Lords and ladies of the court, it’s time to once again assemble in the throne room and bend the knee to the King of Television, Cutter of Cords, and First Commander of the Screen: House of the Dragon. The series returns for season 2, ushering in the much-anticipated next chapter of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel. But before the first episode airs, there’s just one little issue to address: Who are all these people again?

For audiences preparing for more dragon fights and political backstabbings, nearly two long years have passed between seasons 1 and 2. But for the characters onscreen, it’s only been a few hours. When you hit play on House of the Dragon once again, the producers aren’t going to line everyone up to remind you of their names and who they’re related to! Even if they did, we would still have enough Rhaenyras, Rhaenys, Rhaenas, and Aegons to drive us all into the dragon pits. Luckily for you, dear reader, I’ve already done the work. If you ever feel lost during the season, check back here for a detailed guide to who’s who in Westeros.

Rhaenyra Targaryen

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy) is arguably our main character. The daughter of the late King Viserys Targaryen, Rhaenyra was the rightful heir to the throne. However, when her father passed away in the middle of the night, his council conspired against her and plotted to give the crown to her young stepbrother, Aegon II. Now residing in Dragonstone, Rhaenyra assembles her allies to retake the Iron Throne. Her forces include her uncle-husband Daemon, her cousin Rhaenys and her husband Corlys Velaryon, and her five children: Jacaerys, Lucerys (who was recently murdered), Joffrey, Viserys, and Aegon III.

Alicent Hightower

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Alicent (Olivia Cooke) and Rhaenyra were childhood friends in King’s Landing. Everything changed between them when she wed Rhaenyra’s much-older father, King Viserys, and essentially became her best friend’s stepmother. Following Viserys’s death and Alicent’s son Aegon II ascending to the throne, the Queen Dowager now attempts to stop wanton violence from erupting between her side of the family and Rhaenyra’s.

Daemon Targaryen

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Rhaenyra’s husband and her uncle, Daemon Targaryen (Matt Smith) is a fierce warrior who resents his older brother Viserys for bypassing him to name Rhaenyra heir to the throne. For whatever reason, he remained drawn to the princess romantically. It’s gross to marry your niece, of course, but Game of Thrones fans are used to this sort of thing with the Targaryens. The couple had two children together, named Viserys II (after her father) and Aegon III (yes, yet another Aegon). He also had twin girls with his former wife, the late Laena Valeryon, named Rhaena and Baela Targaryen. He rides the dragon Caraxes and wields a powerful sword named “Dark Sister” that used to belong to the great Aegon the Conqueror’s sister-wife.

King Aegon II Targaryen

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Aegon II (Tom Glynn-Carney) is the current King on the Iron Throne. He is Alicent Hightower and Visyers Targaryen’s firstborn son, Rhaenyra’s younger stepbrother, and husband to his sister-wife Queen Helaena. Together, they have three young children of their own: Jaehaerys, Jaehaera, and Maelor. Aegon II rides the dragon Sunfyre.

Prince Aemond Targaryen

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Aemond (Ewan Mitchell) is King Aegon II’s young brother and the second-born son of Alicent Hightower and Viserys Targaryen. Back in season 1, he lost his left eye in a childhood fight with Lucerys Velaryon. In the season finale, he drew first blood in the war and sought revenge by murdering Lucerys at Storm’s End. Aemond rides Vhagar, the oldest and most fearsome dragon in Westeros.

Otto Hightower

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Otto Hightower (Rhys Ifans) is the Hand of the King, Queen Alicent’s father, and grandfather to King Aegon II, Halaena, and Prince Aemond. He was the primary driver in season 1 in marrying his daughter to King Viserys, and a central figure in the coup to place his grandson on the throne. Now he continues to mold politics and plan for war as the king’s right-hand man and trusted advisor.

Rhaenys Targaryen

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Known as the “Queen Who Never Was,” Rhaenys (Eve Best) was famously passed over in the line of succession when a council at Harrenhal voted her first cousin Viserys to become the king instead. She is married to Corlys Velaryon, with whom she had two children—the believed-to-be-dead Laenor (Rhaenyra’s former husband) and the late Laena (Daemon’s former wife). She currently serves on Rhaenyra’s Black Council at Dragonstone.

