Last time, I revisited the point that the fourth book in the series, A Feast for Crows, was never supposed to exist in the original plan for the series. Instead, there would have been a five-year gap with the original planned Book 4, then called A Dance with Dragons (this is where confusion sets in; I will refer to this version of ADWD as ADWD v1), picking up afterwards. GRRM's motives for this writing decision seem to be pretty straightforward: he regretted making the younger characters so young when the series started, and wanted to be able to write about Dany as a 20-year-old, Jon in his early twenties, Arya and Bran later in their teens, Rickon would be older than Bran was when the series began and so on. However, several problems presented themselves. Several storylines still in motion when Book 3, A Storm of Swords, ended seemed to require more immediate resolution. It seemed unfeasible that Brienne would spend five years wandering around Westeros without learning something about Arya or Sansa, and more to the point, it was unlikely that Dorne would sit still for five years after Prince Oberyn's death without taking action. Readers and fans have also pointed out that after five years of relative peace, the realm would have been able to recover somewhat from the war and also that Dany's presence in Meereen would have become common knowledge and neither situation would really fit in with the idea of the series escalating and building to a climax.
So A Feast for Crows was introduced to the mix. Originally, all the characters were together in AFFC, and A Dance with Dragons was still intended to be the book that followed it. For the interests of clarity, I shall refer to the version of AFFC with all the characters in as AFFC v1 and the version of ADWD intended to follow after AFFC v1 as ADWD v2. At this point you may start to understand where the complexity and confusion issues begin to arise.
AFFC v1 was supposed to follow immediately after the end of ASoS and chronicle the adventures of all the previously-established POV characters. It does appear early on that a problem emerged: the stories that 'needed' to be told in the former gap seem to have been written pretty straightforwardly. These would be Cersei's, Brianne's, Dorne's, the Iron Islands' and so forth. The ones that didn't, weren't. GRRM wrote several Daenerys and Jon chapters early on, but seemed to revisit and revise them constantly. Chapters from these characters read at conventions as early as 2002 show noticeable changes and shifts between different versions. It can be surmised that GRRM felt that the interim stories, the stories of 'the gap' as it were, which needed to be told immediately were for those characters primarily in southern Westeros in the aftermath of the War of the Five Kings. This makes sense. This was the main theatre of action, both military and political, in the first three novels and where the situation was left unresolved at the end of ASoS. However, Jon and Daenerys' stories were 'plateaued' at the end of ASoS. Jon was now Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and Daenerys was now Queen of Meereen, intending to learn the art of rulership before returning to Westeros. It was clear that the next logical move in both their stories is to pick up on them five years later, with Jon now an experienced Lord Commander ready to face the threat of the Others and Daenerys as an experienced ruler, ready to embark on her grand expedition to return home, or perhaps being forced into it by outside forces.
AFFC v1 was split in May 2005, and GRRM announced that the 'new' AFFC (v2, the published version) would only feature the POV characters in the south of Westeros, as those were the chapters he had finished. This was reasonable. However, at the same time he announced that those characters not included in the book would now be moved into a new novel, but that book would still bear the title of A Dance with Dragons (v3, the version that will be published hopefully in the not-too-distant future). At the time I remember the announcement being met with both relief and bemusement, but not a huge amount of discussion on the significance of the title for the next book in the series being retained. When GRRM released the page-counts for how much material he had amassed for the ADWD characters, an interesting picture emerged.
When GRRM split the book, he had over 1,600 manuscript (MS) pages ready. Approximately 500 of these were cut off and held for Book 5, whilst the other 1,100 form the published Feast for Crows (1,100 MS pages roughly equal 700-odd pages of an actual novel in hardcover, not counting the appendices and maps). With Book 5 also intended to come in at the 1,100-page count, GRRM thus had almost half the book already in hand. That still meant he had to write half of a full novel, and as the months passed there were indications that the planned fifth book was going to be longer (maybe 1,300 MS pages, maybe more), shrinking the completed material to maybe a third of the total book. Then, as discussed in Part 1, it appears that most of that material was comprehensively rewritten.
