Game of Thrones is over, but hopefully fans will be back in Westeros soon enough with HBO's prequel series. The show is currently filming its pilot, which could lead to a full series order. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, author George R.R. Martin shed some light on the project.
Martin has been working in Westeros for over 20 years now. What began as an epic fantasy novel in 1996 soon turned into a trilogy, then a four-book series, then five, six and finally seven -- A Song of Ice and Fire. Meanwhile, he served as an executive producer on HBO's adaptation of his TV series, writing four scripts himself in the early years. Once the show surpassed his books, Martin advised the writers on what should happen next, giving them the broad strokes for his plans in the books.
Martin was not just fixated on this singular story, however. The novelist expanded his fictional world farther and farther in intervening years. After producing a book of maps of Westeros and the lands beyond, he soon found himself working on an encyclopedia-style book titled The World of Ice and Fire, breaking down the histories, mythologies and cultures of his world.
Last year, Martin took it even further with a fictional history of House Targaryen, Fire and Blood. In about 1,000 pages he covered 150 years of Targaryen rule, and intends to tell the next 150 years in a future book.
Suffice it to say that the Westeros of the page has grown in recent years, and soon TV audiences will get a glimpse of it. Martin is working as an executive producer on the new prequel pilot, along with screenwriter and showrunner Jane Goldman. By all appearances, Martin will be taking a more active role in this show than he did in the later seasons of Game of Thrones, so fans can expect a rich and intricate version of Westeros, provided the pilot gets a series order.
The pilot is currently filming in Northern Ireland. The script was written by Goldman with Martin's input, and takes place about 5,000 years before the main series, at the time when the White Walkers first threatened the realms of men.
Here is what Martin told reporters about the hotly-anticipated pilot, as well as some other rumors that had been making the rounds beforehand.
The Westeros that fans know is divided into seven kingdoms, but it did not always look that way. Over the centuries, the land has been divided and unified in all kinds of ways. Martin told EW that this far back in history, there are at least 100 kingdoms carved out in the land.
We talk about the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros; there were Seven Kingdoms at the time of Aegon’s Conquest,” Martin said. “But if you go back further then there are nine kingdoms, and 12 kingdoms, and eventually you get back to where there are a hundred kingdoms — petty kingdoms — and that’s the era we’re talking about here.”
Many fans are already wondering if the term "kingdoms" should apply to this society. Martin's texts note that the early settlers of Westeros -- the First Men -- had bronze age-level technology, and lived a half-nomadic lifestyle, not unlike the Free Folk in the main series. It could be that "clans" or "tribes" are a more apt name for these kingdoms.
One familiar sight fans can count on in the prequel is that of direwolves, and yes, Starks beside them. The ancient house of Stark is confirmed to play a part in this story, as fans hoped they would. The Starks are descended from the First Men, and at this point in the story, they are the only humans in Westeros, as far as we know.
“The Starks will definitely be there,” Martin said. “Obviously the White Walkers are here — or as they’re called in my books, The Others — and that will be an aspect of it. There are things like direwolves and mammoths.”
Westerosi legend states that it was the ancestors of House Stark that helped fight the White Walkers off, and helped raise The Wall afterwards. In this show, perhaps we'll see some of the reality behind the legend.
One key ingredient missing from the prequel series will be House Lannister, although their castle, Casterly Rock, will be standing. Martin noted that Casterly Rock exists by this time, but did not mention whether or not it would factor into the story.
“The Lannisters aren’t there yet, but Castlery Rock is certainly there; it’s like the Rock of Gibraltar,” he said. “It’s actually occupied by the Casterlys — for whom it’s still named after in the time of Game of Thrones.”
Martin's fictional history books explain how the Casterlys, a family of First Men, carved their castle out of the ground as they built a massive gold mine. After thousands of years, the Andals invaded Westeros from overseas, and according to legend, an Andal hero named Lann the Clever swindled the Lord Casterly and his family out of their stronghold.
Whether or not we see this in the prequel is debatable, as these events are supposed to be thousands of years apart. Then again, Martin makes it clear that his history is written by unreliable narrators.
