By James Hibberd
January 08, 2019 at 12:30 PM EST

Untitled Game of Thrones prequel

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HBO announced Tuesday the full core cast and director for its eagerly anticipated Game of Thrones prequel — and Westeros is looking more diverse and female-focused than ever before.

First up is the director. After a long search, British director SJ Clarkson has been tapped for the show’s pilot. Clarkson most recently directed and produced the BBC/Netflix production Collateral and she’s directed episodes of Orange Is the New Black, Dexter, Bates Motel, and the pilot for Jessica Jones. Clarkson has also been announced as directing the next big-screen Star Trek film. She joins the prequel’s previously announced showrunner Jane Goldman (Kick-AssX-Men: First Class) in crafting the first episode, which will be shot later this year.

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As for the cast, Naomi Watts was previously announced to lead the series as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.” Interestingly, women have also been cast in the project’s next two largest roles as well. None of the new roles have descriptions, however, and the show does not yet have an official title (author and co-creator of the series George R.R. Martin has lobbied for The Long Night).

Meet the rest of the cast:

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Naomi Ackie: British actress with a leading upcoming role in Star Wars: Episode IX, and received accolades for her debut film role in 2017’s Lady Macbeth. She was also in the film Yardie and the Channel 4 series The Bisexual.

Courtesy of HBO

Denise Gough: Irish stage actress who won raves for starring in the plays People Places and Things and Angels In America, and was recently in the film Colette playing transgender pioneer Marquise de Belbeuf.

Courtesy of HBO

Jamie Campbell Bower: British actor and musician whose credits include The Twilight Saga, Starz’ Camelot, and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. (Also: Totally looks like a Lannister, right?)

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Sheila Atim: Award-winning British stage actress who was a series regular in Hulu’s Harlots.

Ruth Crafer

Ivanno Jeremiah: Britsh actor whose credits include AMC’s Humans, Netflix’s Black Mirror, and stars in the upcoming film The Flood.

Courtesy of HBO

Georgie Henley: Best known for playing Lucy in Disney’s Narnia films, she’s also in an upcoming Starz limited series The Spanish Princess.

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Alex Sharp: British stage actor who landed the lead in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and appeared in How to Talk to Girls at Parties.

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Toby Regbo: Credits include The CW’s Reign, Netflix’s The Last Kingdom and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Actor Josh Whitehouse has also been previously announced as in the cast.

Not a lot is known about the prequel’s story, which is officially described as: “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. And only one thing is for sure: 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… it’s not the story we think we know.”

Martin has previously told EW that the prequel will be rather different than the original hit show, which returns in April for its final six epsiodes. “Westeros is a very different place” he said. “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.”

The cast of the prequel alone seems to hint at some key differences with the original series. Thrones has been criticized for a lack of diversity as most of its core cast is played by white actors. The show has been praised for its strong female characters — creating iconic fan favorites such as Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and several others. Yet the handling of female characters has sometimes been criticized. The prequel lineup with its three female leads, female showrunner and director and diverse cast suggests a new woker-Westeros approach.

If greenlit to series, the Game of Thrones prequel is expected to arrive on HBO in 2020 at the earliest.

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