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The end of an era is rapidly approaching: Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy juggernaut, is coming to an end. Its final season will premiere in 2019 and, at just six episodes, will be over before we know it. For fans who have grown to love the show for its dragons and draconian politics, it may feel like an endless winter is coming. But worry not— HBO has been formulating various prequels for some time, one of which was given a pilot order over the summer. The details may not yet be set in stone, but we can still take stock of the situation and see just how much we know.
If there’s one thing GoT is famous for (aside from that whole “dragons, nudity, and killing off any character you’ve ever loved” thing), it’s the sprawling, entangled plot lines. While the show’s recent seasons may have streamlined the story a bit, GoT’s rise in popularity was due in large part to the complex intrigue of the early seasons. So with all those stories already told, coupled with the show’s current trajectory towards what looks to be an Armageddon-level ending, the question becomes: What stories are left to tell?
Reports about the GoT spinoffs have repeatedly emphasized the fact that the shows will be prequels, rather than continuations of the main story. “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,” reads a synopsis of the prequel pilot. On Tuesday, Martin posted on his “Not A Blog” about the show, where he referred to it as The Long Night. There has been no official title announcement yet, but Martin’s working title gives us some sort of idea of the show’s timeframe. “The Long Night: refers to the ancient war between the White Walkers (or as they’re called in the books, the Others) and the early societies of Westeros during a time called The Age of Heroes. It’s an event that has been hinted at in the novels and expanded upon in Martin’s companion anthologies, and so a show set during that time would have plenty of background text to draw from, while still being ripe for creative interpretation.
Although the ancient days of Westeros seem to be the most likely setting, there’s a wide range of historical plot lines the show can draw from. In addition to the main story, Martin has also worked on a series of prequel novellas called Tales of Dunk and Egg, which on the early adventures of a future Targaryen king, Aegon V, and his friend and protector, Duncan the Tall, the future Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. The series takes place around 90 years before the main novels, and details what life under Targaryen rule was like, while containing Martin’s signature sprawling storylines—however, the author has tempered expectations of viewers hoping to see his (as-of-yet-incomplete series of) Dunk and Egg novellas onscreen, noting, “When the day comes that I’ve finished telling all my tales of Dunk and Egg, then we’ll do a TV show about them … but that day is still a long ways off.”
Martin has also compiled a vast history of his world in the form of various compendiums and novellas. The Princess & the Queen, along with the forthcoming Fire & Blood, detail the complete history of House Targaryen, with a large focus on a civil war between rival branches called the Dance of Dragons. The World of Ice & Fire is a similar historical document, told from the point of view of an in-universe historian, that focuses briefly on events from across the entire world of the books.
Regardless of what direction the showrunners end up going in, the world of GoT is so rich and deep that they should have no problem finding inspiration of some sort.
Game of Thrones struck pay-dirt with what was a generally unknown cast, especially in its early seasons. The only standout name was Sean Bean, and while veteran character actors like Aidan Gillen and Charles Dance filled essential supporting roles, many of the characters were new faces to mainstream audiences. Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Emilia Clarke and others have all seen their profiles skyrocket thanks to the show. So the question now becomes: Who will the prequel(s) elevate?
The Long Night has only confirmed two actors as of this writing, but the showrunners’ casting philosophy seems to be following in their predecessor’s footsteps. Hollywood veteran and two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts has been cast as an unnamed character, described as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret,” fulfilling the role Bean played as a familiar face to help guide viewers into the show. Joining Watts will be relative newcomer Josh Whitehouse, who will be playing an as-of-yet-unnamed lead character. Whitehouse is known in the U.K. for playing Hugh Ermitage in BBC’s historical drama Poldark.
According to Express, a recent casting call was posted on a Norwegian site for actors called Stage Pool. This casting call came with “descriptions which called for a diverse group of characters … four male, two female, and they range from later 20s to early 60s in age.” Five of those roles will be series regulars, with the other being less involved. Whether the show signs more big-name stars like Watts or seeks out up-and-comers like Whitehouse remains to be seen.
This is the one we know least about. According to Martin’s blog post, showrunner Jane Goldman, who worked on Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is in London “neck-deep in casting,” and Martin expects that more names will be announced soon. Goldman is set to write the script for the series, based on a storyline she and Martin created together.
HBO is not expected to begin production on The Long Night until at least February of 2019, and with how long that can take for this series (GoT season eight began shooting in October 2017), who knows when we’ll see a final product. HBO programming president Casey Bloys has said any GoT follow-up won’t air until at least a year after the flagship show’s grand finale The network is unlikely to take too much longer than that, however—they’ll likely want to take advantage of the hype that the show’s ending will produce, and seamlessly transition viewers to the new series as quickly as possible.
The prequel pilot’s director and eight new cast members were revealed on Jan. 8. S.J. Clarkson (Collateral) will helm the pilot, while, Naomi Ackie, Denise Gough, Jamie Campbell Bower, Sheila Atim, Ivanno Jeremiah, Georgie Henley, Alex Sharp and Toby Regbo will join the project as series regulars. Miranda Richardson (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) joined the prequel’s ensemble cast in March, in what EW reports is a series regular role. Marquis Rodriguez, John Simm, Richard McCabe, John Heffernan and Dixie Egerickx joined the pilot’s cast in undisclosed roles in March.
Dark wings, dark words: News broke on Oct. 29 that the Goldman/Martin prequel pilot will not move forward at HBO, who passed on the project. “At this time, none of the other projects are believed to be moving forward either,” Variety shockingly reports.
Stay tuned for more on The Long Night and its potential companion prequels. We’ll send a raven with each new revelation.