PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Television

Jane Goldman's 'Game of Thrones' Prequel Will Be Better Than the Original

From the cover of A Game of Thrones (Song of Ice and Fire), George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 1996)

As Empress of the Fantasists, if you will, Jane Goldman's prequel to Game of Thrones promises to be far less straightforward, way messier, and much more fun -- even without the dragons.

The sensation of dread began to creep up my spine during the last moments of "The Winds of Winter", Game of Thrones' Season 6 finalé, right about when Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) first ascends the Iron Throne after lots of murdering and shoots her bewildered brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in one of the most deliciously tyrannical side eyes in TV history. It wasn't that I'd been disappointed by the episode. Far from it. It felt shockingly glorious and appropriately destructive (Poor Tommen! Poor Margarey! Poor random King's Landing folk burning alive in wildfire! Good riddance High Sparrow!). This episode is the best possible conclusion of an immaculately crafted, impeccably paced run of episodes that started with Season 5's "Hardhome", where the storylines that had been building for years culminated in an epic series of pitch-perfect twists that were always earned, no matter how unexpected they were. ("Hold the Door!"? Come on!)

The main source of my trepidation was that, with clearly so much plot left (and a self-imposed 13-episode limit on the final two seasons), I couldn't imagine how showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff would be able to muster the energy to improve upon a cinematic achievement that would have put a serious dent in the creative juices of even the most dedicated filmmaker. As anyone who's been on the internet in the last few months knows -- they didn't muster the energy. While seasons 7 and 8 were as visually stunning as a $15-million-an-episode show should be, there was a noticeable downturn in the quality of the dialogue and enough lazy storytelling gaffes. There was the awkward and rushed build-up to Littlefinger's (Aidan Gillen) demise and Gendry's (Joe Dempsie) implausible snow marathon. Not to mention the supersonic raven and dragon flights and Euron's (Pilou Asbæk) fleet that could circle a continent at speeds that defy logic in a world of zombie bears. Such features foreshadow the series' much-maligned, CliffsNotes-esque conclusion, a Targaryen-triggering debacle that has made countless keyboard warriors madder than a Wildling at a coronation.

Left with such an unsatisfying – perhaps ashen – taste in their mouths, and with an emotionless android that nobody likes ruling their most cherished fictional realm, it's understandable if fans washed their hands of Westeros for good. (Even with at least three successor series in various stages of development.) But I'm willing to bet that they'd be wrong, like undead-icy-eyed wrong. I wager that the first part of the prequel -- possibly titled Bloodmoon (or The Long Night or The Longest Night, depending on who you ask) – set 5,000 (or maybe 10,000) years before Bran's Conquest and chronicling "the world's descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour", according to HBO – will at least be on par with Game of Thrones' first six seasons, and much better than the last two seasons. Yes, even though we still know next to nothing about its plot. Here's why.

TV by AlexAntropov86 (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

No More Dan and Dave

With the amount of shade being thrown at Weiss and Benioff these days, including numerous petitions to have someone else rewrite and re-film Season 8, it's easy to forget how ridiculous a task of adapting George R. R. Martin's insanely complex – and unfinished – narrative must have been. Especially when the show flew past the books and Dan and Dave (as they were once affectionately known) were given only the briefest outline of how they would conclude the seires. For years they succeeded wonderfully.

Whether beset by extreme burnout or a desire to get started writing the next Star Wars trilogy (a prospect that has already caused much displeasure amongst the Jedi-minded), it's hard to argue that they didn't phone it in at the end, especially since HBO allegedly offered them an Iron Bank's worth of cash to continue writing more episodes and seasons of Game of Thrones. Recently, it's been speculated that A Dream of Sprin", Martin's purported final volume of the Saga of Ice and Fire, will begin after the death of the Night King, meaning that Weiss and Benioff crammed what will probably amount to 1,500 book pages into the last three episodes. Yikes.

Regardless of whether you think the Game of Thrones' characters' arcs would have benefited from more screen time or not, Weiss and Benioff's watch has ended for good. That's a great thing for the first prequel, as the new show will have the distinct advantage of a universe that's already been built, with a showrunner – the English screenwriter/author/producer Jane Goldman – who won't be bogged down by Westeros-weariness or be forced to try to adhere to impossible-to-adapt, already-beloved source material.

