In a surprising move, HBO is developing a Game of Thrones prequel show based on George R.R. Martin’s Tales of Dunk and Egg. Let’s dig into what this means:
Game of Thrones ended in 2019. HBO is readying a prequel series, House of the Dragon, to air in 2022. And now, Variety reports that the network in the early stages of developing another, as-yet unnamed spinoff show based on George R.R. Martin’s Tales of Dunk and Egg.
What is Tales of Dunk and Egg?
Set some 90 years before the events of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (adapted for TV as Game of Thrones), Tales of Dunk and Egg is an unfinished series of novellas following the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall (Dunk) and Aegon V Targaryen (Egg, a nickname based partially on his signature shaved head). There are three novellas published so far: 1998’s The Hedge Knight, 2003’s The Sworn Sword 2010’s The Mystery Knight. Each follow the characters at different points in their lives, with the first one introducing Dunk on a down-on-his-luck hedge knight and Egg as a young kid who becomes his squire.
Eventually, Aegon will become Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Dunk and Lord Commander of his Kingsguard, but in these early adventures, neither have any idea that’s going to happen. In fact, Aegon was so far back in the line of succession that he would become known as Aegon the Unlikely. He actually got mentioned a couple of times on Game of Thrones. He was brother to kindly old Maester Aemon Targaryen of the Night’s Watch, who could have been king but recommended to the council that Egg be chosen instead. In fact, Maester Aemon’s last words were about Egg: “Egg, I dreamed that I was old.”
Dunk and Egg get involved in some huge events, like the machinations of Brynden “Lord Bloodraven” Rivers and the Blackfyre Rebellions. Martin plans to write more stories about them, perhaps going all the way through to the tragedy of Summerhall, where they both die in a failed attempt by Egg to hatch a dragon. When the story starts, the dragons are all gone, although there are people alive who remember them. It’s set after House of the Dragon, which covers the brutal Targaryen civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons, but not so long after that it’s faded into distant history, only to be read about by Shireen Baratheon in dusty old tomes.
Will Martin actually more of these stories? There’s a fourth one planned with a working title of The She-Wolves of Winterfell, but with Martin working on finishing The Winds of Winter, it’s hard to know if we’ll see it anytime soon. “I have pretty well their entire lives in my head, and of course all those things will become more detailed as I write them,” Martin said in October of 2019. “But first I have this book The Winds of Winter. I have to finish that, and then I can write another Dunk and Egg story, and then I write A Dream of Spring, and then I write another Dunk and Egg story. At some point in there I have to write the second part of Fire and Blood, so I have my work cut out for me. Why am I talking to you here? I should be home writing.”
The first three Dunk and Egg novellas are collected in a book, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.
Will Tales of Dunk and Egg actually get made?
It’s important to note that HBO is merely developing this show; nothing’s been greenlit and there are no creatives attached to it as of yet. And remember that the network shot a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel series known as Blood Moon that didn’t end up going forward, so this is no guarantee that we’ll actually see this show make it to air. However, Variety says that the show is a “high priority” for the network as it tries to capitalize on the success of Game of Thrones, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved it right along.
That said, I’m surprised we’re hearing about it at all, given that Dunk and Egg was not among the spinoff possibilities we heard about when HBO first started looking into the possibility of making additional Game of Thrones shows. According to Ryan Condal, the showrunner behind House of the Dragon, that’s because Martin didn’t want to go forward with it. As he told us in October of last year: “I very passionately pitched Dunk and Egg as a spinoff idea, because I thought that’s a great way to go. With the original series, how do you even follow it? It’s so big, it’s so scopey, it’s so successful. The only way to do it, is to go against the grain, do this sort Lone Wolf and Cub, this wandering swordsman through the countryside.”
"HBO loves Dunk and Egg, they desperately love it, but George really wants to finish writing those stories before that’s adapted, I think he wants to be a little more involved with that."
And here’s what Martin himself said on his Not a Blog in 2017:
"We’re not doing Dunk & Egg. Eventually, sure, I’d love that, and so would many of you. But I’ve only written and published three novellas to date, and there are at least seven or eight or ten more I want to write. We all know how slow I am, and how fast a television show can move. I don’t want to repeat what happened with GAME OF THRONES itself, where the show gets ahead of the books. When the day comes that I’ve finished telling all my tales of Dunk & Egg, then we’ll do a tv show about them… but that day is still a long ways off."
I agree with Condal that Dunk and Egg would be the perfect follow-up to Game of Thrones. Where that show was huge and sweeping, Dunk and Egg is intimate and quirky, but still dense and interesting. It’s also more episodic, which is obviously a good fit for TV. In fact, when I heard that HBO was considering Game of Thrones spinoffs, my mind immediately went to Dunk and Egg. But I didn’t think it would happen because Martin didn’t want it to. Well, either he changed his mind or HBO acquired the screen rights to the stories at some point and decided to go forward with a series anyway.
If HBO does make this series, it will find itself in the same place as it did making Game of Thrones: Martin has written some source material for Dunk and Egg, but not all — in fact, the story even as complete as A Song of Ice and Fire was when the network started in on the original series, and probably won’t be for a long time, if ever. That said, the lighter tone of Dunk and Egg would probably make it easier to improvise, particularly if there’s cooperation from Martin’s end (although I’m starting to think that’s not forthcoming).
It could also solve the problem of how to keep Game of Thrones shows on the air consistently, which HBO probably wants to do to compete in an era of mega-franchises; note how Disney is trying to monopolize our time with numerous shows in both the Marvel and Star Wars universes, shows that will be airing for years to come. While House of the Dragon has a good story, there’s not really enough to it for it to air for eight seasons like the original show did. But if HBO wraps House of the Dragon and travels forward some years right into Tales of Dunk and Egg? That might just work.
What do you make of these developments? Things could get very interesting around here.