline in the show, and the one in Martin's novels. That's not a new thing, necessarily -- adaptations diverge from their source material all the time. But here, the source material is still being written. There are (at least) two novels left in the series that haven't come out yet. And if the show's production ends up catching up to Martin before the sixth book comes out, it's likely that they will go completely off the source material and write whatever they want, rather than wait five or 10 more years to complete the eight seasons of television they've already committed to.
That's going to create a huge clusterfuck for the fans (particularly if, for instance, Tyrion and Jaime team up to save the kingdom in the final episode of the television show, whereas in Martin's eventual final book they both get eaten by fucking dragons or something) that could potentially sabotage the reception of Martin's yet-to-be-released novels. That man is in his 60s and is currently in the middle of producing the one definitive work of his lifetime that will be remembered long after he succumbs to elderly fatness. When the time comes for the producers to either wait for him to put out another book or just take control of the Game of Thrones story themselves, they will almost certainly go for the latter, and things between them and Martin will get seriously ugly. Like Red Wedding ugly.