Thanks for your service, Dan and Dave. Now go and make Chewbacca a Sith Lord or something.

Jane Goldman, Empress of the Fantasists, Is a Badass

Speaking of Goldman, it doesn't seem like there's any vaguely Game of Thrones-related genre she hasn't absolutely crushed, from high-flying action (2010's Kick-Ass, and the Kingsman franchise, 2014-) to adventurous and romantic fantasies (2007's Stardust, 2016's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children) to supernatural horror (The Limehouse Golem, 2016, The Woman in Black, 2012) and alternate-history thrillers (The Debt, 2010). She also had a hand in writing both Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class (2011) and Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – widely considered the two best films in the X-Men franchise. She also hosted her own TV show researching paranormal phenomena, Jane Goldman Investigates (2003-), not to mention her frequent collaborations with larger-than-life eccentrics Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman. It's hard to think of anyone more appropriately imaginative to bring to life one the most mysterious, violent, tumultuous, and magical eras of Westerosi history.

While the bigwigs at HBO have been known to roll out a dud every now and then (looking at you, Vinyl), Game of Thrones is by far the network's most lucrative property and the show's sequel will be the first time HBO has attempted a spinoff. It's hard to believe that HBO would employ anyone who might further ostracize a fanbase that already feels slighted. It's also quite telling that Goldman's script was chosen – by both the network heads and Martin himself – over one by Bryan Cogman, an 11-episode, Emmy-winning Game of Thrones writer and resident super-nerd when it comes to Martin's books.

Perhaps most importantly, Goldman has the freedom to create – and probably already has a very coherent idea for – a story arc with enough juice to guide it over a set number of seasons, with logical pacing and an approximation of an endgame, which is way more than Weiss and Benioff had to work with when they started.

George R.R. Martin Is Very Excited and Very Much Involved

It might seem like a no-brainer that the immense creative force behind the World of Ice and Fire would be heavily involved with anything related to his fictional universe, but that hasn't always been the case. Sure, George R.R. Martin immersed himself deeply in Game of Thrones at the series' outset as an executive producer and consultant, assisting with casting and even writing several highly regarded early episodes like the epic "Blackwater". However, he abruptly sheathed his pen after Season 4's "The Bear and the Maiden Fair". By all accounts, Martin took an even more hands-off role once the show sped past the extant book material, leading to speculation of a rift between him and the showrunners that he was disappointed with Weiss and Benioff's emphasis on CGI spectacles rather than subtle character building.

Whether or not there's any truth to the rumors, what is clear is that Martin has been reenergized by the successor series, frequently posting about them on his popular Not a Blog site, taking a major role in the casting and development processes of the first one, and recently giving the first substantial interview about the show to Entertainment Weekly (James Hibberd, 6 Mar 2019) in which he professes his preference for the title, The Longest Night.

Although the pilot's teleplay will be credited to Goldman, Martin will share some of its writing duties and will ostensibly lend his talents to later episodes in the virtually guaranteed event that the series is greenlit. Martin's favorite character, Tyrion Lannister (played by Charles Dance in Game of Thrones) once quipped that "a true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms." No one is better at conjuring those conversations than the master himself.


The Casting Is Spot-On

Even the best writing can't succeed without the proper on-screen talent. Game of Thrones' strategy of creating a mix of established "name" actors (Sean Bean as Eddard 'Ned' Stark) with less well-known yet acclaimed stage actors (Conleth Hill as Lord Varys) and unknown up-and-comers who turned out to be perfect for their roles (Kit Harrington, Emelia Clarke, Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, and others) succeeded brilliantly, with one or two minor exceptions, notably Ed Skrein's mercifully brief tenure as Daario Naharis in Season 3. So far, it looks like the prequel is following a similar template, which is great for an ensemble series that doesn't have to live or die on the chops of one or two superstar protagonists.

