Game of Thrones is drawing to a close. As the TV show prepares to wrap up with this year's eighth series – fans needing their Westeros fix will soon be crying to the skies, "Just when is The Winds of Winter coming out?!"
Unfortunately, notorious lazy-bones George RR Martin has still refused to name a date for when the much delayed sixth novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series (on which the HBO show is based) will be released.
This has left millions of fans gnawing at their mouths in exasperation, while attempting to assemble clues from the scraps Martin has tossed their way in the last few years.
Here's everything we know so far about the mystery book, Winds of Winter ...
When is The Winds of Winter coming out, and why has it taken so long to get here?
George RR Martin has, to be fair, never been the most prolific of authors, with his last novel, 2011's A Dance of Dragons, taking six years to write. But a big part of the frustration over The Winds of Winter has been the enormous increase in popularity the series has experienced in the recent years, turning Martin's epic saga from a cult fantasy yarn into internationally beloved blockbuster.
To the frustration of many, The Winds of Winter was initially reported to be released in or around 2014, Martin having started work on it at the turn of the decade. But this didn't come to pass, with Martin claiming in interviews that he would be refusing to comment further about possible release dates – "It will be done when it's done," he told The Atlantic in 2011.
He did, however, make public that he had hoped the book would be published in advance of Game of Thrones's sixth season, which would have used some of the same plot points. But, and you may be sensing a theme, that too didn't come to pass, with the series overtaking the books for the first time. As a result, Martin pledged to drop any other writing or editing commitments that weren't related to The Winds of Winter. (He has since reneged on that promise, publishing a spin-off book this year).
Martin updated fans on his progress in July 2017, when he wrote on his LiveJournal that he was "still working on it" and that he has "good days and bad days, and that's all I care to say." He also disputed rumours that the book was finished and had been left unpublished for "some nefarious reason", as well as speculation that he hasn't actually written any of it at all.
In his last blog post, on May 4, he also signed off by saying "Lots lots more going on, but I have pages to write. ’nuff said."
But hasn't George RR Martin released extracts from the book already?
Whether or not it was helpful or not in the long run, Martin has been semi-generous when it comes to teasing fans with sample chapters from The Winds of Winter. Some have been released as bonus chapters in paperback editions of A Dance with Dragons, others alongside Game of Thrones phone apps, and some recited by Martin himself at conventions. Here they are, in a nutshell:
Published on Martin's website in late 2011, this chapter was originally cut from A Dance of Dragons, and sees Theon being held prisoner by Stannis Baratheon. Despite wishing to sentence Theon to death, Stannis is eventually convinced to keep him alive by Asha.
Published on Martin's site several weeks after Theon, this chapter sees Arianne Martell, a character cut from the series, setting out with a band of companions to meet the young boy who calls himself Aegon Targaryen. While on her way, she ponders the identity of the boy, and encounters a little girl named Teora who claims she has dreamed about dragons and the devastation that they bring.
Victarion Greyjoy, another character cut from the series, attempts to court some cannon fodder to help him lure Daenerys and her dragons to their side. This chapter was read aloud by Martin at a fan convention in 2012.
In this chapter, another one read by Martin at a fan convention in 2012, it's Tyrion who attempts to lure people away from their allegiances. Here, he tries to push sellsword Brown Ben Plumm back onto Daenerys's side and abandon his allegiance to the Yunkish. The chapter is not available to read on Martin's website, but if you have a smartphone you can read it on the A World of Fire and Ice app (available from Google Play and iTunes).
Released alongside the paperback edition of A Dance of Dragons, this chapter sees former Lord Commander of The Kingsguard Barristan (killed off in the show but still alive in the books) leading a rallying cry to his men as they prepare to do battle with the slavers of Yunkai, who have taken over the city of Meereen.
In this immediate follow-up chapter, read by Martin at a 2012 convention, the battle between Barristan's men and the Yunkish results in a victory for the former.
Occurring concurrently with the Barristan chapters, this follow-up, released in a free update to the World of Fire and Ice app in 2014, sees Tyrion finally convince Brown Ben Plumm to switch sides, all while Meereen collapses around them.
This Arya-centric chapter was originally conceived as part of Martin's "five-year gap" scenario, which would have had his characters jump five years into the future at the very beginning of A Feast of Crows, the fourth book in the series. But this was eventually scrapped, with this chapter rewritten for The Winds of Winter. In it, Arya is in the midst of her Faceless Man training and working undercover at a theatre. While performing, she notices that a security guard working the theatre previously killed one of her close friends, so she exacts her revenge on him backstage.
The only chapter released in 2015, this extract takes place while Sansa remains in the guise of Littlefinger's bastard daughter Alayne. At a tournament in the Vale, she encounters the future lord of the region and successfully wraps him around her little finger, furthering Littlefinger's plot to have them married.
Posted on Martin's website, this is the immediate follow-up to the previous Arianne chapter, but seems to indicate her potential demise. Still on her quest to find Aegon, Arianne decides to abandon her companions and find Aegon by herself.
This chapter, read at a convention in 2017, sees a captive Aeron Greyjoy forced to ingest a magical elixir by his brother Euron, which drives him to terrifying visions of the future.
Has the show spoiled the books?
This appears to be the biggest sticking point for fans who have been anxiously awaiting The Winds of Winter – will anything be new if the show has overtaken the source material?
While certain events in Game of Thrones's sixth season were lifted directly from Martin's future book plans, notably the backstory for Hodor and Shireen Baratheon's grisly demise, series creators David Benioff and DB Weiss have said that in recent years they have been largely left to their own devices.
Unlike the show's first five seasons, which had the books' major set pieces to pull from, seasons six and seven proved a challenge.
"Whether it was Cersei's walk of shame, or the attempted assassination on Dany where she's rescued from the gladiator pit by the dragon, we knew we had these great moments to count on," Weiss told Deadline. "This season we didn't have that. With the exception of a couple of beats. On the Iron Islands, and the things that happened there, and the great reveal with Hodor, which George told us about.
"Other than a few key things, we were really beyond the books and to me it's a testament to George's characters and the world he created. At this point, after so many years writing for these characters and spending time in George's world, we had to be able to walk on our own feet."
With that in mind, plus the obvious book-to-show differences in the released chapters so far, it seems unlikely that The Winds of Winter will merely follow the plots of the TV show. If anything, it'll just read like a slightly weird alternate dimension.
Is Game of Thrones' season 8 not based on the books?
It's highly unlikely. Thanks to release date pressure, George R.R. Martin has reportedly been fairly disconnected to the end of the TV series.
While working on The Winds of Winter, he actually declined the opportunity to make a cameo appearance in Games of Thrones' final season and chose not to read the scripts for the final six episodes altogether.
Martin said “there may be important discrepancies” in the ending of the show and book series.