What Do We Say to a Game of Thrones Shared Universe? Not Today

TV Features
What Do We Say to a Game of Thrones Shared Universe? Not Today

Truly, what hath Disney+ wrought? Thanks to the streamer’s big bets on television series like Star Wars drama The Mandalorian and Marvel pseudo-sitcom WandaVision that are part of a larger shared universe—which in turn will be followed by The Book of Boba Fett, Obi Wan Kenobi, and whatever they end up calling the Ahsoka show, plus The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki and Hawkeye, respectively—suddenly every network and streaming platform out there wants a major, multi-series franchise to call its own.

We’re going to see the story of every distant Bridgerton relation in existence if Netflix has anything to say about it. HBO Max is out here kicking the rotting corpse of the Harry Potter franchise looking for signs of life. Even FX has decided there are more scary stories in its American Horror Story universe, greenlighting a bite-size version of the flagship series where each episode is a stand-alone vignette.

Basically, no one should really be surprised that HBO and parent company WarnerMedia are suddenly champing at the bit to greenlight as many Game of Thrones-related series as possible. Exhausted? Yes. Saddened? Possibly. But surprised? Not really.

To be fair, Game of Thrones is the biggest series the network has ever had. And the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is rich and expansive, with enough nerdy historical pockets, bloody battles, and giant dragons to satisfy the most diehard fantasy fan. As a viewer who loved (most of) the television series Game of Thrones as well as the book series it is based on, I get it.

We’re probably never going to get to the finish of Martin’s novels—no judgment, but the man could not seem less interested in writing them now that the television show has (badly) spoiled his ending—so why not indulge ourselves by watching as many Thrones-related properties as possible?

Yet, in a media landscape that has fallen all over itself to find the next Game of Thrones and greenlit some truly questionable fantasy projects in the process, the idea of not one, not two, but three or more additional spinoffs in development is honestly anxiety inducing. Because if the television industry since Thrones has taught us anything, it’s that no one really remembers anymore what made the original show great in the first place.

Game of Thrones exploded into mainstream pop culture because, as a series, it was utterly unlike anything else on the air at the time. From its rich, fully realized worldbuilding and complex characters to its fearless plot twists and genuine stakes, it was shocking, heartbreaking and infuriating by turns. It’s hard not to think that all these rumored prequels and spinoffs could only ever manage to feel like pale imitations on their best days, particularly when the original is still on the minds of so many viewers.

I mean, the flagship series hasn’t even been off the air for two years yet. As the saying goes: How can we miss you if you won’t go away?

The rumored new titles don’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence either. All of them are prequels, and several are set uncomfortably close to the timeframe of original series—generally not enough for a The Mandalorian-esque surprise cameo or anything, but the names and fates of many of these characters will be well known to viewers well before the opening titles roll.

House of the Dragon, which will likely be the first series out of the gate since at least it’s been cast already, is based on a portion of Martin’s history of the Targaryen family called Fire and Blood, and will ostensibly recount the civil war that pit sister against brother in a fight for the throne known as the Dance of the Dragons. There’s a lot more incest and loads more dragons, because this story is the Targaryen clan on steroids. But if you’ve still got some PTSD over how much the original series sacrificed in terms of story and character development just to show us a zombie Viserion during Season 8, then you might well feel anxious about the idea that HBO network brass somewhere has decided that the dragons were the most important takeaway from that story.

There’s also rumors of a series in the works depicting Robert’s Rebellion—the event which immediately precedes the story of Game of Thrones and puts Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne—a story whose climax we have already seen pieces of on the original series in the Tower of Joy flashbacks. (Whew.) An animated series may dig into some of the history and lore of Westeros and Essos that’s too expensive to actually create on film, and there were early rejected pilots centered on the fall of the Valyrian Empire and the origins of the White Walkers that could come back into the conversation should HBO really commit to this wild idea.

But in all honesty, these concepts just sound as though they’re trying to recapture the magic of Game of Thrones without necessarily having something new to say. I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch all of them, but it doesn’t exactly feel like these series are being made for the right reasons, and blatant cash grabs have a long history of turning out poorly. Plus, we’ve seen a Targaryen queen go mad once already, and it wasn’t exactly well handled. Can House of the Dragon be trusted with Rhaenyra Targaryen’s story when the original series failed Dany so badly?

Only the rumored possibility of The Tale of Dunk and Egg adaptation honestly feels as though it might break new ground in the world of Westeros. Based on a series of novellas and set around 90 years prior to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire, this is basically Game of Thrones as a buddy road trip movie, starring a hedge knight and his squire, who will one day become a King of Westeros and the commander of his Kingsguard. These are largely action-adventure stories that are less about incest and dragons than the real folk who live in the larger kingdom, whose stories the flagship series never bothered much with. (Unless it was to show them dying horribly in the Red Keep.)

If HBO wants to make more series set in the world of Westeros, it would do well to embrace more ideas like this, something that feels completely tonally and conceptually different from the original, and that won’t ultimately end up being basically That Show with Dragons 2.0. The dragons were never the important part, despite the cool CGI and extensive merchandising, it was always the characters around them. Dunk and Egg would have to be character-driven first in order to work at all.

In the end, however, HBO might be wise to remember that lightning rarely strikes twice, and the real danger in trying to force us all back into Westeros as quickly as possible is that viewers will forget the reason they enjoyed going there in the first place. What is dead may never die—but maybe this world should stay buried a little while longer.

Lacy Baugher is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.

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