Fans of George R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) fantasy series have spent a long time waiting for their books. A Game of Thrones started the series in 1996, followed by A Clash of Kings in 1998, and then A Storm of Swords in 2000. Five years passed before A Feast for Crows came out, half of a too-big-to-print text that saw its second half come out in 2011. The next book, The Winds of Winter, was supposed to be released in 2014, then 2016, and then 2017. It is now 2022—three full years after the end of the HBO show that made the franchise a bonafide global phenomenon—and there’s no clear indication whether the book will come out anytime soon.
This hasn’t stopped fans from theorizing about the series in the meantime. There are theories about whether Martin—often affectionately called GRRM—has actually written anything, theories on publication using previous release dates as data, and so on. My personal favorites, however, are those about the series itself, but specifically those by YouTuber Preston Jacobs who is now writing a crowdsourced fan fiction version of The Winds of Winter along with volunteers who congregate in a Discord with just over 450 members.
For the past eight years, Jacobs has been creating videos offering compelling, well-researched theories that answer longstanding mysteries (the last book came out in 2011), uncover character motivations, reveal new conspiracies and mysteries that readers may not have realized were hidden in the text, and GRRM’s body of work itself. In an interview with Motherboard, he traced his initial interest back to a slow realization that details in GRRM’s text were subtle but still impactful on the text.
“I always use the example in A Clash of Kings: Theon famously kills these two miller’s boys because Bran and Rickon escape. The story completely works just as them being random miller’s boys, but there’s one single line in it where George R. R. Martin mentions that he was having sex with the miller’s wife. Well wait a minute,” Jacobs explained. “There’s literally thousands of these little details throughout the books that fans have latched onto and have loved debating and thinking about and hypothesizing about the future, wanting to know ‘Will this come back? Is this important?’ So in that sense, it’s really, really fun.”
Jacobs has posted videos laying out a conspiracy by maesters of the Citadel to rid the world of ASOIAF—Planetos—of magic, tracking a simple Mendelian genetics scheme can be used to prove dragon hatching and taming are X-chromosome linked abilities that various groups tried to stomp out, arguing that Bran has been traveling back in time for ages trying to steer the events of our story, and suggesting that Littlefinger is tricking most of the realm’s lords into accepting loans they’ll never escape in exchange for loyalty, and more.
There’s even a 10-part series arguing that ASOIAF is actually a post-apocalyptic science fiction series featuring hive minds, genetic engineering, and time traveling—a theory that Jacobs offers a persuasive case for, but is made even more convincing by the fact most of GRRM’s published work is science fiction centered on hive minds, genetic engineering, and time travel.
“Thematically, if the stories were so similar to his previous work again, maybe he’s repeating himself. Maybe I can extrapolate and think about the future. It was really about wanting to know how a story ended, but without the actual end of the story,” Jacobs mused. “If you were given half of the book, It, and you didn’t know how it ended, could you read the rest of Stephen King and his other bodies of work and kind of figure out what happened? I don’t know, it’s a good question.”
The project has been progressing at about a chapter a month, with four having come out since the fan fiction was first announced on March 11. Each month Jacobs releases a video outlining submission guidelines for a new chapter that goes into detail about plot points to hit, themes to explore, reference chapters to work with, but with enough room for submissions to be creative and take the plot in new directions if it makes sense within the ASOIAF universe.
Each chapter is… amazing. Jacobs and his all-volunteer team of writers and editors have been able to churn out high-quality work that is incredibly promising. It sounds like GRRM’s writing, remains faithful to themes and characterizations and plots established elsewhere, and takes the story in exciting directions that are based on threads that GRRM himself placed in the books.
“I’m sure most people don’t want me to have Quentyn be alive, but I’m just going for it. Which hills I’m going to die on and which ones I’m not is probably pretty irrational, but I’m amazed—even only three chapters in—how organic it is and how different ideas have come.”
