Old franchises never die, they just fade away. But in the case of HBO’s Game Of Thrones, more of a money-spinner than crack and more popular than God, they’re not going to let it lie with just one show. There’s already a prequel series in the works – and George R.R. Martin, who wrote the books the shows are based on, has gone public with some key details.
If Game of Thrones was the Disneyland version of the medieval era, then the prequel series is roughly equivalent to the Ancient Egyptians, set some 5,000 years before the Westeros we know. Talking with Entertainment Weekly, Martin said “Westeros is a very different place. There’s no King’s Landing. There’s no Iron Throne. There are no Targaryens — Valyria has hardly begun to rise yet with its dragons and the great empire that it built. We’re dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.”
It’s not just the Targaryens who won’t be turning up in the prequel. Given the timescale, it actually predates the lovably dysfunctional Lannister family. Per Martin, “The Lannisters aren’t there yet, but Casterly Rock is certainly there; it’s like the Rock of Gibraltar…It’s actually occupied by the Casterlys — whom it’s still named after in the time of Game of Thrones.” The in-universe history has it that the legendary figure Lann the Clever, supposed founder of the Lannister dynasty, somehow tricked the Casterlys out of their stronghold, although exactly how is a matter of debate. Theories are as wide-ranging as him pretending to be a spooky ghost, or alternatively that he screwed all their daughters. Given the franchise’s saucy reputation, one of these seems infinitely more likely.
However, Martin did confirm that the Starks – the salt-of-the-earth images of the good nobles – will be there, as will many of the more crowd-pleasing bits of the North. As Martin noted, “There are things like direwolves and mammoths…Obviously the White Walkers are here — or as they’re called in my books, The Others”. This last detail perhaps gives away more than it was intended to. One of the many, many, manycomplaints about the last series of Game of Thrones was that the White Walkers were swept aside unceremoniously and all too quickly. We’d had hints to their backstory beforehand, but no real payoff. With the prequel series likely already in the works at the time, it’s entirely possible that the meat of their plot was kept aside to give the prequel something to work with.
This timescale will depict Westeros in the days when – as the books often put it – the Seven Kingdoms were Seven Kingdoms. Even this, though, is an oversimplification. Martin elaborated that “There were Seven Kingdoms at the time of Aegon’s Conquest. But if you go back further, then there are nine kingdoms, and 12 kingdoms, and eventually you get back to where there are 100 kingdoms – petty kingdoms – and that’s the era we’re talking about here.” In other words, back when the Boltons, rather than being the Starks’ token evil teammates in a united North, held a local kingdom of their own.
The prequel series is currently being filmed in Northern Ireland – Game of Thrones has been as much of a boost to that region as Lord of the Rings was to New Zealand – although it remains officially untitled. The speculative title is ‘The Long Night’, although this was also the title of one of the episodes of Thrones’s ill-received final season. Martin expressed his approval of a similar option, the squaring-the-circle option of ‘The Longest Night’.
Cast members have been confirmed to include Naomi Watts, as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret”, Naomi Ackie, Denise Gough, and Miranda “Queenie” Richardson. As with Game of Thrones, there isn’t one clear protagonist here – Martin confirmed “We don’t have leads so much as a large ensemble cast.”
As for Martin himself, he’s still hard at work on the sixth A Song of Ice and Fire novel, The Winds of Winter – much as he has been since 2011. Between this nearly ten-year wait, and the disappointing final season of Game of Thrones, elements of the fanbase have become somewhat jaded. Addressing their concerns on his website, Martin wrote: “If I don’t have The Winds of Winter in hand when I arrive in New Zealand for Worldcon (2020), you have here my formal written permission to imprison me in a small cabin on White Island, overlooking that lake of sulphuric acid, until I’m done.” Unfortunately for the fans, that probably isn’t as legally binding as it sounds.