‘Don’t let the tail wag the dragon’: what we want from the Game of Thrones prequel
As HBO confirm the direction of its next Thrones project, one loyal subject makes the case for a savage succession.
- Spoiler alert: this blog contains plot details for every season of Game of Thrones. Don’t read unless you are up to date
The only solace that can be taken from Game of Thrones coming to an end next year is the knowledge that our time in Westeros is far from over. Nary does a cash cow the size of GoT go unmilked, so we’ve got at least one more Thrones TV show coming our way.
HBO has been busy developing “four to five” treatments for possible companion series. Each is a prequel of sorts to the main show, with none actually touching directly upon George RR Martin’s parent narrative. The names attached to these scripts are no two-bit hacks: Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Kingsman), Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Legend), Max Borenstein (Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island ), Carly Wray (Westworld, Mad Men) and Bryan Cogman (a Game of Thrones old-timer).
In the end, HBO decided to take a punt on Jane Goldman’s idea: a pilot’s been ordered, and if it’s picked up Goldman and George RR Martin will act as co-creators of a whole new series set in the Thrones universe. We’ll likely see it in 2020, and Goldman will be steering the ship as showrunner.
Itches of concern only arise when you start to pore through the details. HBO’s official statement reads:
“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.”
The Ringer recently scoured this opaque precis for clues as to where the series might go, and deduced that the “darkest hour” was the fabled Long Night, and the Stark of Legend was most likely Bran the Builder, who is said to have used sorcery to build The Wall, along with basically any other ancient structure in Westeros that wasn’t made of wattle and daub. We’ve seen the origins of the White Walkers already, of course – the Children of the Forest made them, the feckless little idiots – so we may be delving deeper into the forest imps’ war with the human invaders.
You might be thinking, this is all great. That more Thrones can only be a good thing. That Jane Goldman and George RR Martin are so brilliant on their own that together they should probably fight crime or something. That this new series – with its mythic beings, magic walls, faery wars and Night Kings – will surely be epic fantasy on a scale never before seen on TV. And it will be. But that, right there, is the problem.
As the show has grown in scope over the years, so too have its flaws become more numerous. Seasons six and seven, lacking solid, densely plotted George RR Martin source material to draw upon, upped the stakes in terms of spectacle, but at the cost of jettisoning the complex minutiae of political backstabbery that made the first few seasons so helplessly addictive. They were spectacular, yet illogical. Massive, yet weirdly weightless. No multimillion dollar set-piece, from the Battle of the Bastards to the death of Dany’s dragon, has ever come close to replicating the breathless, dizzying rug-pull of The Red Wedding. Or poor Prince Oberyn’s squishy eye-ectomy. Or Tyrion killing Shae. Or Ned Stark having his entire body chopped off. Or any of the gamechanging moments that were born from simple drama.
Game of Thrones was never exactly a quiet, low-key kitchen-sink soap, but the genius of the early seasons lay in the underhand way in which fantasy elements were gradually smuggled in under the radar. Myth and magic were introduced early, yet so subtly that mainstream viewers who would usually balk at dragons and magic were hooked before they even realised they were being hoodwinked. It was, at its beginning and through to its peak, a political drama about the lengths people – fallible, vulnerable, rounded, real people – are willing to go to in the acquisition of power. It was the captivating brutality of the Game of Thrones itself. The action and fantasy were an, admittedly very welcome, bonus.
According to Westerosian scholars (ie George RR Martin and the internet), it’s quite likely that Brandon Stark didn’t even exist – that he was, Ragnar Lothbrok-style, made up of the deeds of several individuals, all rolled into one handy, pocket-sized myth. If so, why don’t we know who these people are? Getting down into the nitty gritty of these unknown heroes’ interactions, and the reasons behind their removal from the history books, would be one fascinating avenue to take. If Brandon is real, watching he and Lann the Clever (who founded House Lannister) squabble and bicker as they form proud dynasties that will still be squabbling and bickering 10,000 years later also promises for some delicious knife-in-back action. This new series will also be set within the era of the first Night’s Watch, and seeing the erstwhile sentries’ embryonic years would also be excellent. And not just to witness the moment someone tried to convince them that celibacy is the best way forward for everyone. We’ll only be on shakier, more BBC1-at-teatime ground if we end up with sillier characters such as The Grey King, who shacked up with a mermaid and lived for a millennium. Or too much of the Children of the Forest. Who, and this can’t be emphasised enough, really are a bunch of little pillocks.
George RR Martin’s hands-on attitude with this new series is encouraging, as is Jane Goldman’s pedigree as a screenwriter. If they sit down together and agree that one good, believable, flawed character is worth a thousand dead CGI dragons, then we could be on to something very special. HBO will surely be hurling tens of millions of dollars at them. The very best thing they could do is resist the urge to spend them all.
Goldman and Martin should, instead, get back to Thrones basics. Throw in some action, sure, but not to the detriment of the very same human drama that made Game of Thrones the phenomenon it became. Don’t let the tail wag the dragon, as it were. Give us murder and intrigue and betrayal and knotty, devious skulduggery in dark rooms. Oh, and if you can think of some way of getting The Hound in it too, then please also do that. Thanks.
SOURCE: The Bloomgist/The Guardian, UK