Winter is (still) coming and we’re only a few short weeks away from Game of Thrones season 4. Building buzz for the upcoming premiere, HBO has been releasing a steady stream of marketing materials – reminding viewers of where things stand in Westeros following the shocking events of “The Red Wedding.” Despite the vast scale of Game of Thrones, full length trailers, character posters, and behind-the-scenes featurettes all carry a common theme – danger will be around every corner in season 4.

Even though Game of Thrones has become a cultural phenomenon, already one of the most celebrated series to ever grace TV screens, the show’s future remains unclear – given that writer/creator George R. R. Martin still has two full books to finish in A Song of Ice and Fire (the novel series source material for Game of Thrones). Since HBO has already started plucking elements of the fifth novel, A Dance with Dragons, for use in season 4, there are worries among producers, Martin, and plenty of fans that the show might catch up to the book series and have nowhere to go. However, we’re now getting word that the HBO showrunners have a pretty clear idea of how future events will unfold in Westeros as well as how many seasons they plan to produce as a result.

Speaking with Vanity Fair magazine, D. B. Weiss (co-creator of the HBO series) reveals that the network is hoping to wrap-up the show in season 7 or 8:

“It doesn’t just keep on going because it can. I think the desire to milk more out of it is what would eventually kill it, if we gave in to that.”

Fellow co-creator David Benioff also indicated that the HBO team has a relatively keen idea of where the book series (and subsequently the show) will end:

“Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with him [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be. If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character.”

Over the years, Martin’s contributions to A Song of Fire and Ice have, on average, become longer reads with longer waits between installments but now that the show is closing in, the writer is more motivated than ever to complete the novel series. According to the interview, Martin is still hopeful that he can stay ahead of the TV series:

“They are [catching up]. Yes. It’s alarming. I can give them the broad strokes of what I intend to write, but the details aren’t there yet. I’m hopeful that I can not let them catch up with me.”

While Martin’s characters never change outside of the book page, the writer recognizes the pressures of television production – specifically addressing the challenge aging cast members like Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, represent:

“This is a serious concern. Maisie was the same age as Arya when it started, but now Maisie is a young woman and Arya is still 11. Time is passing very slowly in the books and very fast in real life.”

This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard HBO discussing a potential end date for the fan-favorite series – though the amount of actual seasons varies in select reports. Still the eight season plan has been mentioned on multiple occasions by producers, which might mean the network has already plotted out roughly three or four seasons worth of remaining story material (now that season 4 is in the can). Therefore, whether the show will finish in season 7 or 8 likely depends on how much material is actually in those “details” that Martin has yet to write.

That said, considering the speed at which the novelist releases new installments in A Song of Fire and Ice (with a five and six year wait separating books three, four, and five), it’s hard to imagine that Martin will be able to stay ahead of the show – especially since the final two novels are each expected to be the longest entries in the series (each roughly twice as long as the original entry). Martin should put forth a valiant effort but he still has a lot of work ahead of him – and do fans really want the creator to rush his books simply to meet the demands of a TV adaptation?

It’s always possible that the network could elect to put the series on hiatus in a few years, while Martin completes the story; yet, with aging child actors (that are essential to the long term Game of Thrones arc) paired with the pressure of maintaining ratings and viewership, it’s highly unlikely that HBO will actually bench the series when they catch up to Martin.

As a result, with only three or four years from HBO’s purposed finale season, it’s a real possibility that fans will see the end of Martin’s fantasy epic in the Game of Thrones TV series before the final chapters of A Song of Fire and Ice are even available.

MORE: 5 Tips for Watching Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones returns for season 4 April 6th on HBO.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for further news and updates on Game of Thrones, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Source: Vanity Fair