Last week, HBO announced that the first (and possibly only) of the five prospective Game of Thrones prequel spin-offs to get a pilot order will go way, way, way back into Westeros’ past, to a time period before recorded history, where the truth is lost in a fog of legends and myths. Of all the eras worth exploring, it’s the one with the most question marks, which is why it makes the most sense for a new (old) story. More than any other period from George R.R. Martin’s insanely deep and complex history of the Seven Kingdoms, it offers the most freedom to tell a story even the most ardent fans of A Song of Ice and Fire don’t already know. Unfortunately that’s exactly why, along with a familiar enemy, it could end up hurting the original show.
This is the official synopsis for the series from HBO:
“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.”
George R.R. Martin himself further revealed how much the story will revolve around the infamous invasion of the dead; he thinks the unnamed series should be called “The Long Night,” suggesting that, just like on Game of Thrones, the blue-eyed ice demons will likely be the show’s big baddies. But also like with Game of Thrones,there are still tons of other important figures and events from that era, which in many ways shaped the Westeros we know today.
The Age of Heroes is the time period after the First Men and the Children of the Forest had ended their war with one another and lived in peace. Thought to have taken place 10,000 years ago—though, as Martin points out, the maesters think it was only half as long ago (and I think the maesters are right)—it features larger-than-life figures like Bran the Builder, the founder of House Stark credited with building the Wall, Winterfell, and Storm’s End, as well as Lann the Clever, founder of House Lannister. And those are just the most well-known figures for Game of Thrones viewers, who might not be as familiar with other important historical figures (real or legend), like Garth Greenhand and Durran Godsgrief, not to mention the founding of the Night’s Watch.
While the generally accepted timeline of Westeros puts the Age of Heroes at 10,000 years ago, until the start of the Long Night roughly 2,000 years later (8,000 years before Aegon’s Conquest), the timeline is completely unreliable. Recorded history didn’t begin in Westeros until long after the first Long Night, when the Andals invaded from Essos anywhere between six and two thousand years before the events of Game of Thrones. I tend to think all of these numbers are hugely inflated, simply because it’s hard to keep one single house in continuous existence for 10,000 years when a single plague could wipe out an entire family.
A compacted, accurate time period would make for a much more exciting show, because it would create far more overlap with these hugely important historical figures and events. Maybe Bran the Builder really was just one person who did all of these things, and maybe he knew all the other great heroes, including Azor Ahai (who might also have been the original Prince That Was Promised), the “last hero” who is credited with leading the First Men to victory over the Night King.
The fact that we don’t really know is why this is a perfect time to set a prequel. I am fascinated by the Targaryen kings, and I’m especially obsessed by the famed Blackfyre Rebellion that nearly tore the family apart. But not only do I know how that story ends, I know most of the major players and events of that Civil War. I still hope HBO turns it into a spin-off series, but it would be limited in what new information it could bring in ways this Age of Heroes series wouldn’t be. There’s also the fact that magic in the world might never have been greater than it was when the White Walkers first invaded (on the backs of giant ice spiders!), as opposed to the mostly magic-free world of Westeros under the post-dragon Targaryens. Game of Thrones is better for having magic present in the story, so wouldn’t a spin-off series also want to keep that element?
But giving us answers to mysterious questions isn’t always a good thing, and when mishandled they can even hurt the original story. I love the theory that Brandon Stark from Game of Thrones is also Bran the Builder from the myths, and that all Brandon Starks in history are in fact the same person. Not because I agree with it, but because it’s fun to debate and think about. That all goes away if we find out that all Brandon Starks merely have a high midichlorian count.
A big part of what makes George R.R. Martin’s insanely detailed history so intriguing to obsessives like me are all of the spots where we don’t have answers, because it allows us to explore the gaps without being disappointed by where we end up. I genuinely trust Martin’s judgment, and if he believe this is a story worth telling it probably is, but the freedom granted by this time period also includes going down roads we will have preferred to avoid.
On top of this, the new show seems like it will have, in some form, the exact same main villain as Game of Thrones, with the White Walkers playing a major role. It’s possible the Night King might have been an important member of House Stark, or someone even more shocking, and that the beginning of the White Walkers’ story could be far more fascinating than their end, which we will presumably get one way or another with Game of Thrones. But either way, their mere presence will only invite comparisons to the original show, which could unfairly hurt it in the eyes of viewers. Any spin-off of the single most popular TV series in the world will live in a huge shadow, one that will only get bigger by repeating the villain.
None of this means this series won’t work, or that the show won’t actually enhance how we view Game of Thrones if its answers add new depth and nuance to original story. The Age of Heroes and the first Long Night offer a bounty of incredible possibilities for an amazing story full of fascinating characters, fantastic elements, and major events, because what we “know” about that time period is made of sand that can be molded into something great.
But if it’s true that sometimes what you don’t know won’t hurt you, the opposite is true too.
What do you think? Do you want to learn more from this mysterious time period, or would you rather some question remain unanswered? Tell us why in the comments below.