That said, the prequel will have major talent. A-Listers Naomi Watts and Miranda Richardson have signed on to lead a notably female-heavy lineup that includes Doctor Who and Star Wars: Episode IX's Naomi Ackie and Georgie Henley; fantasy and science-fiction veterans like Jamie Campbell Bowers and Ivanno Jeremiah will be a part of this project, and Broadway standouts like Alex Sharp and Toby Regbo, (who recently turned in a very Joffrey Baratheon-like performance as the insipid Lord Aethelred on The Last Kingdom) will make appearances.

Game of Thrones caught some deserved criticism for its lily-white depiction of Westeros, especially in its early seasons. But with a more diverse cast set for the pilot, the show's promise to "explore the mysteries of the East" (where people of color tend to live in Martin's world), as well as potential journeys to even more far-flung locales like the Summer Islands and Sothoryos, the prequel should make for a much more inclusive viewing experience. The prequel will, hopefully, be devoid of any cringe-inducing colonialist overtones like in Game of Thrones' "Mhysa" episode, when Daenerys and her dragons sack the city of Yunkai and free its slaves. Given the absence of fire-breathing war machines with imperialistic mothers in the upcoming show, that shouldn't be a problem.

From the cover of A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2), George R.R. Martin (Bantam, 2000)


Ancient Westeros and Its Lore will be Deeply Explored

Yes, you read the above correctly. There. Will. Be. No. Dragons. They simply don't exist (or haven't been discovered) during the era when the prequel takes place. But for those fantasy freaks tempted to go full Mad Queen/King and set wildfire to their HBO subscriptions, it might be prudent to point out that The Age of Heroes, if the legends are true, is chock-full of otherworldly creatures. Mammoths, dire wolves, giants, and hound-sized ice spiders should be plentiful, as well as larger-than-life figures like Bran the Builder, the mysterious, wizard-like architect of the Wall, Winterfell, and House Stark (yes, those Starks); Azor Ahai with his flaming sword Lightbringer; Garth Greenhand, a god-king who demands blood sacrifices from his subjects; the epic swindler Lann the Clever who, besides founding House Lannister and stealing its seat Casterly Rock from the Casterlys, lived to the age of 300 and sired 200 children; and Symeon Star-Eyes, a blind knight who fights hellhounds ninja-style with a double-bladed staff, to name but a few.

Even if the "truth" behind the legends is a bit less outrageous in the prequel, Martin has confirmed that at the beginning of the show's timeline, Westeros will be divided into roughly 100 kingdoms, meaning that the political intrigue, treachery, and maliciousness will be ramped up enough to make even an all-time schemer like Littlefinger reconsider his career options. Where chaos was a mostly discernible ladder on Game of Thrones, the prequel promises to be far less straightforward, way messier, and potentially much more fun. Add to that a bloody, millennia-old conflict with Westeros' original inhabitants, the magical Children of the Forest, that lead to the "true origin" of the White Walkers and a deadly plunge into the world's "darkest hour", and you've got more than enough dramatic electricity to power countless podcasts and reaction videos for years to come. I mean, who doesn't love a good descent into darkness?

The White Walker stuff is especially promising for hardcore fans left utterly unfulfilled by the Night King's (Vladimir 'Furdo' Furdik) abrupt (and nearly unwatchable) defeat. After building him up as an unstoppable force of ultimate evil with a backstory begging to be told, Game of Thrones simply let him die without any definitive explanation for his motives – or how he knew that carting around massive dragon-lifting chains would pay off someday. Night King, we barely knew you, and now it looks like we finally will make a full acquaintance.

There's always a chance that things won't go as planned, that the prequel won't be able to capture the once-in-a-generation magic of its predecessor. But with the crew, cast, and truckloads of dollars HBO has already assembled, it's hard to imagine anything other than fantasy gold -- unless Goldman bolts to reboot the X-Men in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Martin drops all of his other projects to focus solely on finishing Winds of Winter (ha!), or HBO decides suddenly that it doesn't like making money. As far as prequels go, Bloodmoon/The Long Night/The Longest Night is shaping up to be far more of a Batman Begins than a Phantom Menace. Let's just hope there aren't any Jar Jar Binks' in Westeros' remote past.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.