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The Latest Revelations About HBOs Game of Thrones Spin-Off

Fans of both HBOs Game of Thrones and its source material, George R.R. Martins A Song of Ice and Fire, have been abuzz for several days with the news that the cable network has officially given the green light to a prequel series slated to air in 2020 once the original show wraps its eighth and final season. The new show from Jane Goldman is conveniently set in an era called “The Age of Heroes”—a dark (both literally and historically) time in Westerosi history 10,000 years before the death of Ned Stark and the rise of Daenerys Targaryen.

Though Martin is famously exhaustive and meticulous when it comes to setting down the history of his fictional world, as you might expect, the events of that long ago have passed into myth and legend in Westeros where literacy isnt exactly as a common practice. But even as fans of the book and show alike scramble to speculate what an Age of Heroes prequel might mean, George R.R. Martin himself—who has in recent years distanced himself more and more from D.B. Weiss and David Benioffs TV adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire—recently chimed in on his personal blog to shed some light on the project and help bring a lot of possibilities into sharper focus. Heres a closer look at what HBO, Martin, and Goldman have in store.

Even More Reasons to Be Excited About Jane Goldman Fans of genre storytelling were already thrilled to have frequent Matthew Vaughn collaborator Jane Goldman on board. The woman behind favorites like X-Men: First Class, Stardust, Kick-Ass, and Kingsman: The Secret Service has already proven herself a deft hand at action-adventure storytelling with a fantastical twist. But in Martins blog, he bends over backwards to hand the credit for this upcoming series to her. In calling out her previous work, Martin underlines Goldmans genius for unearthing compelling human drama buried in big genre concepts. So add that to the pile of reasons to be excited that a franchise that has often had very little room for women behind the camera or in the writers room will now have one running the show.

How It Will Avoid the Pitfalls of Other Spin-Offs Ever since they were announced, Martin has been emphatic that fans call these new ventures “successor shows” rather than spin-offs and he continues to underline that idea in his newest post. Hes technically correct, no current character on Game of Thrones (other than, perhaps, the silent Night King) will be popping up for a cameo in a series that takes place 10,000 years in the past. As such, this new series can avoid some of the hurdles AMCs Fear The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul have had to face. Both shows are popular enough and well-regarded, but, perhaps in small part due to proximity to the originals, unable to quite step out of the shadow of The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad.

Its also worth thinking about Game of Thrones in the same context as another major genre franchise: Star Wars. Lucasfilm has stumbled a little with both Solo and (in my opinion and despite a healthy box office) Rogue One as the studio flirts with introducing younger versions of familiar characters. This new series is neatly side-stepping that issue while its most direct competition, Amazons billion-dollar Lord of the Rings prequel TV series centering on a young Aragorn wont be so lucky. Though HBO will, as Martin points out in his blog post, likely take away one lesson from Star Wars: branding. When it comes to naming the new show he wrote:

My vote would be THE LONG NIGHT, which says it all, but Id be surprised if thats where we end up. More likely HBO will want to work the phrase “game of thrones” in there somewhere. Well know sooner or later.

The Long, Long Night Lets pause and consider the ramifications of Martin believing that “THE LONG NIGHT” says it all. The Long Night is what Martin has named a lengthy, wintry period of time during The Age of Heroes when the White Walkers first appeared and pushed both the elfin Children of the Forest and the human First Men south down the Westerosi continent until a hero emerged to stop their icy reign. But it seems unlikely that Goldman would be interested in dishing up such an identical retread of the latter seasons of Game of Thrones. And, in fact, the official HBO release implies a broader time period which could leave the door open for this successor show to run a very long time. HBO announced:

The series chronicles the worlds 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… its not the story we think we know.

Unlike Weiss and Benioffs Game of Thrones which is pinned down to George R.R. Martins planned six-book series A Song of Ice and Fire, this Long Night prequel could actually cover any number of the four thousand years defined as “The Age of Heroes.” Each milestone in this period is iconic in Westerosi lore from the signing of the pact on the Isle of Faces ending the war between First Men and Children of the Forest to the rise of Azor Ahai, to the climactic Battle for the Dawn, and the Andal Invasion.

