Is 'Game Of Thrones' starting later than usual next year — and if so, why?

'Game of Thrones' Season 6 May Debut Later Than You Think
'Game of Thrones' Season 6 May Debut Later Than You Think

Winter looks like it's coming later than expected for Game of Thrones fans next year, but a delay in the snowstorm could contain a silver lining for readers of the books.

On Thursday, HBO confirmed a Feb. 14 premiere date for freshman drama Vinyl, as well as a Feb. 21 premiere for the fifth and second seasons of Girls and Togetherness, respectively. All three shows are expected to wrap their 10-episode seasons by mid-to-late-April, which would likely push the premiere of Thrones' sixth season from its traditional launch in late March/early April to late April or even early May.

At first glance, a delayed start for season six might strike some fans as a Red Wedding-level event, as they wait with increasing impatience for updates on the fates of missing-in-action Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), last seen surrounded by a horde of Dothraki riders and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), last seen surrounded by his own blood.

But on closer inspection, a late debut for season six could be great news for fans of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of novels on which the HBO show is based.

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Readers have waited since the end of 2011's A Dance with Dragons for the next installment in the series: The Winds of Winter, the sixth of seven epic novels Martin has written or plans to write set in a politically tense fantasy world where winter can last a lifetime. As of the season five finale, Thrones has exhausted most, if not quite all, of Martin's published material from the Ice and Fire books, making season six the greatest unknown quantity for show-only and book-reading viewers alike.

For his part, Martin has shied away in the past from offering concrete details on when the book will be released (he famously learned his lesson after including a passage at the end of 2005's fourth Ice and Fire novel, A Feast for Crows, promising the release of A Dance with Dragons one year later; it did not arrive until 2011), but he has long maintained his desire to publish book six before the arrival of season six.

Now, many fans are speculating that both Martin and readers will get their wish -; that Winds of Winter will see the light of day before season six premieres after all -; thanks to the show's potentially postponed premiere.

Adding further fuel to the speculation is Martin's upcoming cameo appearance on Syfy's zombie series Z Nation. In a preview of the episode, airing Friday, a zombified version of the author is seen spending his afterlife grunting and groaning as he signs copies of his new book, A Promise of Spring. There is no such book in the Ice and Fire series, though Martin has revealed the final installment of the saga will be called A Dream of Spring.

Is Martin's book in the world of Z Nation just a playful wink to fans, or is it a pledge to his loyalists -; a promise that Winds of Winter will arrive in spring? It's difficult to say, but where there's smoke, there's often ice and fire.

Photos: Emilia Clarke and Jason Momoa