It’s undeniable, however, that Game of Thrones will leave a lasting impression on the TV landscape. HBO adapted George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy book series into a drama deemed appointment- and award-worthy; following its 2011 premiere, the series’ fanbase and viewership grew by millions of people every season.
Then there’s the series’ extensive cultural permeation, on a level that has far transcended superficial product tie-ins. Parents have named their kids Arya and Khaleesi; the line “You know nothing, Jon Snow” entered the cultural lexicon. Even President Donald Trump has been known to co-opt the show’s iconic imagery on social media. Such is the phenomenon that Game of Thrones has become, and will likely continue to be.
In short, the series is a buzz- and money-generating machine, one that HBO was presumably very sad to see go. So it’s hardly a surprise that the network began to develop no fewer than four potential prequel series in May 2017, not long before Game of Thrones debuted its seventh season. (HBO then went ahead and reportedly started work on a fifth one in September of that year, as well.)
Today, at least three of the five prequel projects remain in development (one that would have been produced by Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman has been nixed; the other’s status remains unknown), according to George R.R. Martin himself. The projects that have yet to be canceled hail from Jane Goldman (Kingsman: The Golden Circle); Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island); Brian Helgeland (Legend); and Carly Wray (Mad Men).
“What are they about? I cannot say,” wrote Martin in a May 4 blog post. “But maybe some of you should pick up a copy of FIRE & BLOOD [Martin’s companion novel to A Song of Ice and Fire, about the history of Westeros] and come up with your own theories.”
But only Goldman’s project has come anywhere close to getting off the ground thus far. It’s a prequel set thousands of years in the past, in a Westeros very different from the one that Game of Thrones viewers and fans of Martin’s originating book series know so well. According to the UK’s the Sun newspaper, its working title is Bloodmoon, and production has reportedly begun on a pilot, with filming having started in Belfast, Ireland, in May 2019. (Martin said on his blog that filming is set for “later this year,” however — and he also hinted to Entertainment Weekly in July that he’s heard The Longest Night bandied about as a possible title as well.)
With that said, HBO hasn’t released any recent updates on the status of Goldman’s project, or any other Game of Thrones series it has in development, so details remain scarce. But here’s everything we know about the prequel so far.
The prequel will tell an all-new story
Game of Thrones is famously based on Martin’s fantasy book series A Song of Ice and Fire. And the author has grown famously slow in writing those books, with two titles still to go in the planned seven-part series and no end in sight. Book five, A Dance with Dragons, hit bookshelves in July 2011 — mere months after the April 2011 premiere of Game of Thrones’ first season. But a full eight years later, Martin is still writing book six, The Winds of Winter, with no known release date.
The TV show outpaced it source material around season five. By season six, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff began turning toward original storytelling, with Martin’s blessing.
The prequel, however, will follow an original storyline from the beginning; though it will draw from Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire universe to reveal the backstory of Westeros, it won’t pull directly from any of Martin’s existing writing. The author will still shape the project, however, serving as series co-creator with showrunner Goldman. The aim is to create a new story and characters that help fill in the early details of the Game of Thrones universe.
Here is the show’s description, straight from HBO:
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. 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, only one thing is for sure: It’s not the story we think we know.
The Night King and White Walkers may factor in — but don’t expect to recognize much else
In June 2018, after HBO ordered a pilot for the prequel, Martin set some expectations for curious fans. First things first: Whoever your favorite characters are? Forget about ’em. They’re not here for this one.
“None of the characters or actors from Game of Thrones will appear in the new show,” Martin wrote in a blog post, adding that this pilot “really puts the PRE in prequel, since it is set not ninety years before Game of Thrones ... or a few hundred years, but rather ten thousand years.”
In November 2018, Martin doubled down on that statement, getting more explicit about which families — and iconic locations — won’t appear in the prequel.
“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,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly. “We’re dealing with a different and older world, and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.” Several months later, in a separate July 2019 interview, he added the Lannister family to the list of characters not to expect — but there will be Starks, he teased. Though which Starks could appear, and in what capacity, remains unclear, early ancestors of Ned and all the rest seem like a good bet.
And there may be one other exception to the otherwise fresh start: the Night King, who commanded humanity’s greatest threat, the White Walkers, until he was killed by Arya Stark during the final season’s Battle of Winterfell. The Night King lived for thousands of years before he and his Army of the Dead appeared on Game of Thrones, so he’s really the only figure from the show who could have existed during the time period when the prequel is set. Indeed, he was the first White Walker in existence, and with Martin having confirmed in July 2019 that the White Walkers will definitely reappear, it seems likely that the Night King will make an appearance along with them.
“The Night King was the first White Walker, and he and the other White Walkers were meant to defend the Children of the Forest from the rest of the First Men, who were invading Westeros at that time,” Riley McAtee of the Ringer noted in June 2018. “Obviously, it didn’t quite work out that way, and soon the Night King brought Westeros into the Long Night. It’s hard to think HBO could tell the story Westeros’s ‘darkest hour’ without also telling the origin of the Night King.”
McAtee also identified one other character who could appear in the prequel, albeit one who has only been discussed on Game of Thrones: Brandon the Builder, who founded House Stark and, according to legend, Westeros itself. Brandon Stark doesn’t play an active role in A Song of Ice and Fire, as he is said to have lived during the ancient Age of Heroes. But the Age of Heroes is when HBO has said that the prequel will be set — so Brandon could potentially appear onscreen as a Stark ancestor, especially now that Martin has confirmed that the Starks will show up in some way.
A cast is already in place, but character details remain unknown
HBO has revealed a large roster of actors who are set to appear in the pilot. At the top of that roster is Naomi Watts, who is the only cast member whose character has been even slightly defined; HBO says Watts will play “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.”
So far, the rest of the cast list contains names big and small, including Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), Jamie Campbell Bower (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia series), and Marquis Rodriguez (Luke Cage), all in unspecified roles for now.
When will the prequel series air? Don’t get too far ahead of yourself.
HBO has only ordered a pilot of Bloodmoon (or is it The Longest Night?) so far. That’s certainly a good sign, but it’s far from a guarantee that the pilot will eventually become a series. Lots of pilots are filmed but don’t become TV shows, or get seriously retooled before they ever make it to air; even Game of Thrones’ original pilot was remade after disastrous screen tests.
So it’s far too early to even think about a possible release date. But given Game of Thrones’ popularity, the prequel project seems to have a decent chance of making it beyond the pilot phase. And thinking about potential spinoffs is as good a way as any for fans to distract themselves from ongoing arguments about the series finale, if nothing else.