HBO isn’t making a Robert’s Rebellion spinoff—Is that the right call?


HBO is developing five — that’s right, FIVE — spinoffs for Game of Thrones. That’s a lot of potential time spent in the World of Ice and Fire, although we hasten to remind everyone that this doesn’t mean that HBO is actually going to MAKE five spinoffs, just that they’re developing five different ideas. Once all the ideas are in, they may well choose the one or two they like the best and go forward with them.

We don’t know what ideas are in development, but we do know that there’s no Robert’s Rebellion prequel in the works. The story of how Robert Baratheon rebelled against Aerys II Targaryen is one with which Game of Thrones fans are very familiar. It features younger versions of many characters we know, including Cersei, Jaime and Tywin Lannister, Ned Stark, Barristan Selmy, and of course King Robert. And we’ve heard plenty of exposition about the main events in the saga, including Aerys killing Ned’s father and brother, Jaime killing Aerys, and Daenerys and Viserys Targaryen being whisked across the Narrow Sea.

Perhaps because the story is so familiar, fans have been clamoring for a Robert’s Rebellion spinoff for a while. Last year, there was a petition circulating around the internet to make it a reality — it got thousands of signatures. And when we asked fans what prequel they’d most want to see, Robert’s Rebellion easily took the top spot in our poll.

So why don’t Martin and company want to adapt this crucial chapter in Westerosi history for the small screen? Martin, writing on his Not a Blog, explained:

"[B]y the time I finish writing A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, you will know every important thing that happened in Robert’s Rebellion. There would be no surprises or revelations left in such a show, just the acting out of conflicts whose resolutions you already know. That’s not a story I want to tell just now; it would feel too much like a twice-told tale."

So here’s the question: does that explanation hold water? Is a story to which we already know the ending worth telling?

At the outset, we can note that prequel series have been successful before. If you want a modern example, look no further than Better Call Saul, AMC’s prequel to Breaking Bad. That show, currently in its third season, tells the story of how neophyte lawyer Jimmy McGill became the ethically challenged Saul Goodman, the ambulance chaser who assists Walter White in Breaking Bad. The series are set very close in time — much closer than a Robert’s Rebellion series would be to Game of Thrones — and Better Call Saul has received raves across the board. It’s the prototypical prequel success story.

And it’s not alone. Shows like Caprica (prequel to Battlestar Galactica), Bates Motel (prequel to Psycho) and Hannibal (prequel to The Silence of the Lambs) have all made waves. And while they may not be critically lauded, shows like Fear the Walking Dead (prequel to The Walking Dead) and Gotham (prequel to…everything involving Batman) have their fans, too. In all of these cases, we know how the stories have to go (Norman Bates goes crazy, Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, etc), but people enjoy enjoy the ride anyway. Why couldn’t it be that way with Robert’s Rebellion?

For one thing, Game of Thrones is very closely connected to the events of Robert’s Rebellion — inescapably connected. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman is a side character. Better Call Saul can reveal things about him we never learned in Breaking Bad, because that show wasn’t about him. But in many ways, Game of Thrones is the story of the extended aftermath of Robert’s Rebellion, from Daenerys trying to make her way back to Westeros to Jaime’s dual nature to the fracturing of the Stark clan. It all goes back to what happened during the rebellion, and we’ve come to know those events almost as well as the ones we’ve watched play out in real time.

The show took this interconnectedness to the extreme in its most recent season, when Bran Stark peered into the past and watched a young version of his father fight against Aerys Targaryen’s Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy. Would a prequel series simply replay this scene? Is there any point to filming a new show when some of the events from that show have already aired on TV?

And keep in mind that, according to Martin, we’ll learn more secrets about what happened during the rebellion before A Song of Ice and Fire — and by extension Game of Thrones — is over. It’s a good bet Bran will get up close and personal with a few more events, as well. In Martin’s mind, that’s reason enough to forego filming the whole thing as a separate series…”just now.”

There’s also this: for every prequel that’s worked, there’s one that’s flopped. For every Better Call Saul, there’s a Star Trek: Enterprise. For every Hannibal, there’s a The Carrie Diaries. (Fear the Walking Dead can pull double-duty here, since plenty of people hate it.) And let’s not forget the Star Wars prequels, which were financial successes but have a reputation as schlocky cash grabs to this day. In some cases, maybe it’s better to leave certain corners of imagined worlds to the imagination, at least those that have already been filled in somewhat by their precursors.

If Martin and company want to avoid stories that tread old ground, they’ll probably look deeper into world’s past. The Dance of the Dragons is a contender, as is Aegon’s Conquest, the war between the Children of the Forest and the First Men, and any number of stories set outside Westeros. (Martin noted that some shows “may not even be set on Westeros,” which opens up the playing field considerably.)

So is Martin right that a Robert’s Rebellion prequel wouldn’t be worth telling right now? It’s an open question, and one we can contemplate while we wait for the next decade of Westeros-themed programming.

Should HBO make a Robert’s Rebellion prequel show?