Should any of the Game of Thrones prequels be animated?


HBO is developing five Game of Thrones prequel series, give or take. While there’s no way all five will end up getting made, HBO will surely bring at least one — maybe two — to air. The original show costs a pretty penny to produce — season 8 will run the network around $15 million per episode — and HBO executives have openly wondered about the budget “conundrum” presented by the new show(s). How are they going to maintain the high production values fans are used to without breaking the bank?

Nerdist suggested a possible solution in a recent editorial: should one of the Game of Thrones prequels shows be animated?

The basic argument is that, given how expensive Game of Thrones is to produce, an animated series could be made far more cheaply. After all, in a way, the show has been producing animated takes on the story since the season 1 home boxset. It’s History and Lore features, which explore details of the world the show can’t cover in detail, sport animated scenes over narration. The one above is from early in the show’s lifecycle, but they’ve gotten a lot more elaborate since then, with the season 7 boxset even featuring a 45-minute mini-movie about Aegon Targaryen’s invasion of Westeros.

Pour more money into this kind of thing, the argument goes, and you could flesh it out into a full animated series. And animation would leave the producers free to visit any locale, depict any battle and visit any era at a fraction of the cost it would take to do it in live action. The dragons on Game of Thrones are famously expensive to render, but wouldn’t present an especial challenge for animators. And as elaborate as the special effects on the show have become, it still hasn’t attempted anything as grand as the Doom of Valyria. And if HBO is producing an animated show relatively cheaply, it could put more money into a second live action show, thus giving us a lot of high-quality Song of Ice and Fire-related content at an affordable cost.

So does Nerdist have a point? Would an animated Game of Thrones show be a good idea? I would argue: sort of.

First, the idea that animated series aren’t expensive is naive. Star Wars: Rebels director Dave Filoni put it succinctly to “Well, I’ve never met anybody in this field that says they’re not limited by budget, that would be amazing.”

However, it’s true that animated series are generally cheaper than their live-action brethren. I think the bigger problem lies in the idea that both of these hypothetical series would run side by side on the same network. If an animated series and live action series ran concurrently, would fans really see them as equal?

Animation is a wonderful medium, but it has its limitations, most glaringly that a live human being can act circles around a cartoon. If HBO were to air both series in this manner, comparisons would be inevitable, and not in the animated series’ favor. That would be true even if the shows aired at different times of the year, say one in the spring and one in the fall.

A series like Star Wars: Rebels, which ended a five-year run on Disney XD this past March, worked because the primary vehicle for Star Wars stories remains the Star Wars films. Disney didn’t force Star Wars: Rebels to compete against the movies, or even another live action series. That’s not an option for HBO, as any Game of Thrones prequel spinoff will air on that network. As fun as it would be to watch hundreds of animated dragons soar over the towers of Old Valyria, or to witness the War of the Dawn and the building of the Wall, an animated Game of Thrones series would always play second-fiddle to a live action counterpart.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see every bit of Game of Thrones content that I can, but I am not a casual fan. Casual fans are the ones who carry a series, not superfans. Those fans tune in because the acting and drama on Game of Thrones is superb. A degree of that drama can be captured in animated form, though much of the shading would be lost. As even Nerdist acknowledges, fans will not stick around for any prequel project if they feel HBO is “shortchanging” the series. That’s exactly what an animated series would feel like if a live action series also existed.

But maybe there are ways such a series could work — if animated segments continued to be relegated to supplementary material on home boxsets, for example. Or perhaps animated vignettes could serve as preamble or postscript to episodes of the forthcoming live-action series.

Ultimately, given that HBO is now facing competition in the genre TV space from companies like Amazon, it seems unlikely that the network will go the animation route. Television is only getting bigger and more expensive, and now is not the time for HBO to pinch pennies. Game of Thrones is the gold standard of expensive dramas, and continuing the series in any other way can only lower that standard.

Next: Jaime and Brienne will [SPOILER] in Game of Thrones season 8

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