Corlys Velaryon

Theo Whiteman, HBO

The Lord of Driftmark and one of the wealthiest men in Westeros, Corlys Velaryon (Stege Toussaint)—aka “the Sea Snake”—is the head of House Velaryon and naval commander of the royal fleet. Before King Aegon II’s ascension, he served on King Viserys’s council as the Master of Ships. Toward the end of the first season, he was attacked by pirates in the Stepstones. Now he and his wife Rhaenys Targaryen serve by Rhaenyra’s side at Dragonstone.

Jacaerys “Jace” Velaryon

Theo Whiteman, HBO

Rhaenyra’s first-born son, Jacaerys (Harry Collett), was secretly fathered by Ser Harwin Strong (before the knight burned to death in Harrenhal). He believes that his father is Leonor Velaryon, though the whispering world knows largely of his mother’s tryst. After King Aegon II ascended the throne, Jacaerys flew north to Winterfell on his dragon Vermax in search of allies. He is betrothed to his cousin Rhaena. When he returns to Dragonstone, he’ll likely seek revenge against Aemond for the murder of his younger brother, Lucerys.

Originally published on Esquire US


When Chelsea Monroe-Cassel began chronicling the foods of Games of Thrones for her punnily named cookbook A Feast of Ice and Fire, she looked for culinary inspiration in the recipes of the Middle Ages.

We’re talking properly medieval stuff. The sorts of recipes that assume you’ll be killing your own goat and will know by habit how to roast it, and that you’re already equipped with a kitchen where meals are prepared in cauldrons and curing salt is on the cutting edge of cooking technology. “They don’t have timings, they don’t have ingredients, they don’t have quantities,” Monroe-Cassel says. “So you have to pore through all kinds of related material to treasure hunt for details.”

It’s exactly the sort of offbeat gastronomic excursion that Monroe-Cassel has become familiar with throughout her career as a fictional-food creator. Alongside feasting at the tables of Westeros, she has tasted the snacks of the USS Enterprise and drunk the soups of Tatooine. She’s eaten the lembas bread beloved by the hobbits of the Shire and tucked into the pies and stews of the fantasy world of Azeroth. She has travelled to places with her stomach that most people go only with their minds. Yet in making these journeys, she’s been far from alone.

The past decade has ushered in a wave of such fictional feasting through a genre of cookbooks that reverse engineer the foods of popular movies, television shows, books, and video games into recipes for the home kitchen. Thumb through The Official Harry Potter Cookbook and you’ll find instructions for whipping up a batch of Hagrid’s Dragon Eggs. Open The Unofficial Stranger Things Cookbook for a method of turning figs into Demogorgons.

In The Official Witcher Cookbook, you’ll learn how to brew a Sorcerer’s Beef Stew, while Friends: The Official Cookbook breaks down how to make Monica’s Onion Galette. Pixar: The Official Cookbook includes tips on creating Toy Story 3’s Jelly Bean Burger, and The Unofficial Simpsons Cookbook reveals the secrets of the Flaming Moe (or as fans will surely know it, the Flaming Homer).

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can find recipe books for Godzilla, Ghostbusters, Titanic, Alien, Back to the Future, Avatar, The Lord of the Rings, Jurassic World, The Godfather, The Hunger Games, The Wizard of Oz, Home Alone, The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, Seinfeld, Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, Peaky Blinders, Bridgerton, The Office, Ted Lasso, Mad Men, Happy Days, Parks & Recreation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bob’s Burgers, Gilmore Girls, Adventure Time, Naruto, Lilo & Stitch, Rick and Morty, Pokémon, Minecraft, Street Fighter, Stardew Valley, Assassin’s Creed, Animal Crossing, Halo, The Sims, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and many, many more.

The biggest of these books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, retail bookstores often dedicate entire displays to them, and the appetite for the genre has grown so large that Monroe-Cassel has written a second Game of Thrones cookbook due to release in May. Some are officially licensed, meaning that they carry all the branding, artwork, and high production value that their properties afford. Others are humbly titled “unofficial,” inching tentatively up to the line of copyright infringement. Many are hefty, hardback tomes created with immense detail and genuine love for their source material. And then there are the less convincing releases, stamped with the name of a popular franchise to warrant a glossy cover and high retail price.

All, essentially, are merchandise, designed to entice enthusiasts of whatever pop-culture license they’re tied to. Usually, that’s a franchise of some kind—one that commands a loyal audience and for which a branded recipe book doesn’t look out of place next to shelves of T-shirts, plushies, hoodies, action figures, coffee-table books, board games, and everything else publishers release to the baying delight of eager fans. But the best of them are extensions of the worlds on which they’re based, letting readers engage with their favourite fiction in a new way by getting a little physically closer to it.


