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Long live the king! HBO renews 'Game of Thrones'

Jack Gleeson as dastardly young King Joffrey on "Game of Thrones."

"All men must die" may be the tagline for the just-started fourth season of "Game of Thrones," but the show itself is in no danger of croaking any time soon. HBO announced on Tuesday that the hit fantasy drama would return for a fifth and sixth season.

"'Game of Thrones' is a phenomenon like no other," Michael Lombardo, president of HBO Programming, said in a statement. "(Creators) David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, along with their talented collaborators, continue to surpass themselves, and we look forward to more of their dazzling storytelling."

The show kicked off its fourth season Sunday with a record-high audience, averaging 6.6 million viewers. According to the network, a total of 8.2 million people watched the premiere episode, which included two later replays. So many fans logged into HBO GO for the premiere that the online viewing app crashed during the East Coast airing.

"Game of Thrones," based on George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" novels, is about the battle for the Iron Throne of Westeros. The show has stuck pretty closely to the novels, but with the drama quickly outpacing the speed at which Martin writes (very slowly), some fear the show may overtake the novels in the storytelling. 

"It may not matter whether I'm OK with it or not," Martin recently told reporters at the show's New York premiere about the possibility of the show moving ahead of his books. "It may happen. They're writing and I'm writing, so we shall see. (The producers) know where I'm going."

("Game of Thrones" is already in the middle of book three of the five currently published. There are seven novels planned.)

They may indeed know the author's plans for the epic tale, but Martin admitted he has the upper hand regardless.

"I have an unlimited budget and I have an unlimited number of pages and number of characters," he pointed out to reporters. "Every time I introduce 12 new characters, they start looking at their budget and saying, '12 new actors! Who's going to pay for these 12 new actors?! What 12 old characters can we kill to make room for the 12 new characters?!'"

And seeing as how "all men must die" is the theme this year, it seems there will be plenty of opportunity for Martin to introduce new faces in the future.

"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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