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What we want from a Game of Thrones prequel

What we want from a Game of Thrones prequel

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Game of Thrones

With Game of Thrones now heading for its final two short seasons, HBO is deeply invested in how to follow up the biggest show in its stable. Variety reported two weeks ago that the network had tapped four writers to work on follow-ups to the acclaimed series, setting the fandom alight with theories about what parts of George R.R. Martin’s backstory to his A Song of Ice and Fire series could conceivably make it to the screen. Could there be a series about Robert’s Rebellion, the war that gave rise to the world of the show? What about a series set in the ancient past? The Thrones universe is massive, so fans had plenty of exciting ideas to chew on.

The ‘Thrones’ universe is massive, with plenty of stories in it

Last night, Martin stepped in to set the record straight, writing on his blog that a fifth writer will be involved in HBO’s process. He also wrote definitively that Robert’s Rebellion, Martin’s Dunk and Egg prequel novellas, and stories about side characters wouldn’t be adapted for television. (Sorry, anyone holding out for a Lady Stoneheart miniseries!)

This is obviously disappointing news for fans, but there are still plenty of potential avenues for Martin’s “successor series” to take.

Kwame: Before we get started, I’d like to say I’m deeply saddened by the news that we won’t see Robert’s Rebellion or Dunk and Egg on television. Martin gave good reasons, of course! The Dunk and Egg saga is nowhere near finished, so falling behind on that hypothetical show after the mess he’s gotten into with his ASOIAF books falling behind the Game Of Thrones series would not be the best look. Meanwhile, we’re still learning a lot about Robert’s Rebellion against Rhaegar Targaryen in the core saga, so it wouldn’t make much sense to rehash it separately.

Still, both would make for excellent TV. We’ve yet to meet Rhaegar on-screen, and the series has built him up so much that it’d be a shame not to see him in action in a starring role. And Dunk and Egg is such a compelling “soldiers of fortune” sort of tale that seeing them explore Westeros would be fun in any form. What do you think?

Ser Duncan the Tall in battle
Ser Duncan the Tall in battle
Illustration: Jet City Comics

Chaim: I’d also love to see both of these stories on TV, but I can understand where Martin — and more so, HBO — is coming from. While the Dunk and Egg books are certainly wonderful, they’re also much smaller in scope than A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a hard pitch from a programming perspective to go from the continent-spanning, fate-of-the-world conflict of Game of Thrones to that kind of more intimate, personal tale that would be lacking the kind of big twists, power-play politics, and giant battles that have come to define the current show.

People want dragons

Robert’s Rebellion seems like a more natural successor to the current iteration of Game of Thrones on TV, but I suppose for now, we’ll simply have to take Martin’s word that the storyline will be adequately explained through the current show and novels.

But that still leaves us with five different prequel pitches set in Martin’s world. What’s your top pick to see?

Kwame: I think this largely depends on how deep into fantasy or politics the new writers want to go. Game of Thrones strikes that balance really well, showing the real-world political ramifications of creatures like dragons and armies of the undead. Personally, I think people want dragons, so the first story I could see them going with that could affect that kind of balance would be Aegon’s Conquest. Here you have three legendary dragonriders in Aegon, Visenya, and Rhaenys, who arrive in Westeros to rule it. Seeing how the high lords react to their bid to rule the entire continent would be fascinating, especially since most houses don’t bend the knee so easily. With that, you have epic potential setpieces like the Field of Fire, where the three dragons literally roast an army.

Beyond that, there are always the novellas about the Targaryen Kings before the Mad King. The stories about the Dance of Dragons, where most of the dragons die out in a war for the Iron Throne, would be incredible to see. There’s romance, political theater, intrigue, and family rivalries all rolled up in a saga that nearly destroyed the Targaryen family. It’s a Game of Thrones prequel with a dash of The Borgias, plus aerial dragon battles.

Chaim: I’m right there with you on seeing Aegon's Conquest, just because the entire thing is so fascinating. There’s a whole aspect where the Targaryens were actually a relatively minor and unimportant house in their native kingdom of Valyria, until Valyria fell in the Doom and left the Targaryens as basically the only dragon game in town. Seeing Aegon and his family go from barely being relevant in Valyria to ruling a continent in Westeros would be a fascinating journey. Plus, dragons.