“It’s just a whole other way to cosplay,” says Elena Craig, a recipe developer who’s written cookbooks for the worlds of Harry Potter, Deadpool, and Hocus Pocus. They allow readers to bring their favourite fictional world to life, she thinks, and enlarge it to the point at which they can partake in it themselves. For Tomb Raider superfan and fan-site owner Michelle Harris, Tomb Raider: The Official Cookbook and Travel Guide does more than just handily collect recipes from hero Lara Croft’s travels—it deepens her connection to the character’s journey. “You get to taste the food the locals would eat,” Harris says, “and by doing this, it gives you a little more insight into the areas Lara travels.”

Fantasy and science fiction stories are natural candidates for the model. They’re rife with imaginary foods to playfully re-create, and their expansive world-building often gestures toward the cuisines of their fictional peoples. “If the cookbook is for a TV show or movie, I rewatch it over and over again looking for food references,” says Jenn Fujikawa, a food writer who’s authored Star Wars, Ghostbusters, and Avengers cookbooks. “I really study the shows to build a proper backstory so that the recipe makes sense in-world.”

Monroe-Cassel says the trick to re-creating fictional foods often lies in finding real-world ingredients that can convincingly pose as imaginary alternatives—which may sound rather straightforward until you’re staring down the culinary canon of World of Warcraft and have to whip up dishes with names like Chimaerok Chops. With foods as made-up as these, where do you even begin?

“So a rok is a bird, and a chimaera is a lion-eagle-goat thing,” says Monroe-Cassel. “I can work with goat, but I can’t find goat.” Anything else, then? “Let’s do lamb!” The result is a lamb-shoulder chop marinated in a nutmeg-and-Aleppo-pepper-flake rub, served with couscous or rice. Not bad for a dish that appears in the video game as only a small, vaguely food-shaped clump of brown pixels.

This is, of course, half the appeal. Not only do these foods offer new sensory gateways into fictional worlds, but when they’re cooked, you get to eat them. “I want my cookbooks to be fun to use at home for watch parties, so I like to make sure the food isn’t too daunting that people wouldn’t even want to try to make it,” says Fujikawa.

The more children-oriented cookbooks often contain novelty dishes, like the Dobby-shaped cupcakes of the The Official Harry Potter Baking Book, or the Splash Zone cocktail of Jurassic World: The Official Cookbook that arranges marshmallows around the rim of a glass to (sort of) look like the toothed mouth of a dinosaur. “You want to make sure everyone feels included, especially in comics,” says Michelin-star chef Paul Eschbach, who created the recipes of the upcoming Marvel: Spider-Man: The Official Cookbook. “We’re not making up a cookbook for Noma here. What is Peter Parker going to eat?”

It’s exactly the sort of question we’ve been asking of our favourite characters for decades. Pop-culture cookbooks may be enjoying a newfound popularity, but the genre is hardly new. Cult soap opera Dark Shadows received a cookbook tie-in back in 1970, and Marvel put out a collection of superhero-inspired recipes a few years later. Trekkies got their first recipe book in 1999, and The Sopranos Family Cookbook followed in 2002.

These early titles, though, were few and far between, and it wasn’t until the 2012 publication of Monroe-Cassel’s first Game of Thrones cookbook that the genre took off in earnest. She and a friend had started a blog the year before to showcase their take on foods from the beloved book series; then they sent a tongue-in-cheek email to author George R.R. Martin suggesting they team up for an official collection. “Not only did he write back,” Monroe-Cassel says, but he told his publishers to get on it. “Turns out that whatever George Martin wants, George Martin gets.”


It helped that the Game of Thrones TV adaptation had just started airing, enthusing a fresh audience to the lore of Westeros and creating a new batch of fans to lap up merch of the hottest prestige television show of the moment. At the same time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was inching toward its eventual domination of the Hollywood box office. Suddenly, sweeping imaginary worlds became the commercial tentpoles of pop culture. Understanding their expansive lore was no longer lazily seen as the purview of geeks, nerds, and other unpleasant stereotypes but instead practically necessary if you wanted to keep up with the latest watercooler chat in the office.

“Everyone can be geeky these days, and it’s not frowned upon,” says Nicolle Lamerichs, lecturer in creative business at University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, who specialises in studying fandom and media. “That even your average uncle is watching these shows and is super invested in them helps to see how fans are part of the mainstream.”

