To paraphrase Douglas Adams: George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think The Lord of the Rings is big, but that’s just peanuts to ASoIaF.
It’s so big, it’s little wonder it’s been a challenge for one lone writer to finish it—even if that writer did originally plan to fit its story a tidy trilogy before discovering that his favorite thing in the world was inventing new characters and sending them down rabbit holes.
There would be no shame, then, if George R.R. Martin were to ask for a bit of help in finishing off his series—in fact, the results might be something remarkable. In a few weeks, HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation will give us one ending for the story. Here’s how we imagine 15 other writers might finish off Martin’s revolutionary series (but make no mistake: there’s no substitute for the real thing, and we’re willing—if not entirely happy—to wait for GRRM to give us the real deal).
The Golden Company, the Unsulllied, the Night’s Watch, the Free Folk, and the Stark vassals are all gathered for the final battle. The armies of the dead arrive and take up position. Suddenly, in the distance, strange music. A looping, eerie riff echoes as the Night’s King flies in on the back of an Ice Dragon. It’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” The Night’s King lands and hops off. “Hi there,” he says, looking around. “Name’s Flagg. Randall Flagg.” Meanwhile, Bran has a strange experience, warging to find himself in control of a man named Stephen King, a resident of “New York City” in the year “1982.” Bran, as King, locates a young Brooklyn boy who never speaks and is obsessed with a handheld video game called The Doom of Valyria. They encounter a disgraced Olympic shotputter named Alison, and the trio returns together to Westeros, where the game is suddenly transformed into an ancient magical relic: the Doomglass. But the Night’s King is about to win the battle, and they are too far away. “I got this,” says Alison, who shotputs the Doomglass directly at the wintery fiend, who explodes in a mushroom-shaped cloud of fire as all his minions turn to ice and shatter.
Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Samwell work together in the midst of an epic, raging battle—dragon duels, swarms of White Walkers clashing with the Golden Company, Bran just warging into everything—until Jamie Lannister winds up in a duel with the Night’s King himself. Jamie puts up a great fight but slowly loses ground—until Jon, Danny, and Sam arrive to plunge a dragonglass dagger into the Night’s King’s back, destroying him and his army. At the last second, however, the Night’s King turns and injures Sam, driving them back. Suddenly a mysterious figure in a cloak emerges from the boiling battlefield, retrieving the dagger. His hood flutters back and he’s revealed to be Petyr Baelish. “I did warn you not to trust me, you know,” he says with a smirk. Screaming “For Catelyn! Always!” Littlefinger charges at the Night’s King and sacrifices himself, winning the day for the living. Turns out, the bad guy was a hero all along!
After reviewing George R.R. Martin’s notes, Sanderson announces it will take not two but six more books to finish the story properly. After delivering four 1,000-page tomes, Sanderson himself passes away (buried under a pile of 3,500 manuscript pages for the ninth book in the Stormlight Archive) with the story still incomplete. It is the year 2049. The final two books are completed by Christopher Paolini, working from Sanderson’s notes on Martin’s outlines, and are beamed directly into people’s brains via the NookVR brain uplink.
The endless lines of undead stood implacable and numb not hungry or thirsty but wanting and haunted by the vague memories of life that still burned like minor coals within them. The ice dragon soared above shadow and claw and smashed into the warm fiery life of Daenerys’ remaining beasts of fire and rage. The White Walkers knew what she did not know the secret of the true hidden universe that they had sprung from the dark maw of a devouring universe. She thought she brought death with her flying in on thick leathery wings and fueled by her own rage her own will her own fate and family and legacy and doom. She did not know death. They knew death and they knew it to be ravenous and infinite and the destination that did not come in fire and blood but in the slow steady creep of snow and ice. From the North! Always from the North. And the North would become the world and the world would become the desolate perfect shining gem of ancient things.
The entire final novel is from Samwell’s point of view as he writes the final volume of his history. He reveals that the Night’s King was actually Bran, who went into the past and became his own worst enemy. Bran was also the Mad King, and, in fact, also everyone else. Everyone was Bran. A complex braid of timelines involved Bran going into the past over and over again; Bran was even Samwell for a time, but found it terribly boring and abandoned him. Bran amused himself by directing the events of the War of the Five Kings and the White Walker invasion, and eventually controlled everyone in Westeros. He was finally defeated when Nymeria arrived at the head of the Dog Army, the only independent creatures left in Westeros. Sam’s final paragraphs reveal that Westeros abandoned the old religions and now worships dogs, and all is right in the world.
