GRRM just had a Q&A with Observer, and the final question was about the series' end game. Here's that portion of the conversation:
The number one question people ask me about the series is whether I think everyone will lose—whether it will end in some horrible apocalypse. I know you can't speak to that specifically, but as a revisionist of epic fantasy—
I haven't written the ending yet, so I don't know, but no. That's certainly not my intent. I've said before that the tone of the ending that I'm going for is bittersweet. I mean, it's no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it's a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives. And the Scouring of the Shire—brilliant piece of work, which I didn't understand when I was 13 years old: "Why is this here? The story's over?" But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that's the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge.
In case you're not familiar, "The Scouring of the Shire" is the second to last chapter in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Return of the King." It wasn't covered in the Peter Jackson movie, but it showed Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin returning to the Shire to find it was corrupted and taken over by ruffians led by Saruman. The four of them roused their fellow hobbits to take back the Shire, but the movie just shows the hobbits returning to a relatively unchanged Shire, then Frodo -- who can't really cope with normal life anymore -- leaves Middle-earth.
So it sounds like GRRM is going to go for a realistic approach, which matches what he's already done. Many other authors would've just, for example, given Daenerys Targaryen a fully happy ending/freed slaves stay free victory at Astapor and never returned with news that the city was overtaken by new corrupt forces. But that's the kind of thing that happens in real life -- you cut off the head of the hydra and a new one grows back. We're still guessing Dany (or an undead Jon Snow?) ends up on The Iron Throne when the series ends, but it would be naive to think it'll be easy for our heroes to take and retain power. That chair is just not meant to be comfortable and it's steeped in blood.
But hey! Victory is still victory and we're looking forward to reading GRRM's ending, then seeing it play out on the small screen. Hopefully it happens in that order.
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