Bertha Chin, lecturer in social media and communication at Swinburne University of Technology and coeditor of Eating Fandom: Intersections Between Fans and Food Cultures, remembers when fandom was chiefly expressed and enjoyed at comic cons, clubs, and other underground events. Fans would meet up for a weekend to enjoy their shared interests before returning to their normal lives come Monday morning. “Now everywhere you turn on Twitter or TikTok, people are just sharing their fandom,” she says. “A lot of it has to do with social media making everything more accessible.”

With like-minded people just a few clicks away, it’s easier than ever to find a community that shares an interest in whatever characters, worlds, or creators you love. And with potentially thousands of other Internet users always ready to chat, speculate, argue, and share memes online—anonymously or otherwise—you need never stop. A burgeoning interest can quickly become a hobby, and it doesn’t take that much screen time for a hobby to become an obsession.

It’s music to the ears of publishers looking for an easy payday. To some degree, fans are the perfect consumers: They’re loyal, dedicated, and have at least some level of preexisting interest in branded products. Pitch a product right and you’ll open the door to a ready-made audience. Or try an outlandish idea like, say, a tie-in cookbook and you’ve got a good chance of finding a gap that fans have been waiting to fill.

As a big Star Trek fan, for instance, Lamerichs owns various bits of merch, including things like fictional travel guides to the planet Vulcan and other locations in the show. “But the nice thing with a cookbook is that in a way it’s interactive,” she says. “It’s about re-creating these dishes and fantasising about these dishes. It’s about thinking, If this had existed for real, how would we go about creating it? There is more creativity to it than wearing a T-shirt.”

Yet there’s also something undeniably peculiar about it all. It’s a strange, almost amusing exercise to reduce the world’s most commercially and critically beloved franchises to items that can fit on a kitchen shelf. It’s not only that these blockbuster worlds seem too big for the pages of a recipe book but that recipe books themselves sit in an altogether different domain. They belong to the mainstream.

Pop-culture cookbooks, then, seem to straddle the divide, extending fandom to the very consumers who are typically thought of as outside it. Or to put it another way, while you probably won’t catch many Downton Abbey fans walking around in graphic tees or adding to their Funko Pop collections, a great deal of them will be exactly the sort of people to enjoy a good recipe collection.


For food historian Annie Gray, there’s more to it than just business savvy. When she was asked to create the official cookbook of Downton Abbey, she was most interested in how the format could be a useful vehicle. She remembers thinking, “I can use this to put across the actual history of the period tied into a series that people really love. This is a really good opportunity to get real history in front of an audience of people who are already receptive.”

Much like the television shows on which they’re based, the recipes in Gray’s Official Downton Abbey Cookbook and Call the Midwife: The Official Cookbook are inspired by the ingredients and tastes of their eras but tweaked to be more palatable for a modern audience. Every recipe is introduced by an explanation of its origins and development, and sections are interspersed with short essays discussing the trends, industries, and forces that influenced English cooking of the time.

It’s a far cry from some of the other pop-culture cookbooks Gray remembers reading in preparation. Many, she says, made basic historical errors, while an unofficial Downton Abbey cookbook seemed to think the fictional stately home was somehow connected to England’s monastic “abbeys” dissolved in the Reformation of the 16th century.

Errors that egregious are thankfully rare, but it’s still not too hard to spot the cash grabs of the genre. Cast your eye across a random selection of pop-culture cookbooks and you’ll quickly see brands so devoid of culinary material, or so infertile for expansion, that slapping their name on a recipe book seems little more than cynical.

Will fans of 16-bit video games really get much from Sonic the Hedgehog: The Official Cookbook? Will Fast & Furious: The Official Cookbook have anything to teach a burgeoning gourmand? And does Catan, a nearly 30-year-old board game that includes no mention of food other than the odd picture of a bushel of wheat, have much to offer a home cook? For obsessives, maybe. For those looking for an easy birthday gift for an obsessive, probably. And for publishers, certainly.

“These books have been really selling well and getting really great placement,” says Casie Vogel, vice president and publisher at Ulysses Press, who published Catan: The Official Cookbook last year. Picking recipes for that book, she says, involved choosing foods that could tie into the game through wordplay or could be shared by a group of friends during a board-game night. But selecting the license for a cookbook is more business minded.

