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For 'Game of Thrones,' a long hiatus (or two) may be the only solution

Actor Kit Harington attends the opening of "Game

Actor Kit Harington attends the opening of "Game Of Thrones: The Exhibition" in Manhattan. (March 27, 2013) (Credit: Getty Images)

Poor HBO -- "poor" being a relative term, naturally: With “Game of Thrones,” the pay network finally has the smash to rival anything in its history. With “GoT” it finally has the answer, a resounding one, to that tired question about the Next Big Thing after "The Sopranos."

Ratings, buzz, passion, devotion, even love -- "Game of Thrones" has engendered all, but the only question HBO and creator George R.R. Martin seem to get these days is, what next?

Yes, it's a version of that old "what have you done for me lately," but also an urgent one predicated on that thin filigree of a thread that the creative process hangs upon. Martin has yet to finish his sixth book in the "Ice and Fire" series ("The Winds of Winter"), and there is no end-date in sight.

So here's the blunt calculus: The third season, just concluded Sunday night, is based on the third book in the series; the fourth season, expected to begin next spring, will complete that volume. So far so good. But then the fifth season will have to -- perhaps -- tackle the fourth book ("A Feast for Crows"), which was not a fan favorite and dropped stories of key characters, like Tyrion Lannister. The fifth book ("A Dance with Dragons") incorporates the storyline from "Feast," which means the fifth and sixth seasons could head off into entirely different directions. "Game of Thrones," of necessity, could become a different show as well and maybe not the one a few million viewers have fallen in love with.

These complications are laid out  in a very thorough "Entertainment Weekly" piece posted Sunday night, and if you haven't seen it, by all means, it's a must-read.

But cutting through all these complications, I suspect there is in the final analysis only one solution for HBO: Take a long hiatus after the fourth season. It's not an appealing alternative, for fans or HBO, but probably a necessary one. The oft-cited example here is "The Sopranos," which left the air in June 2004 and returned in March 2006. "Mad Men" took a similarly long breather. There were reasons for these breaks, financial and creative (in that order), but both series were not harmed, fans returned, and the franchises endured.

Time could go a long ways toward solving "GoT's" challenges, and could (for example) allow producers to condense the fourth and at least a chunk of the fifth book into the fifth season. The sixth season could then comprise the long-awaited sixth book, assuming of course that it has been published by that point.

The time frame might work out this way: The fourth season completes the third book in 2014. The series then sits on the shelf for two years, returning in 2016 for the fifth season. Then, the sixth season airs in 2017 or even 2018, while the seventh, and possibly final season in 2019 or 2020.

That's a lot of time -- even Westeros time in TV terms -- to finish off what is now a classic series. But this also gives Martin the time he needs to finish the book series. The creators get the time to figure out how to do his books justice. Actors get the time to work on other projects, but know that they have this to return to. HBO gets the time to promote the series.

Most of all, fans get the time to read the books, to savor them, and to have their appetites whetted for the monumental TV blow-out.  As problems go, I guess this one goes under the heading of “good ones.”

Tags: Game of Thrones , George R.R.Martin , HBO , A song of Ice and Fire

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