It's at this point that the chances of the book making it out comparatively quickly after AFFC disappeared. Clearly GRRM had changed his plans for the new book from simply being the other half of the story told in AFFC v1 into something else. The fact that the new book retained the same title as the one meant to succeed it suggest to me that GRRM had decided to merge the two together. My conclusion is that the version of ADWD (v3) that is to be published is the story of what would have happened in the former version of ADWD (v2) after 'the gap'. It will now simply be happening a few months after the end of ASoS rather than five years. This process clearly began in the published AFFC: Cersei's downfall and arrest by the Faithful would likely have come after the five-year gap in the original plan, as would the arrival of winter and Brienne's capture by Stoneheart. ADWD will likely take this to new extremes by downplaying some of the 'gap' material in favour of moving the story forward more dynamically (although we do know that some of the 'gap' material, such as Dany consolidating control of the city, will be retained).
But do we have any additional proof that this is the case, not just supposition? We do. GRRM has continued his practice of reading chapters from the novel at convention appearances, and last year there were opportunities to compare some of these chapters to earlier iterations (all such chapter readings are collected here for easy reference). Of particular interest were the chances to hear both the latest versions of the prologue, which GRRM has admitted struggling with since its introduction after the split, and also of Jon's second chapter (the first is currently up on his website). Both are noticeably superior to their earlier versions, especially Jon's second chapter. The original version of this chapter was as well-written as ever, but notably slower in forward storyline developments and consisted of lots of discussion, and planning. The newer version is more dynamic and features a (relatively) major character death which I suspect a lot of readers would not have been expecting for some time yet. The result would indicate a ramping-up of the stakes and of the pace of the series in the newer, revised version of the book.
To conclude, the primary reason for the delay in A Dance with Dragons is an intent to make the book better. This is a complex process, since GRRM has to achieve the following goals all in the same volume:
- To begin the process of convergence that will be needed to get all of the POV characters back in one volume for The Winds of Winter and, not only that, but to also ensure the timelines match up. GRRM has previously stated that ADWD will cover more time than AFFC, which makes re-synching the storylines for Book 6 tricky.
- To ensure, for both the publishers and possibly HBO, that the series does not expand to eight volumes. GRRM has said that if the story demands that the series does expand once more, he will do it but I'm guessing this would not be the preferred option. How the stories in ADWD unfold will likely be crucial in determining if this happens or not.
- Whilst meeting the above technical and structural goals, to simultaneously deliver a reading experience that lives up to the series' heritage which includes, lest it be forgotten, a novel (ASoS) that vast numbers of fans have proclaimed the best individual epic fantasy book since Lord of the Rings.
In the acknowledgements section of A Feast for Crows, GRRM says that "This one is a bitch,". I suspect stronger language may be used for A Dance with Dragons. This book started out as the second half of a book that was never supposed to exist which then got folded into storyline developments planned for later in the series and is now running out-of-synch with the other half of the cast of characters. Bringing the entire thing back on track without it sprawling out of control Wheel of Time-style is an immense undertaking, and the fact that the author has gone several years over his projected timescale with it is not surprising. Whether the author succeeds or not in resolving these issues and delivering a worthy fifth novel in the series can only be determined when the book is finally published, but the indications we have so far are extremely positive.
Note: This article is somewhat speculative in nature than Part 1. It is a conclusion drawn from GRRM's comments over the years and changes in those chapters which have been made public. None of this is based on any kind of inside knowledge. I may be way off-base with some of this speculation. Nevertheless, the problems I outline that resulted from the ditching of the five-year gap and which need to be overcome to bring the series to a successful conclusion are definitely real, and are certainly the primary reason for the delays on the book. The purpose of this article is to illuminate that fact, which is often forgotten by the critics who simply think that this was just another book and could be written in a matter of weeks if the author chose to do so.