The entire final book is narrated by Hot Pie, who is captured by a cult of insane worshipers of the Red God and imbued with the ability to come back from death. He dies multiple times, using his ability as a way of getting out of dangerous or simply embarrassing situations. As the story progresses, his deaths become increasingly bizarre and disturbing, and he realizes that every time he comes back he’s a little thinner; instead of his usual stout body, by the end of the story he’s skinny and frail. He changes his name to “Hot Pocket” and begins to repeat the phrase “A little less of me, a little more life.” He discovers that when he speaks it, someone else dies, and he gains a little weight back. The cultists follow him to the Wall, where the Night’s King is fighting a desperate battle for Westeros. Hot Pocket speaks his phrase to the Night’s King, and in a flash, the frozen army is gone, and Hot Pie (again) grows to an enormous size in an instant. He then dies of multiple organ failure.
Riding on the back of Drogon, Danny and Jon frantically scan the desolate ruins of Valyria. “It’s not here!” Jon shouts. “That can’t be!” Danny shouts back. “The riddle in the ancient tome your Samwell brought back must have—” She stops suddenly. “Jon! We’ve misunderstood!” Jon Snow blinks in surprise. “Of course! Samwell mistranslated the riddle!” He looked back at the Night’s King pursuing them on the back of Viserion. The Night’s King grins in triumph. “We’ve led him right to the Stone Men!” They both look down in horror as legions of the greyscale-infected men and women line up, a fresh army the Night’s King could now use to invade from the south in a pincer movement. “We’ve been such fools!” Danny shouts as Drogon banks into a turn. “The riddle—the Doom of Valyria! It’s Tyrion—our cousin! You must capture Viserion—you can control him because you came back from the dead! You’re already part wight! We must get Tyrion on Rhaegal, because the dragon has three heads!”
As the armies of undead from north breach the Wall into Westeros, the true savage reality of the Night’s King’s plan is revealed: the threat is not from his zombie hordes, but from the environmental devastation they leave in their wake (it’s kind of a metaphor). With disaster creeping toward King’s Landing, Jon sends a small band of warriors—Brienne of Tarth (The Soldier), Cersei (The Queen), Arya (The Assassin), and Sansa (The Diplomat)—to investigate a rumor that he hopes will prove to be their salvation: that the Tower of Joy is actually a tunnel (and either way, it is certainly not supposed to represent a penis—some things are not a metaphor). Unfortunately, their group is undone by distrust and infighting on the road to the tower/tunnel, their number shrinking due to attrition (Brienne is seduced away from the group by a massive flying bear who whisks her away into the sky) and accident (Cersei falls into a pit chasing a strangely mute double of Jamie). Eventually, only Sansa and Arya remain, but when they descend into the
Tower Tunnel of Joy, they encounter only an endless staircase and walls covered in vines that form a string of nonsense High Valerian. When they reach the bottom, something happens. We’re not exactly sure what, but it is very evocative. Anyway, Sansa is the only one who emerges, and she finds the battle over. Westeros is now a blasted landscape. In the ruins, Bran Stark befriends a talking mushroom. All along, it turns out, the real Night’s King was climate change.
Jamie Lannister, sick and tired of his insane sister’s bloody rampage, lives up to his name and slays her. Contrary to expectations, the Golden Company pledges their loyalty to him and he leads them against the White Walkers. As a team, they then go on to star in a spin-off series, The Golden Murder Company, solving crimes throughout Westeros. Meanwhile, Jon and Danny race to stop the Night’s King, revealed to be Bran Stark (again), who traveled thousands of years into the past and went insane from the long wait for history to catch up. The whole story has been a secret plot engineered by Bran to gather the world’s dragonglass in one spot so he can use it to set off a magical chain reaction using a mixture of magic, greyscale infection vectors, and explosives that will turn every living thing in the world into an undead wight. The heroes burst into the Night’s King’s secret lair just as he is about to plunge the world into eternal winter. Jon and the Night’s King fight while Danny, mortally wounded, crawls to the dragonglass bomb and disables it just as Jon kills the king. Outside, the armies pause in wonder as winter melts away. Jon and Danny kiss.
