Small Council: What do we think about HBO’s Game of Thrones prequel show?


HBO has officially ordered a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel. Here’s the announcement:

"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."

There’s no title, there’s no cast, and there’s no timeframe, although HBO president Casey Bloys has said that no spinoff will air until at least 2020.

What do we make of this? Is this a good idea? Is this the direction we expected HBO to go? What do we want from the show? What don’t we want from it? The Small Council is in session.

DAN: I’ll say this for HBO: they zigged when I expected them to zag. When I went to this year’s Con of Thrones, I was on a panel about the planned spinoffs, and the consensus seemed to be that we were in for a show about the Dance of the Dragons, the Targaryen civil war that tore Westeros apart over 100 years before the events of Game of Thrones. It seemed to have everything: politics, family infighting, dragon-on-dragon violence…I’d watch it.

By going with a show about the Age of Heroes, HBO was pretty smart. We don’t know much about this period of Westerosi history, so there are lots of opportunities for the network to forge its own path and distinguish the new show from its zeitgeist-defining forebear. Also, the scope of this story is just wider. Ultimately, the Dance of the Dragons is about one family fighting for control of Westeros, with events and characters set in stone. But this Age of Heroes show can cover everything from “the Starks of legend” to “the mysteries of the East.” It can be more of a globe-hopping affair. And the fact that HBO chose this idea over something easier to adapt speaks well of whatever writer/potential showrunner Jane Goldman came up with.

However, I worry that the show will still feel too similar to Game of Thrones. Based on the synopsis and comments from George R.R. Martin, it’s clear that the thrust of the series will involve the Long Night, the first time the White Walkers attacked humanity. I expect we’ll follow characters spread across the world who will eventually unite to stop this existential threat. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the show we’re watching now?

To my knowledge, this is the first spinoff HBO has ever attempted, and with their track record, I have every hope they’ll knock it out of the park. What do you guys think?

RAZOR: I am excited about the idea of seeing how the First Men helped shape the Westeros we know today. Just thinking about the major events from the Age of Heroes like the Pact, which saw thousands of years of peace between the Children of the Forest and the First Men, is very exciting. The Long Night is also of particular interest to me…but I am skeptical that it could turn into another series about a looming threat from the White Walkers.

What I’m most excited about is meeting the heroes from that time: Bran the Builder, Lann the Clever, Duran Godsgrief, and Garth Greenhand just to name a few. However, those same legendary heroes also cause me to pause in my excitement, as I am worried the series won’t be able to connect all these characters and their stories.

What made Game of Thrones such a popular series is partly because of the political maneuvering and war for supremacy between the great Houses of Westeros — love of, and being able to invest into each character is the other reason. In the Age of Heroes, there was no capital city of King’s Landing, no one true king, and the land was divided into hundreds of smaller kingdoms. My greatest concern is that audiences will not be able to connect with a show that doesn’t have a polarizing key story like the fight to see who will sit on the Iron Throne.

All that being said, HBO has more than earned a wealth of good faith, and if the network believes the Age of Heroes is its best option for a successor to Game of Thrones, then I’m all in.

COREY: I’ll admit, this was a shocking choice to me. Like Dan said, there are other periods of Westerosi history that would have more closely resembled Game of Thrones. That being said, perhaps that’s the reason HBO chose the Age of Heroes. And while my super nerd self is over the moon, I wonder if ultimately the show will prove too high concept for HBO.

HBO faces two major problems as I see it, the first of which is time. The Age of Heroes encompasses anywhere from 4 to 6 thousand years. It’s jam-packed with fantastically cinematic events, but many of them take place hundreds if not thousands of years apart. But as Dan notes, the history is murky, so it’s possible HBO will trim it down using some creative license.

Secondly, I worry that a show based on the Age of Heroes will lose many of the more casual fans. This series will likely lack some of the cornerstones fans have become used to, including abundant political intrigue and (probably) House Targaryen. Game of Thrones could be described as “Fantasy Lite” but the Age of Heroes is High Fantasy with a capital H. Demigods, Giants, Children of the Forest and that’s just scratching the surface. Casual fans may be turned off.

And while it sounds fun to see both Westeros and Essos, things like boats aren’t even invented until late in this time period. The First Men crossed a land bridge into Dorne to move between continents, for R’hllor’s sake. We could be in for a lot of walking.

I wonder how much of HBO’s choice was inspired by the fact that we don’t much about the Age of Heroes. This way, they won’t have to be bound to George R.R. Martin’s writing speed or any other kind of block. Should this go to series, Jane Goldman will enjoy a level of freedom never enjoyed by David Benioff or Dan Weiss.

HBO has a long track record of setting the bar for dramatic television, but for every four or five Game of Thrones and Sopranos, we get a Vinyl or a True Detective season 2. If anyone can pull of this prequel, it’s HBO, but I have my doubts. I would love to see the origins of the conflicts, houses, and structures like the Wall or Winterfell. I’m just not sure everyone else will agree.

RICHARD: I’ll admit that I haven’t been worrying too much about this (yet), and Dan and Corey have already provided plenty of thoughtful commentary on the subject. I also think that the Age of Heroes is an odd choice for HBO, but potentially a brilliant one. It’s far enough removed in time from the current series to be barely bound by it at all storywise but still carry its well-established name-value pedigree.

There is a real opportunity here, looking back at this time that provides much of the mythological underpinnings of the later world, to explore the down and dirty “truth” of the “real” events and characters that would become legendary as their tales were verbally transported and embellished across an immense period of space and time. The temptation will be there to try to do some expansive epic of god and heroes, and I hope the showrunners keep their sights tight and not set their story net too wide.

If HBO chooses to serve up the Age of Heroes as it probably was in its own era, probably more aptly titled “Fight for your Miserable Lives, you Mud-Covered Bastards,” then the audience will be witness to the engaging struggles of real people who were not larger-than-life in their own time, and also perhaps become privy to the unconscious process of mythbuilding, which would be fascinating.

SEBASTIAN: I am as surprised as you guys. It is not exactly the most obvious choice and, for me at least, this news has raised more questions than it has answered. If we had gotten Robert’s Rebellion or the Dance of the Dragon or the Conquest, that would have been pretty straightforward. We would have a pretty good idea as to what we are going to get if the pilot becomes an actual show. With the Age of Heroes, it’s different. Will we get all of the Age of Heroes? If so, different seasons could focus on different parts of it. Or will we maybe get a smaller, more coherent kind of story?

Will we really get much of Essos? I have always understood the Age of Heroes as an era in the history of Westeros, not the wider world. If they introduce Essos into this beyond it being the former home of the First Men, it would make it harder still to maintain some form of coherence. For all we know the contact between Westeros and Essos his been minimal during the Age of Heroes.

I agree with you, Richard, that a more gritty version of the reality behind the legends would probably be the most interesting shape I can imagine this taking. I think that would fit perfectly with how Martin gives us a pretty good idea in the books how distorted historical events become in the minds of the people. We see this in the Faith’s influence on tales much older than it’s influence on Westeros or even in the stories people tell about Tyrion Lannister or Robb Stark. Surely, the very oldest of stories will not be the best preserved?

Next: What should HBO’s new Game of Thrones prequel series be called?

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