“It’s a lot of discussion about who do we think the audience is for these shows, movies, or whatever the pop-culture tie-in is,” Vogel says, “and going from there to see if those are people that we think are book buyers who kind of get this stan-fan culture.”


Brenna Connor, manager of U.S. books-industry insights at the market-research firm Circana, says that such licensing is now an important part of the book market at large. In the U.S. between 2013 and 2023, the number of published licensed books more than doubled, and while cookbook sales are down from their pandemic peak, licensed cookbooks of all varieties represent one pocket of growth. Many are tied not to pop-culture brands but to individuals who’ve made a name for themselves on TikTok, YouTube, and other social media platforms, including B. Dylan Hollis, Joshua Weissman, Nick DiGiovanni, Barbara Costello, and Joanne Lee Molinaro.

These authors are effectively the modern incarnations of the TV chef. “On average in 2023, cookbook sales for these TikTok stars outperformed the top 100 cookbooks by 600 percent,” says Connor. In fact, looking at licensed books across all adult categories, the licensed cookbook is the top area of growth, with sales reaching 2.2 million books in 2023. “The titles driving the most growth are coming from licenses with strong brand loyalty, like Disney Parks, Yellowstone, Dungeons & Dragons, Minecraft, and Hocus Pocus,” says Connor.

It’s a trend the publishing industry has fully embraced. Consider the case of UK imprint Expanse, which was set up by mega-publisher HarperCollins to specifically focus on the biggest properties across gaming, TV, and film. Its mantra is “books for fans, by fans”—a motto that couldn’t better summarise the way publishers are betting on the ever-growing appetite of fandoms. Says Expanse publishing director John Packard, “I think there is a lot of nostalgia for these brands, either for something you played or watched as a kid or spent hundreds of hours of your life immersed in. People want to carry on that experience and continue engaging with that world, and cookbooks are one fun way of doing that.”

It’s not like their creators are going to run out of material anytime soon. “We’ve got other offshoots of it, whether it’s baking, cocktails, or entertaining,” says Vanessa Lopez, who oversees licensing and partnerships at publisher Insight Editions. “And there’s always new media being created that gives us opportunity for this sort of publishing.”

Are we set, then, to wade through ever more of these novelty recipe collections, created with varying degrees of quality and love yet published ultimately for the reliable financial return promised by the brands and characters and worlds to which we’ve grown loyally attached? Yes, probably. But is that so bad?

When writer and comic historian Jermaine McLaughlin was approached to pen the words of Marvel: Spider-Man: The Official Cookbook, the whole project seemed a bit of a head-scratcher. But after going through the process and seeing the final collection of recipes —taken from across the five boroughs of New York as seen through Spider-Man’s mask—he understands the appeal. “There’s something pretty fun about being able to marry people’s culinary interest—even if it’s, like mine, a surface-level interest—with these characters,” he says. “It makes the read a bit more fun, and it may help people discover recipes that they may not have even known they were interested in.”

The best fiction has always challenged conventional taste. Now it’s just doing that in more ways than one.

Originally published on Esquire US

Adaptation of a book can be a herculean task. And none more daunting than Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem. As the first instalment of a trilogy, Liu's Three-Body, it will take a deft hand to adapt it to a different medium. Our trepidations are allayed when news broke that David Benioff and DB Weiss—who were behind HBO's Game of Thrones—will handle Three-Body. (Hopefully, it won't falter like GoT's final season but that's another story.)

Joined by Alexander Woo, who co-created The Terror, Benioff and Weiss will use the suicides in the scientific community as a jumping point for 3 Body Problem. At least, according to the full-length trailer that just dropped (a teaser was shown at last year's Tudum event). With Liu's blessings, 3 Body Problem will have narrative tweaks to the adaptation. Stuff like chronological shifts and characters and the setting being in the present-day UK. The trailer has Radiohead's "Everything in its Place" playing hauntingly in the background. Benedict Wong, plays the detective assigned to the case. As the trailer progresses, he recruits a scientist, Auggie Salazar (played by Eiza González), to assist him.

Benedict Wong as Da Shi. NETFLIX

But this premise of weird deaths soon explodes into something far-reaching. And something beyond the ken of human experience as we stand at the precipice of an extraterrestrial invasion. Netflix commissioned eight episodes of 3 Body Problem. With an average of USD25 million spent on each episode, this series will be Netflix's most expensive production to date. It will also be the second-most expensive behind Amazon's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

3 Body Problem premieres March 21 2024 on Netflix.

Procrastinators, boss-havers, degenerate undergraduates, lend me your ears. Have you ever added extra spaces on an essay to meet a minimum page requirement? Sneakily increased the font size on periods to pad your page count? Claimed to be working toward a deadline even if you were most clearly not?