But while HBO will certainly want to lean on the epic, special-effects-heavy clashes that make Game of Thrones required Sunday night viewing, the show (and its books) were built on quieter character moments. Game of Thrones was initially pitched as “Sopranos Meets Middle-Earth” promising the character-driven drama of HBOs then-most popular show and the high-fantasy scope of the popular Lord of the Rings film trilogy. HBO would be wise not to forget that its the characters we loved that sucked us in long before those dragons could even breath fire.

What a Bunch of Characters Well get to those dragons in a second, but first lets consider which characters Goldman might be sourcing for her show. Martin is fairly mum on this front but both his post and the official description from HBO hammer home how little is actually known about this period of Westerosi history. In A Feast for Crows, the character of Samwell Tarly points out: “The oldest histories we have were written after the Andals came to Westeros. The First Men only left us runes on rocks, so everything we know about the Age of Heroes and the Dawn Age and the Long Night comes from accounts set down by septons thousands of years later. There are archmaesters at the Citadel who question all of it.” Martin cheekily echoes that point in his own post writing: “assuming the oral histories of the First Men are accurate. . .there are maesters at the Citadel who insist it has only been half that long.”

So whatever fans and scholars of Martins work think they know about The Age of Heroes, both HBO and the author himself are already laying track that we might see a different story altogether. Still The Age of Heroes features a bunch of characters who may remind audiences of some familiar faces. The official HBO synopsis promises “Starks of legend” the most legendary being, of course, Bran the Builder who erected the Wall, Winterfell, Storms End, and a number of other famous edifices in Westeros. Bran as a proto-Stark is one thing, but Lann the Clever who went on to found the Lannister House is even more intriguing as a predecessor to Tyrion Lannisters quick wit and flexible morality. But whats most important to remember is that these legendary figures may in fact be amalgamations of real people. Does anyone actually believe one Bran could build so much in one lifetime?

Goldman proved with X-Men: First Class that shes top-notch at finding the relatable human story underneath iconic legends when she wrote James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender a fresh, believable backstory to color in the on-screen love/hate relationship filmgoers were already familiar with in Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellens Professor X and Magneto. (Never mind the decades of comic book lore.) If she can uncover something similarly compelling in icons like Bran and Lann, this show is in good shape.

Here Be No Dragons. . .Yet Fans were shocked when HBO announced an Age of Heroes story because most had expected that Martins dedication to releasing his Targaryen history Fire and Blood in 2018 (instead of, you know, The Winds of Winter) meant that he was rushing to beat a new Targaryen HBO spin-off that could, once again, outstrip his own storytelling. But neither dragons nor Targaryens had a part to play in The Long Night. So while the HBO description promises the true origin of “the mysteries of the East,” which leaves some room for dragons (and, thankfully, a more diverse casting call sheet), the expectation is that the main beasts in this new series could be Old Nans famous Ice Spiders Big As Hounds. Unless, of course, youre an Ice Dragon truther.

But as Martin is quick to point out in his blog post, this may not be the only “successor” show that gets a pilot order. HBO was once considering five concepts and has now, according to Martin, winnowed those options down to four. One of those pitches is almost certainly Targaryen-based. Martin writes:

Three more GAME OF THRONES prequels, set in different periods and featuring different characters and storylines, remain in active development. Everything I am told indicates that we could film at least one more pilot, and maybe more than one, in the years to come. We do have an entire world and tens of thousands of years of history to play with, after all. But this is television, so nothing is certain.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO chief Casey Bloys is a little more circumspect. Of launching several shows at once, he said back in 2017:

I think that is probably unlikely. This show is very special. I'm not looking to have as many as possible. My sense right now is we would be very lucky if one of the four rises to the level that we have set. Now, theoretically, what if theyre all great? Thats a high-class problem that Ill solve when it comes to that. But knowing what we know about the development process, thats why we wanted to increase our odds. But I do not see a scenario where we have more than one. But again, high-class problem.

In 2018, he was a bit more expansive saying: “Ill do anywhere from zero to five. Though probably more likely one. But well see.” Dragon lovers will just have to wait.

Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.

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