Will we learn more about the First Men and the Children of the Forest?

To change things up a bit, we could go further back in history to some of the more mythical aspects of Martin's world for a straighter fantasy story. Things like the arrival of the First Men, and their dealings with the White Walkers and the Children of the Forest, is an intriguing option. We know comparatively little about that era, relative to other areas of the series's history, and finding out the truth behind some of the tales told across the Song of Ice and Fire novels would be a fascinating way to expand the lore. Plus we know that the whole thing culminates in a giant battle of the Night’s Watch at the height of their power, defeating the White Walkers in an epic battle and raising the Wall, which would be a hell of a series finale.

Aegon the Conquerer riding Balerion the Black Dread
Aegon the Conquerer riding Balerion the Black Dread
Illustration by Jordi González Escamilla

Kwame: There’s so much! And the great thing about these ancient periods is that most of it lives in The World of Ice and Fire and The Lands of Ice and Fire, texts that work like encyclopedias by collecting incomplete knowledge. The Doom of Valyria, even in the text, is not at all understood. The same with figures like Azor Ahai and the War for the Dawn. I think Martin is smart in this regard. He cares so much about the creation of history and myth, so he knows full well that a time like the Long Night, thanks to widespread death and privation, would probably lack reliable records of what “actually” happened.

The only thing that gives me pause there is: how do you film a series about the Long Night? Constant darkness and constant snow? Ice spiders? That’d probably be a really depressing and expensive series to pull off.

Chaim: But beyond the more specific plot lines a prequel show (or shows) could take, I’d love to just get to see more of the world that Martin has built here. Game of Thrones largely focuses on the machinations of the Starks, the Lannisters, and the other great houses, but there’s so much more there beyond who gets to rule. If Game of Thrones is the Star Wars saga of the Westeros world, I’d want to see something like Rogue One, a more boots-on-the-ground take of the universe that shines a light on a different corner of the canon than one we’ve seen before. What did the Night’s Watch look like when it was at full strength, manning all 19 castles along the Wall? Or Westeros, when magic still thrived in day-to-day life? The world of Game of Thrones is largely past its fantastical era, with magical elements only coming back in the later seasons. I’d be curious to see how things change from the Westeros we know when dragons roamed the skies.

How much is HBO willing to invest to show dragon warfare?

Which brings us right around to where we started, and ultimately what a Game of Thrones prequel series will look like: what does HBO want out of this? Is the network willing to invest hundreds of millions in CGI for the draconic warfare of the Dance of Dragons? Or would it prefer something closer to the political narratives and power struggles of the earlier seasons of Game of Thrones, before things went full “ice zombies fight magic dragons”?

It’s clear to me based on our brief conversation that Martin’s vast universe can support any mixture of those extremes, from the purely fantastic to the more grounded to anywhere in between. Either way, with the end of Game of Thrones fast approaching, I’m excited to see where the story goes next.

Princess Nymeria of Dorne
Princess Nymeria of Dorne
Illustration by Karla Ortiz

Kwame: I agree completely. Even though these scripts will probably keep Martin from finishing the sixth book anytime soon (let alone the seventh and final one), he deserves credit for creating such a vast world that has such a rich history. The trick, then, might be to find different formulas that work within that context.

What’s great about the Dunk and Egg novellas was that they have a sense of adventure. Dunk is just your average knight, and even though Egg grows up to become Aegon V, he’s a little kid just looking to see the world. They aren’t trying to face any truly fantastical threat, and they’re certainly not scheming after the throne. They’re out on the Kingsroad, living in the thick of it. That’s a very different kind of fun than the Great Game of the high lords. I think a series set in Westeros, Essos, or even a whole other location in Martin’s world like Qohor or the Summer Isles could take the same approach. What about the journey of Princess Nymeria and the Rhoynar across the narrow sea? What about a story following the Andal invasion through the eyes of a soldier? The possibilities are endless.