If this sounds like you, then come sit by George R.R. Martin. Martin, who you may remember, is suffering from the most public case of writer’s block in human history. He’s been writing The Winds of Winter, the highly-anticipated penultimate volume in his Game of Thrones series, since at least 2010—and lately, as if to make up for over a decade of missed deadlines, he’s speaking out on how the book is worth the wait (funny, I think I told my British Lit professor the same thing when I needed an extension). Last year, in a livestream arranged by his publisher, Martin claimed that The Winds of Winter is "about three-quarters of the way done," although he's hesitant to provide a release date for fear of disappointing his readers. He also revealed that this will be the longest Game of Thrones title yet, calling it "a monstrous book as big as a dragon."

But can we believe Martin? After all, we've been deceived before, and the guy sure doesn't like to be reminded of missed deadlines. "I've given up making predictions, because people press me and press me: 'When is it going to be done?'" Martin said. "And I make what I think is the best case estimate, and then stuff happens. Then everybody gets mad that I 'lied.' I've never lied about these predictions. They're the best I can make, but I guess I overestimate my ability to get stuff done, and I underestimate the amount of interruptions and other projects, other demands that will distract me."

Now, reader, it's my duty to inform you of Martin's latest non-writing endeavour: buying a ticket to Barbie. It could be the one instance of procrastination I can overlook. On Monday morning, Martin posted a pinkified image of himself to social media, with the caption, "I went to see Barbie with my lovely wife; she said pink is my colour. #imkenough" She's right, I have to admit, especially with Martin's pink bow and fuzzy flamingo scarf! Martin seemed positively giddy. At the screening, did Martin's fellow theatre goers shout, "Hi George!" at him? Or did they just heckle and ask for a Winds of Winter update? (I would've done both.)

I went to see Barbie with my lovely wife; she said pink is my color. #imkenough

— George RR Martin (@GRRMspeaking) July 31, 2023

About all of this. Just how did Martin dig himself into this hole? Allow me to take you back in time, dear reader, on a journey through the ghosts of deadlines past. Our story begins in 2010, when Martin gleefully announced on his blog that four chapters of The Winds of Winter were complete. Then, in 2011, the first rumbles of trouble: in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, he declined to give a timeline on when fans could expect the sixth book, saying, ​​“There’s an element of fans who don’t seem to realize I’m making estimates. I’ve repeatedly been guilty of an excess of optimism.” How young we were in 2011! How naive!

In 2012, speaking with the Spanish blog Adria’s News, Martin claimed that The Winds of Winter would arrive in 2014, though he did couch that promise in, “I am really bad for predictions” (just wait, this is going to become a theme). Then, after 2014 came and went with no Winds of Winter, Martin’s publisher poured cold water over fans’ heads. “I have no information on likely delivery,” Jane Johnson of HarperCollins told The Guardian. “These are increasingly complex books and require immense amounts of concentration to write. Fans really ought to appreciate that the length of these monsters is equivalent to two or three novels by other writers.” You hear that, everyone? We should just be grateful and stop holding the guy to his word.

In March 2015, Martin told Access, “I still have a lot of pages to write, but I also have a lot of pages that are already written.” Spoken like a true college student. Then, a month later, he told Entertainment Weekly that he hoped to release the book in spring 2016 to coincide with the sixth season of HBO’s Game of Thronessaying, “Maybe I’m being overly optimistic about how quickly I can finish. But I cancelled two convention appearances, I’m turning down a lot more interviews—anything I can do to clear my decks and get this done.” But no sooner did 2016 arrive than he said in January of that year, “I am not going to set another deadline for myself to trip over. The deadlines just stress me out.” I’m going to try that one on my editor next time. Fans were alarmed in September 2016 when Amazon France listed The Winds of Winter with a March 2017 release date, but according to HarperCollins, it was a big ol’ nothingburger.

Cut to January 2017, when Martin insisted that this was definitely going to be his year: “I think it will be out this year. (But hey, I thought the same thing last year),” he wrote on his blog. But then, he kept toying with fans, writing, “I am still working on it, I am still months away (how many? good question), I still have good days and bad days, and that's all I care to say… I do think you will have a Westeros book from me in 2018... and who knows, maybe two. A boy can dream…” How about you finish one book, sir, and then we’ll talk about two?