Martin took great pleasure in singing the praises of the prequel's cast, which includes Naomi Watts, Naomi Ackie, Denise Gough, Josh Whitehouse and other all-star names. Martin said that this cast acts as a true ensemble, and none can be accurately described as a "lead."
“I hesitate to use the word ‘lead,’” he said. “As you know for Game of Thrones, we never even nominated anybody for lead actress or lead actor [during awards season] until recently; it was always for supporting [categories] because the show is such an ensemble. I think that will be true for this show too. We don’t have leads so much as a large ensemble cast.”
Game of Thrones famously subverted fan expectations in its first season, portraying Ned Stark (Sean Bean) as the lead before killing him in the penultimate episode. Many fans wonder if the prequel will do the same with one of its biggest names. If it does, it sounds like some of the surprise is already spoiled.
At this time, no official title has been announced for the prequel. According to Martin, that's because there is no final title in place yet, although fans have their doubts about that. In the past, Martin said that his first choice would be to call the show The Long Night. However, he said that that is no longer really an option, since one of Game of Thrones' last episodes used that title already.
“I heard a suggestion that it could be called The Longest Night, which is a variant I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “That would be pretty good.”
The prequel is currently filming under the working title Bloodmoon, and many fans suspect that that name is here to stay. If so, Martin either held onto that secret or is not aware. More on that below.
Finally, Martin promised reporters that his main focus is working the next novel in A Song of Ice and Fire, The Winds of Winter. Fans have been waiting for the sixth book in the series since 2011, and Martin has been honest about his difficulty with writer's block and pressure.
Back in May, Martin wrote a blog post where he addressed jokes about his long and difficult writing process. He promised fans that he would "have THE WINDS OF WINTER in hand when I arrive in New Zealand for World Con," a science fiction convention he will be attending in August of 2020. Fans are taking this promise to heart, although there is some debate about whether he means he will have the completed manuscript in hand, or the finished, published copy.
Outside of Martin's interview, fans are getting more and more attached to the title Bloodmoon for the prequel series. The pilot is using Bloodmoon as its working title, and last month a production sheet leaked showing that an official logo for the title had been made. Some took this as proof that the title was final, reasoning that they would not waste time designing and printing a logo that they would not use.
The title raises some fun and interesting questions about the direction of the prequel. Many fans suspect that it will link celestial events in Westeros with the magical events on the ground -- a common theme in the books, though less so in the show.
Some even suggest that it will prove a popular fan theory: that Martin's fictional world once had two moons, and that one was destroyed, thus creating some of the magic in Westeros.
This is as solid a theory as the fandom has ever come up with.
There are many variations, but one that seems to apply here is that the Children of the Forest used their magic to pull one of the moons down into the sea, breaking the land bridge that once connected Westeros and Essos. That done, they raised the White Walkers to wipe out the men overrunning their land, only to find themselves up against the ice zombies as well.
Back in November, Martin told EW that the prequel series would not feature any Targaryens, as the house had not yet risen to prominence. However, this has been misconstrued to mean that there will be no dragons at all, which may not be the case.
"Westeros is a very different place," he explained. "There’s no King’s Landing. There’s no Iron Throne. There are no Targaryens — Valyria has hardly begun to rise yet with its dragons and the great empire that it built. We’re dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.”
In Martin's books, the Targaryens are a lesser house from the ancient civilization of Valyria, which just happened to survive the doom of that culture. Valyria was a highly magical society in Essos, ruled by dragon riders. Martin's histories note that Valyria rose to prominence about 5,000 years ago -- the same time that he now says the Long Night takes place.
It would make sense that the dragons and the White Walkers rise contemporaneously here in the prequel, just as they did in the main series. Thematically, this also works to drive home the battle for balance between ice and fire, always at the center of these books, and Martin's work in general.0comments
On a practical level, it could also lend a helping hand to humanity in their battle against the White Walkers here. In the main series, Sam found an ancient scroll referencing a "dragonsteel blade" used to fight the others, which may well be Valyrian steel brought from overseas.
Fans will just have to wait to find out. The Game of Thrones prequel is currently filming its pilot in the hopes of earning a series order. It could be on TV as early as the end of 2020.