In a sensational twist, after delivering the brilliant A Dream of Spring, Hobb reveals that she invented the persona of George R.R. Martin in 1963 and hired an actor to portray the writer in public, like JT LeRoy. In a second, unexpected twist, Martin crashes the press conference to claim the exact opposite: he invented Robin Hobb in 1980 and hired an actress to play her in public. Then Patrick Rothfuss shows up and claims he is actually 97 years old and has been both writers for decades. Megan Lindholm watches from the shadows.
Reeling from a permanent hangover that has plagued him steadily for months with no sign of lessening, Tyrion Lannister frantically flees a horde of wights. Suddenly a voice calls out to him. He spins to find Arya Stark beckoning. They scramble down an embankment, and Tyrion stops in shock: here is Drogon. “I thought all the dragons were killed!” Arya snorts. “No, he merely had his wings pulled off.” Tyrion looks again—Drogon is indeed wingless, and Arya has outfitted the creature with a large balloon, inflated by the dragon’s fiery breath, and a sail made from one of the Golden Company’s battle flags. They scramble aboard, and Arya flies about picking up survivors as the Night’s King overwhelms Westeros in triumph. Jamie scrambles up, his newly-mechanized hand giving him the power to steer their dragon-ship. Sansa is pulled aboard, as is Cersei, Jon, and Danny. Arya goes to the dragon’s head to plot their course. Westeros is lost, but she has heard rumor of other lands—richer, more dangerous lands. And as she takes off her face for the first time in years, she feels free to be herself again. To be the Waif.
Charlie Jane Anders
The final battle appears lost, and the Night’s King is glorying in his mad triumph. Suddenly, Arya appears before him, wielding Needle. The battles rages behind her; she is bloody and desperate. The Night’s King mocks her—what will one small girl do? Arya says she’s not alone—suddenly Danny stands next to her. Then Sansa, Melisandre, and Brienne appear. The women link hands and stare balefully at the Night’s King as Melisandre incants a spell. Their eyes begin to glow, and they lift off the ground a few inches, calling on the magic they’d all felt their whole lives, in their bones, hidden and secret, the magic that helped them find one another, pulling them together even as their broken pasts tried to push them apart. There is a flash of white light and the Night’s King is dissolved into a bone-white ash that drifts away on the wind, followed shortly by his wights. Behind the women, the warriors pause in confusion for a moment, then begin fighting each other just as desperately. Arya sighs and makes a pop culture reference, but it’s actually pretty timeless. The women turn around and link hands again.
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Bran discovers that when he visits and sometimes affects the past, he is actually visiting and affecting alternate versions of Westeros—there are in fact many alternate worlds, separated by a thin veil of reality. As he moves between them, he discovers one where there is much more magic than in his version of Westeros. In Red Westeros (not red like blood, though we can see making that mistake), magic is everywhere, with a hearty dragon population and just about everyone using potions and amulets and cavorting with the Children of the Forest. There’s also a Gray Westeros with no magic at all, a grim, mechanized place where Cersei is the CEO of a corporation that produces perfumes and beauty products that kill you if you use them for too long. Bran opens up a portal to this horrible Westeros and the Night’s King and his army are forced into it. Arriving in the magic-less Westeros, they become lifeless statues. Back in Westeros Prime, the humans simply reorient their armies and get on with trying to kill each other, but for different reasons. Bran realizes he is living in Black Westeros. You don’t want to know about Black Westeros.
Surprisingly, the final battle between the armies of Westeros, the Golden Company, the Free Folk, the Night’s Watch, and the Night’s King is over very early in the final book. Cersei is deposed and Daenerys is acclaimed the new Queen, taking Jon Snow as her consort despite learning that they are related (it’s… actually kind of sexy?). However, as the armies disperse and move back south, they discover that a massive invasion force from Sothoryros has arrived and overrun King’s Landing and everything south of The Twins. The two forces clash, and the exhausted combined forces, now serving under Daenerys, are quickly defeated as the Sothoryrosi reveal incredibly advanced magical and technological capabilities. It’s evident they regard all of them as “northern barbarians.” A new age of peace and achievement dawns, and lasts for thousands of years.
If you were to choose an author to end A Song of Ice and Fire (beside George R.R. Martin of course), who would you nominate?