One such organic plot device has been the use of a white raven. In the world of Planetos, ravens are trained by maesters who use them to send messages between noble houses as well as the Citadel, where maesters are trained. A white raven harkens the arrival of winter, a season Planetos is overdue for and threatens to last for years on end. The ravens, however, can also be trained to deliver special vocal messages and so Jacobs wants to have ravens utter “Beware Jon” as a warning meant for Jon Snow, the protagonist dramatically killed off at the end of GRRM’s last novel. There are multiple characters named Jon in this universe, however, and so the ravens will be appearing in key locations and sowing doubt in characters named Jon.
The first chapter, called Daenerys I, takes place over a month and starts with the first snowfall in the Dothraki holy city Vaes Dothrak. Last we saw Dany, she was weakened in the midst of a miscarriage followed by an intense psychadelic trip that may have shifted her personality a bit. Here, readers may recognize some of the plot narrative from the show as she reflects on her heritage as a Targaryen, is nearly made into a widow priest of sorts, and reunites with Drogon to lay waste to the congregation.
The second features Aero Hotah, bodyguard to Prince Doran Martell, as he helps execute a scheme hatched by one of Doran’s bastard nieces—the Sand Sankes—to kill a host of Lannister men and a member of Cersei’s Kingsguard as part of a still murky plot by Doran to take revenge against the Lannisters for the murders of several members of his family.
The third chapter is a prologue featuring a character who exists only in the appendix for one of the main books, fleshing them out into a compelling maester who thinks he has solved why Planteos’ seasons stretch years or decades. It features early bits of science, magic, winter, and intrigue as the character is—like every other prologue character—unceremoniously killed off by the end.
The next chapter will be called Alyane II, a follow up to the first Alyane chapter made available by GRRM in 2015. Alayne Stone is the alias for Sansa Stark, who is hiding with Littlefinger as he schemes to seize control of the Vale from Sansa’s sickly child cousin, Sweetrobin Arryn. In a call for submissions, Jacobs asked for stories to follow a plot line centering on a tourney Littlefinger seeks to rig in his favor to secure valuable hostages, but quickly proceeds in a disastrous fashion. At the same time, events proceed that eventually convince the lords of the Vale to secede from the Iron Throne and declare their own independent kingdom.
“We’re working on this Alyane chapter and I was like ‘Oh I really want it to start well and have somebody punch me in the gut, have a good start of the chapter.’ Nothing was coming in, I didn’t have any ideas,” Jacobs told Motherboard. “And then one of the submissions comes in and Sansa is repeating the names of the nights that they want to win like Arya’s death list. The minute I read it, I was like ‘That’s a fucking brilliant idea. Oh my god.’ And so that’s where we’re going.”
GRRM, in the meantime, has been vague about his plans and what comes next. In a recent blog post, he spent a significant amount of time waxing on about different writing styles—an architect who plans every beat and a gardener who lets the story take them in unexpected directions, for example—and how this was taking the ASOIAF ending away from the direction of the show’s ending.
“No doubt, once I am done, there will be huge debate about which version of the story is better. Some people will like my book, others will prefer the television show. And that’s fine, you pays your money and your makes your choice [sic]. (I do fear that a certain proportion of fans are so angry about how long WINDS has taken me that they are prepared to hate the book, unread. That saddens me, but there [is] nothing I can do about it, but write the best book that I can, and hope that when it comes out most fans will read it with clean hands and an open mind).”
That’s all fine and well, George, but when is the book going to come out? Until then, and if that day ever comes, we have Jacobs and his collaborators’ version of the story.
“It says a lot that it takes an army of people to be as good as George RR Martin—hopefully we’re getting there. I’m really proud of the three chapters that are made,” Jacobs told Motherboard. “Some of the best compliments I’ve been getting are like ‘Oh my god, I didn’t realize this was fan fiction until I read the comments, I really thought this was a George RR Martin chapter.”
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