In June 2018, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for the first of many Game of Thrones spin-offs, and that Martin was co-writing the pilot. Fans eagerly awaiting his next book were understandably concerned, so he took to his trusty blog to reassure them: “Work on Winds of Winter continues, and remains my top priority,” Martin wrote. “It is ridiculous to think otherwise.” Ridiculous!

When the virus forced everyone into isolation in 2020, Martin was finally stranded at home with nothing to do but write. This was the perverted fulfillment of fans' wishes. “If nothing else, the enforced isolation has helped me write,” he commented on his blog. “I am spending long hours every day on The Winds of Winter, and making steady progress. I finished a new chapter yesterday, another one three days ago, another one the previous week. But no, this does not mean that the book will be finished tomorrow or published next week. It’s going to be a huge book, and I still have a long way to go.”

Martin wasn’t kidding when he said he had a long way to go. In June 2021, he seemed downright incensed at the thought of being held accountable to all his missed deadlines, writing on his blog, "I will make no predictions on when I will finish. Every time I do, assholes on the internet take that as a 'promise', and then wait eagerly to crucify me when I miss the deadline. All I will say is that I am hopeful.”

About those assholes on the internet (could he talking about me?)—Martin sure seems sick of hearing from them. In an interview with IGN, he spoke out about the pressure he faces from the Thrones fandom, saying, "I get that Winds of Winter, the sixth book, is late. I could get a hundred good comments, but there are still a few fans who are going to remind me on my blog; I say, 'Happy Thanksgiving' and they say, 'Never mind Happy Thanksgiving, where's the book?' I love the fans, although I do think Twitter and the internet and social media has brought out a viciousness I never saw in the old days. Love and hate are very close, particularly with something like comic books or any established franchises." If you can't take the heat, sir, why not just finish the book?

Martin appears to have a new tactic: to divert attention from the book's tardiness, he teases readers with suggestions about its content. The author discussed the differences between the book and the television series in a blog post. “An architect would be able to give a short, concise, simple answer to that, but I am much more of a gardener," he wrote. "My stories grow and evolve and change as I write them. I generally know where I am going, sure… the final destinations, the big set pieces, they have been my head for years… for decades, in the case of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE. There are lots of devils in the details, though, and sometimes the ground changes under my feet as the words pour forth.”

It also sounds like The Winds of Winter and A Song of Ice and Fire (the upcoming final volume in the series—I don't even want to talk about it) may have a different body count than the television series. “One thing I can say, in general enough terms that I will not be spoiling anything: not all of the characters who survived until the end of GAME OF THRONES will survive until the end of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, and not all of the characters who died on GAME OF THRONES will die in A SONG OF ICE & FIRE," Martin continued. "(Some will, sure. Of course. Maybe most. But definitely not all) ((Of course, I could change my mind again next week, with the next chapter I write. That’s gardening)). And the ending? You will need to wait until I get there. Some things will be the same. A lot will not.”

This all brings us up to the present—where now, even animated characters are getting on Martin's case. In an episode of Stephen Colbert's Tooning Out the News, Martin appears as a guest of animated host Dr. Ike Bloom, who introduces the author as “a struggling writer—let me revise that, truly pathetic—who is having trouble meeting deadlines.” You took the words right out of my mouth, Ike! The segment quickly devolves into a good-natured roast when Bloom calls up James Patterson in the hope of getting Martin "some tips on how to be a successful author."

When Patterson asks for the lowdown, Martin reveals that he missed his deadline 11 years ago. "I've heard of writer's block; this is more like writer's constipation," Patterson jokes. Martin goes on to reveal that he’s written around 1,100 to 1,200 pages of the book so far, and has just “another 400, 500 pages” to go. Patterson suggests breaking The Winds of Winter into three separate books, saying, "Your problem is solved. You break down the 1,100 pages into three books, you submit them one per year—they'll be happy and suddenly you'll be ahead of schedule." As if Martin's readers would fall for that, after all these years of false starts, but it's a nice idea.

Are we certain all the missed deadlines were worth it for this incredibly lengthy, fantastic, nearly finished book? Even though it seems as though Martin's suffering would never end, we are still holding out hope. Hey, friend, have you heard of Procrastinators Anonymous? Maybe they can help. And as for the next and final book in the series, A Dream of Spring... I don't even want to talk about it.

Originally published on Esquire US