There’s no way to tell when another TV cultural event on the scale of Game of Thrones will come along, but at least three more stories set in George R.R. Martin’s world are currently vying for a chance to succeed on the small screen.
The Song of Ice and Fire author is at work on at least one prequel series helmed and co-written by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman). The pilot for that series—which may or may not unofficially be titled The Long Night, as Martin hinted in his blog before HBO hushed him up—has locked down a director, its cast, its lead (Naomi Watts!), and will start shooting early this summer. And that’s just one of the five different Game of Thrones spinoff concepts that HBO commissioned before its biggest ratings smash took a final bow.
But when you play the game of shared-Thrones-iverse franchise domination, you win or you die—and at least two of those spinoff concepts are already kaput, according to Martin. That leaves Goldman’s pilot and another two pitches from a talent pool including Mad Men and Leftovers scribe Carly Wray, Kong: Skull Island screenwriter Max Borenstein, and L.A. Confidential writer Brian Helgeland. While we know Goldman’s potential series is set near the end of Westeros’s Age of Heroes (more on that in a bit), we’re still in the dark about the other two.
All we know is that each takes place before the events of Thrones. HBO president Casey Bloys squashed the idea of a direct sequel in an interview with Deadline last week, meaning we’re unlikely to watch Arya Stark discover what’s west of Westeros, find out where Drogon laid down Dany’s corpse, or see what happens to Westeros after a human screensaver is installed as king. “I think it’s best to try the prequels in other areas of George’s massive universe—just feels like the right thing to do, let the show stand on its own,” Bloys said.
Which areas, though? And how might each connect to the wars, families and histories we got to know in Thrones? Let’s parse through which prequel stories seem worthiest of spinoffs—excuse me, of “successor shows,” as George prefers we call them—in the aftermath of Thrones’ big finale.
The Wars That Built and Split House Targaryen
Martin hinted in a blog post this month that, apart from Goldman’s pilot, at least one of the other two show concepts in development (they both “remain in the script stage,” he says) will deal in some way with the long, violent history of House Targaryen. “What are they about? I cannot say,” he wrote. “But maybe some of you should pick up a copy of Fire & Blood and come up with your own theories.” Fire & Blood is Martin’s recently published history of the House that birthed Daenerys Targaryen. It’s juicy stuff told rather dryly, but it kicks off with one of the most important events in the history of Westeros: Aegon I Targaryen’s conquest of the Seven Kingdoms.
Daenerys often invoked Aegon’s conquest and the origins of her family’s dynasty on Thrones, while Arya told Tywin an abridged version of the story during her time as his cupbearer, paying special mind to her favorite character: Aegon’s warrior-like sister, Visenya, who rode a dragon named Vhagar. Along with their other sister Rhaenys (she rode a dragon called Meraxes), the three riders brought six kingdoms to heel, with only Dorne mounting a successful resistance. It all ends with the founding of King’s Landing and the creation of the Iron Throne, about 300 years before Robert’s Rebellion—a nice way to bring things full circle, with lots of dragon fire, clashing egos, and a chance to redeem Dorne’s onscreen potential along the way. (Also, incest: Aegon married both his sisters. Can’t forget that.)
Fire & Blood also covers another period of Targaryen history rife with conflict: the Dance of the Dragons, aka the Targaryen civil war. This two-year period of history has everything: half-siblings fighting over the Iron Throne, splitting Westeros in half and forcing noble Houses (including the Lannisters, Baratheons, Greyjoys and Starks) to choose sides; someone gets stabbed in the eye; one would-be ruler gets fed to her own dragon, while the other is mysteriously poisoned. All of it unfolds about 150 years before Thrones and marks the beginning of the end for the Targaryens’ dragons, which began dying out after being pitted against each other for the first time in this war.
