The pros and cons of a Game of Thrones cinematic universe

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Last week, we learned that HBO was developing three new Game of Thrones spin-off series, bringing the total number of potential follow-ups to its mega-hit show to seven. Let’s list them out:

  • House of the Dragon is set over 100 years before the main show and will tell the story of the Dance of the Dragons, a brutal Targaryen civil war that tore the realm apart. This is the only show we know for sure we’re getting. They have a logo and a cast and everything. Filming begins in April.
  • Tales of Dunk and Egg is an adaptation of George R.R. Martin series of novellas of the same name. This series is set some 90 years before Game of Thrones and follows the titular knight and squire as they travel Westeros having adventures.
  • Robert’s Rebellion would be about Robert’s Rebellion, the war that kicked Daenerys Targaryen’s father the Mad King off the Iron Throne a decade and change before the start of the original show. This would feature younger versions of characters like Ned Stark, Catelyn Stark, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, and more.
  • 10,000 Ships is about Nymeria, a princess of the Rhoynar who led her people away from their homeland on Essos once it became clear they couldn’t win in a fight against the Dragonlords of Valyria. They settled in Dorne, bringing with them many of their traditions and helping establish Dorne’s unique society.
  • 9 Voyages, or Sea Snake, is about the adventures of a young Corlys Velaryon, a famous mariner who explored the little-seen parts of the Known World…and maybe parts of the Unknown World.
  • Flea Bottom is about Flea Bottom, the poorest part of King’s Landing. No idea what this show is actually about. Workplace drama? Slice-of-life sitcom? Who knows?
  • HBO is also developing an animated drama set in the world of Game of Thrones. Again, no idea what it would be about.

So there you are: seven Game of Thrones prequels in development. Is this something to be celebrated…or nervous about? Let’s get into it.

How many Game of Thrones spin-offs will actually air?

My bet is: not all of them. Way back when HBO was first exploring the prospect of creating Game of Thrones spin-offs, it enlisted several writers to pitch ideas. One of those ideas, codenamed Blood Moon, actually got to the pilot stage; they filmed a full episode with Naomi Watts in costume and everything, but then they cancelled the show and decided to go forward with House of the Dragon instead.

Why didn’t Blood Moon go to series? We’re not sure, but its story tells us that HBO is willing to experiment with potential ideas even if it doesn’t go all the way through with them. These new ideas remind of what we heard back then: there are a lot of ideas being floated, but the network will probably only go forward with a few.

In fact, it looks like they may already be culling this list. We heard that HBO was considering a Robert’s Rebellion prequel series a few months back, as reported by reputable outlets like Entertainment Weekly. However, recently, those same high-quality media outlets — Deadline, in this case — are no longer listing the Robert’s Rebellion show when they talk about potential Game of Thrones prequels, suggesting they’ve heard something from their sources. Has HBO already dropped that particular spin-off idea?

It’s worth noting that A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin had previously come out against the idea of making a Robert’s Rebellion show, his reasoning being that he planned to reveal all the pertinent events of that conflict in his books, so a show would be redundant. Now that he’s signed a multimillion dollar deal to continue developing content for HBO (which calls into question whether he’ll actually ever finish those books, but that’s another discussion), it’s even possible that he’s behind that particular idea being dropped.

But that’s speculation. The bigger point is that while there are a lot of shows in development, I’d be very surprised if all of them made it to the screen. We know we’re getting House of the Dragon, and I’d be happy with another one or two (Tales of Dunk and Egg, please and thank you).

Is this the beginning of a Game of Thrones Cinematic Universe?

Thanks to the staggering success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio and their mother wants to create their own cinematic universe these days, a network of shows, movies and more that’s always pointing the viewer towards the next thing to watch.

Is this what HBO is doing with these new Game of Thrones spin-offs? Probably. Over on Disney+, Disney has both the Marvel and Star Wars cinematic universes to draw people in. Even Nickelodeon is creating an Avatar: The Last Airbender cinematic universe. WarnerMedia, which has made due with the creaky DC Extended Universe up until now, surely wants something to compel people over and above its competitors, and building a network of series around the most popular show of the last decade might just be the way to do it.

That said, a Game of Thrones universe wouldn’t be like the MCU. For one thing, most of these shows are set at different points of time, so there couldn’t be much if any overlap. But even there, it looks like HBO is looking for ways around it. The hero of 9 Voyages, Corlys Velaryon, is also a prominent character in House of the Dragon, by which time he’s an old man. That could be an interesting way to have connective tissue between those two shows without having them cross over in the traditional sense.

Still, I hope HBO is mindful that the more Game of Thrones shows it makes, the higher the risk of watering down the others. Game of Thrones was event television for nearly a decade, but it might not have felt as special if the franchise insisted upon itself with spin-offs and official after-shows before the original series had even concluded.

With the right actors, writers and producers, I have every hope that HBO can make Game of Thrones spin-offs that delight, entertain, and terrify us in the tradition of the original series. But I also hope that HBO remembers what made that series distinct and lean into it rather than modeling itself on another, already established franchise.

We’re living in the age of the cinematic universe. All I can do is hope that the Game of Thrones universe is one I want to visit.

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