HBO’s announcement Friday that it’s greenlit to production a Game of Thrones prequel pilot from writers Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin has given us a bunch of reasons to be excited. Let’s run them down:
The story is hugely ambitious, yet very different from GoT: From the official logline: “The series chronicles the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour. And only one thing is for sure: From the horrifying secrets of Westeros’ history to the true origin of the white walkers, the mysteries of the East, to the Starks of legend… it’s not the story we think we know.” This suggests the story won’t downscale the massive original series, and will once again jump between locations and various families. So the show isn’t shortchanging its scope, yet everything in the show is probably going to look very fresh and different given how far back we’re going — from the castles to the weapons to the costumes. Part of the greatness of GoT is the immersive feeling of exploring a fantastical new world, and now we’re going back far enough in time so that everything could feel exotic and foreign again.
The timeline avoids the biggest prequel problem: Most prequels suffer from being set too close to events the viewer has already seen. Projects like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Prometheus, and Gotham try to painstaking stitch all the various threads between their characters and storylines together with everything we know will happen a few years later. So most prequels feel like they’re filling in the gaps of a story we already know. Even a well-made title like Better Call Saul is constrained by having to keep Saul Goodman and several supporting characters on a track to slide right into the events in Breaking Bad. This is exactly why Martin wisely didn’t even consider making Robert’s Rebellion one of the five prequel ideas explored by HBO — we already know too much about that story.
The untitled HBO project is set thousands of years before the events in GoT — like 8,000 years before — and the official description also says this origin story is “not the story we think we know.” Martin loves to set up legends and tales and then implode them with myth-busting realism. So all bets are off, in other words. With the exception of, say, certain accomplishments by a major historical figure like Bran the Builder, we’re not going to have any idea what’s going to happen in this story.
Goldman is an accomplished genre writer: Her credits include Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and the Kingsman films. She also wrote the scripts for the film adaptations of The Women in Black and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. She clearly knows how to tell exciting stories in the sci-fi and fantasy space, and with an R-rated sensibility to boot. Getting a Thrones-verse show from a female showrunners’ perspective is also interesting. And her script won a brutal “bake-off” against four other writers penning GoT prequels to get this pilot ordered. While she doesn’t have TV showrunner experience, neither did GoT writer-producers David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and they certainly figured it out. Ultimately, GoT is more like a mammoth film production than a traditional series anyway.
The cast will be entirely new: GoT has arguably the best ensemble cast on television, but many have stated they’re ready to move on to something new, and there’s no place in this story for them anyway. With the possible exception of the Night King or maybe a version of the Three-Eyed Raven, the prequel necessitates an entirely new cast. Usually, spin-offs and prequels try to clutch onto a fan favorite actor or two as a life raft of familiarity for the audience, but here we’ll get an all new ensemble.
We could see the founding of the great houses: Characters during the Age of Heroes — but not confirmed to be in this show — include Bran the Builder (who build The Wall and Winterfell and founded House Stark), Lann the Clever (who somehow stole Casterly Rock from the Casterlys and founded House Lannister), the Grey King (who supposedly wed a mermaid and founded the Iron Islands), and the original Azor Ahai, the warrior who led the fight against the white walkers. In fact, Game of Thrones: Age of Heroes wouldn’t be a terrible title, would it? Let’s just call it that until somebody tells us to stop.