We already know how these stories end. But the Targaryens’ world-tilting power grabs might be just the right backdrop for newer, lesser-known corners of history to unfold onscreen—focusing on friends caught on opposite sides of a war, maybe, or the families who fought to keep their independence. Fast-forward 60 years after the Targaryen civil war, meanwhile, and we arrive at the story of a certain squire…
An Unlikely King
Martin’s Tales of Dunk and Egg novellas are a favorite contender for adaptation among fans because of their lighter, more whimsical tone compared to A Song of Ice and Fire. The author has released only three of them, so any adaptation would soon run out of source material (inadvisable considering what happened with Thrones), but consider it: Ser Duncan the Tall is a humble hedge knight, fated to become a legendary member of the Kingsguard. He’s aided in his adventures by a loyal squire named Egg—who later becomes Aegon V Targaryen. Egg is too far down the line of succession for anyone to care that he’s out wandering the countryside, which allows him the opportunity to see how common people live. This angle has roots in the established Thrones-iverse, too: the maester at Castle Black, Aemon Targaryen, was Egg’s older brother. He remembers his little brother’s nickname, his laugh, and his “jolly” disposition in the moments before he dies.
What Doomed Valyria?
The Doom of Valyria is another popular suggestion for a spin-off, and more than most options, it offers truly open-ended storytelling potential. The Valyrian Freehold and its aristocratic families of dragonriders ruled most of Essos for almost 5,000 years until a mysterious, cataclysmic event known as “the Doom” triggered a chain of volcanic eruptions. The chaos wrecked the capital city of Valyria and devastated the surrounding land with earthquakes. The Valyrian peninsula was fractured and part of it submerged under the sea. Not a single family of dragonriders survived, and dragons went extinct—except for one family that, through luck or wisdom, relocated to the Freehold’s westernmost outpost before the Doom, and brought their dragons with them: the Targaryens on Dragonstone.
No one knows whether the Doom was caused by the Valyrians’ magic or if it was really just a natural disaster. But untold magic, history, and knowledge unique to this society (how to forge Valyrian steel was probably the least of it) got wiped out. A story set here would come with a tragic sense of inevitability, but also offer a window into a part of Martin’s world that no one knows very much about. And who are we to say no to more magical pretty people riding dragons?
The Long Night
Game of Thrones notoriously abandoned its long-running White Walker threat after answering frustratingly little about the supernatural baddies. But if Martin’s unofficial title for the next Thrones-related pilot is any indication, there may yet be hope.
Martin writes in his blog that the pilot “is not (yet) titled THE LONG NIGHT,” though “that is certainly the title I prefer.” HBO insists the show is still “UNTITLED,” but it has released a short plot summary: “Taking place thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones, the series chronicles the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour. From the horrifying secrets of Westeros’s history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East to the Starks of legend, only one thing is for sure: It’s not the story we think we know.”
If Martin’s title is to be believed, the story takes place around 8,000 years before Aegon’s Conquest, just before White Walkers first waged war against the Children of the Forest and the First Men. Mythic figures like Bran the Builder (who built the Wall to keep the undead threat out), Lann the Clever (the founder of House Lannister), and the Grey King of the Iron Islands (who may or may not have married a mermaid) lived during the Age of Heroes, an era of peace that ended with the war against the undead. As Melisandre pointed out time and again on Thrones, the legendary hero the Prince Who Was Promised is said to have ended the Long Night, delivering the world from darkness.
Amidst all this, Naomi Watts will play a “charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret,” which sounds delightful. Goldman is known for balancing humor and gore in her scripts, while the pilot’s director SJ Clarkson adds yet another female perspective behind the lens—all of which we could easily see adding up to a tone radically different than what we saw on Thrones. (Bloys, for his part, has stressed again and again that Goldman’s show is “different” and “not the same dynamic” as Thrones.)
That means “no dragons,” as Martin has put it—which makes sense according to the timeline. (The Targaryens won’t relocate from Essos to Dragonstone for thousands of years after the Age of Heroes. What “mysteries of the East” the show description teases is anyone’s guess.) But will we finally find out what the Night King’s deal is? Will we find out how much of the legend of Azor Ahai is true? Will this story plan its ending from the very beginning, sparing us the lackluster jumble of Game of Thrones’ finale? Maybe!
If all else fails, the adventures of dread pirate Arya Stark sounds like a solid backup plan. A Westerosi Nailed It! hosted by Hot Pie? Terrace House, but it’s just Thrones’ bitchiest characters—Cersei, The Hound, and Olenna—trading backhanded compliments and cutting insults? It’s not too late, HBO!