George R R Martin
Author and co-executive producer George R.R. Martin arrives for the premiere of the fourth season of HBO series "Game of Thrones" in New York March 18, 2014. Reuters

Fans have been eagerly awaiting the conclusion to George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books -- the inspiration behind HBO’s hit series “Game of Thrones” -- for nearly 20 years now, and it looks like an even longer wait is in store. Anne Groell, Martin’s editor, stated in a Q&A with fans Friday that there could end up being eight novels in the series rather than the planned seven.

Groell mentions that originally, Martin planned for “A Song of Ice and Fire” to be a trilogy. As his ambitions for his fantasy world of Westeros grew, however, so did the size of his novels, and he began announcing additional books in the series. Each time, Groell says, she suggested that Martin cap “A Song of Ice and Fire” at seven novels for the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Though the author now plans to hit that number with the forthcoming “The Winds of Winter” and “A Dream of Spring,” Groell dropped hints that he may expand to eight.

"Finally, we were on the same page. Seven Books for Seven Kingdoms,” Groell said. “Good. Only, as I recently learned while editing 'The World of Ice and Fire' [a companion history volume] (another awesome thing you must buy when it comes out!), there are really technically eight kingdoms, all having to do with who has annexed what when Aegon the Conqueror landed in Westeros. So, maybe eight books for Seven Kingdoms would be okay."

(The eighth kingdom Groell is referring to, incidentally, is Catelyn Stark’s homeland of the Riverlands. The region was previously under the dominion of the Iron Islands until Aegon Targaryen conquered Westeros and ceded control of the territory to its current rulers, the Tullys.)

The announcement that there may be an eighth book in the series could be devastating news for fans, who are increasingly worried that HBO’s adaptation is going to finish Martin’s story before his books ever do. When Martin began the series, he released novels extremely quickly: “A Game of Thrones” came out in 1998, followed by “A Clash of Kings” in 1998 and “A Storm of Swords” in 2000. After that, however, he slowed down and released “A Feast for Crows” in 2005 and “A Dance with Dragons” in 2011.

Right now, there’s no end in sight for the series. No release date has been announced for “The Winds of Winter,” and the HBO series is coming increasingly close to stepping on its toes. “Game of Thrones” will finish adapting the third novel, “A Storm of Swords,” at the end of its current fourth season, and the show has already drawn on elements from the fourth and fifth novels, which take place at the same time. If “Game of Thrones” does what some fans expect and adapts “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons” all in season five, Martin will only have two years to put out his final two (and now possibly three) novels.

Still, there’s some evidence that Martin won’t overexert himself and expand to eight books. He is still under contract for only seven books, Groell mentioned, and until that changes, fans can relax.