Mere days after it was announced that HBO’s incredibly popular smutty fantasy series Game of Thrones had finally wrapped up filming, the network has now announced that the filming of a prequel series will begin in October, in Belfast’s Paint Hall Studios – the same studios which served as a base of operations for Game of Thrones. Further good news for Belfast’s fledging TV film industry, seeing as it’s been announced that the upcoming Star Wars spinoff, following a young Obi-Wan Kenobi, will also be filmed there in 2019.
With the final series of Game of Thrones to run next year, and with near enough everyone in TV looking to fill the gap it will leave behind, HBO are, understandably, looking to have a second bite at this particular apple. The franchise comes complete with extensive lore and backstory, which has previously been relegated to DVD extras for the most part, and it is to this HBO are looking – the prequel series will supposedly take place thousands of years before Game of Thrones itself, during the incredibly bloody period known as the Age of Heroes.
(Although the Belfast Telegraph alleges it will take place only one thousand years before Game of Thrones, which – if you’ll give me a moment to put on my thick glasses, and my anorak – would place it during the Rhoynar migration to Westeros, a period which gave Dorne the distinct cultural stamp that the show reduced to ‘holiday in the Med’.)
The project is a co-creation of George R.R. Martin, he of the A Song of Ice and Fire book series which Thrones was based upon, and screenwriter Jane Goldman, previously responsible for Stardust, Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the Kingsman franchise. Martin has mentioned a working title, The Long Night, for this prequel series, although he gave the caveat that HBO higher-ups would likely try and work in the words ‘Game of Thrones’ somewhere to keep up the brand recognition.
While the Age of Heroes has been very loosely mapped out in Martin’s books, exact details are thin on the ground compared to Robert’s Rebellion or the Dunk and Egg series – both of which were popular candidates for a prequel series among the fans, but which have now been comprehensively nixed by Martin. As such, the writers will have a relatively free hand in creating the series.
What we do know is that this is long before the Targaryen dynasty unified Westeros, and, to borrow the books’ phrasing, ‘the seven kingdoms were seven kingdoms’. At this point, some the great houses – Stark, Lannister, etc – which we know and love were kings in their own right, although still had no end of problems. The Starks, in particular, were even then plagued by their vassals the Boltons, who you may remember from Thrones as Robb’s obviously untrustworthy minions between seasons 1-3, before becoming villains in their own right after the Red Wedding – which would make this plotline an obvious point of entry to this new narrative.
The obvious question as regards the lore is whether, being set in the Age of Heroes, the series will feature any of the semi-mythical figures repeatedly referred to in Westerosi legend, such as Bran the Builder – namesake of the Bran Stark we know from Thrones – who built The Wall. If it does, the challenge will be to balance their heroic, and quite possibly magical, attributes, with the earthy subject matter which the franchise is known for.
(Though Martin’s books have already done a decent job of this at least once – Olenna Tyrell relates how the legendary Garth Greenhand fathered many of the noble houses of the Reach, prompting her to wonder if ‘more than his hands were green.’)
Per an announcement in Variety, the series will cover the true origins of the White Walkers, those skeletal ice-demons which have served as the looming true villains of Game of Thrones since the pilot. Interestingly, Thrones had already depicted the White Walkers being created from human victims by the Children of the Forest, something which the books have not yet covered – it is tenuously alluded to, with one character referring to them as ‘the white walkers of the wood’ in the third book, although it never comes up again. What could possibly be more shocking than the human sacrifice and transmogrification we’ve already seen is unclear, but it’s possible the creators have found yet another place to squeeze in a sex scene.
This doesn’t quite tally with the established lore, which alleges the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to fight the First Men, and also that the Age of Heroes began when the First Men finally made peace with the Children of the Forest. However, the books make it quite clear that the established lore – particularly anything this far back – is up for debate. The lavishly illustrated companion book A World of Ice and Fire explicitly draws on multiple conflicting accounts of the world’s history, and is fairly unsubtle about the scholars who put these accounts together wanting to make them complimentary toward the current ruling dynasty.
Ultimately, the fact that this prequel series is almost entirely unmapped territory is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’ll all be fresh material, even to the book snobs. However, Thrones had the advantage that it had already had its trial by fire as a book series – and even then, the first pilot of the TV adaptation flopped, requiring extensive reworking before it became a smash hit.
It’ll likely be at least 2020 before the prequel series comes anywhere near our screens – but that’s mainly because the final season of Thrones is to air over summer 2019. With each episode’s budget clocking in at a healthy $15 million, and with the previous season having broken multiple ratings records, HBO will have high hopes indeed – and will likely be keeping a wary eye on the prequel in case the show’s fortunes change.
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