Ever since HBO announced that it was planning an inevitable spin-off from the enormously popular and lucrative cash-cow that is Game of Thrones, we, the fans, have been levitating with excitement.
"We had four scripts in development when I arrived in LA last week, but by the time I left we had five," George RR Martin has said.
Before you get overexcited, HBO's President of Programming Casey Bloys has clarified that while several shows are in development, HBO only expects to produce one in the end: "The idea is not to do four shows [or five, as we now know]. The bar set by [David Benioff and DB Weiss] is so high that my hope is to get one show that lives up to it."
Game of Thrones spin-off: Prequel or sequel?
Martin established that the chosen spin-off will be a prequel: "Every one of the concepts under discussion is a prequel, rather than a sequel. Some may not even be set on Westeros. Rather than 'spinoff' or 'prequel', however, I prefer the term 'successor show'. That's what I've been calling them."
So don't expect to see The Further Adventures of Podrick Payne or Hot Pie's Great Westerosi Bake Off.
Game of Thrones spin-off cast: Who's in it?
The first casting announcement came in late October, with Oscar nominee Naomi Watts confirmed to be playing a lead role in the spin-off.
Watts will play "a socialite with a hidden secret" – and Casey Bloys has suggested that her character is just one of several "very strong female characters" appearing in the new pilot. "But it's an ensemble, there are men and women," he added. "Jane is a very good writer, we don't want to limit her to writing female leads. There are a lot of very complicated leads in it."
Incredibly, the Oscar nominee had never actually seen Game of Thrones when she signed up for the part. "I am late coming to it, I have to say," she told Entertainment Tonight. "I am bingeing it right now and studying. It's very exciting."
Poldark actor Josh Whitehouse will also appear in the pilot in a major role, though details of his character are being kept under wraps.
Black Panther's Letitia Wright was supposedly in early talks, but later dropped out.
However, HBO have confirmed that the following will all be series regulars: Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: Episode IX), Denise Gough (Colette, Apple Tree Yard), Jamie Campbell Bower (The Twilight Saga, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Sheila Atim (Harlots), Ivanno Jeremiah (Humans), Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Alex Sharp (How to Talk to Girls at Parties), and Toby Regbo (Medici: The Magnificent, The Last Kingdom, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald).
In September, casting calls went out for series regular roles in a "confidential untitled HBO project" that will begin shooting in February 2019 – thought to be Goldman's spin-off.
The four characters included a black woman, age 24-32, codenamed "S"; a mixed race man, age 17-22, "A"; a white woman, age 17-25, "I"; and finally a black woman, age 16-23, "F".
More casting calls for the spin-off, courtesy of Spotlight via Watchers on the Wall, were posted on October 24th. Here are the parts currently being cast:
- B3 (Male, 50 – 63 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 50s. Black actor.
- W (Male, 37 – 45 years old) Playing age late 30s-mid 40s. Caucasian actor.
- E (Male, 30 – 38 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 30s. Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European.
- V2 (Male, 49 – 58 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 50s. Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European.
- N (Female, 31 – 34 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age early 30s. Caucasian actress.
- M3 (Female, 28 – 31 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age late 20s. Caucasian actress.
Watchers on the Wall reported in mid-November that the search for an actor to play "A" was still ongoing, with another character - "S2", a black woman somewhere between her forties and sixties - also now being cast.
The spin-off is also looking for a pair of twins, aged 23-29, to play twin sisters in their twenties, and someone to play 'A2', is a man in his seventies, with a "genuine Scandinavian, Eastern European or German actor" being sought.
There won't be anyone we've met before in the GoT universe: Casey Bloys confirmed in January that the spin-offs won't involve Jon, Dany or anyone else from Game Of Thrones. We already knew for certain that Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke were out of the picture: representatives for Harington denied that the actor has been approached to star in a spin-off, while Clarke insisted that "other spin-offs... might be more intriguing" than a Daenerys series.
"I have no doubt there'll be prequels and sequels and who knows what else," Clarke said. "But I am doing one more season. And then that'll be it."
"I think that makes a lot of sense, to start with a new set of characters," Harington agreed. "There's so much scope for this story that's been going for thousands of years. I'm happy to step away from Jon Snow."
"I'm not going to be involved in any of it," he later reiterated. "The great thing about Thrones for HBO is that you can sell it in a totally different way. You could set it 300 years earlier and save a load of money - because [all the actors] are very expensive now!"
We will, however, potentially recognise family members: "There may be [familiar] bloodlines," said Bloys. Before fans of Martin's Dunk & Egg stories – about (maybe) Brienne's ancestor and Daenerys' great-grandfather – get excited, he's ruled them out (see below).
Game of Thrones spin-off writers: Who's making it?
Martin is involved, as we've seen already, but current showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have insisted that they won't be involved in the project: "I'm sure there will be other series set in Westeros," Benioff said at the 2016 Emmys. "But for us, this is it."
The five writers attached to the in-developments pilots are: Kong: Skull Island's Max Borenstein, Kingsman: The Secret Service's Jane Goldman, LA Confidential's Academy Award-winner Brian Helgeland, Westworld's Carly Wray and Bryan Cogman, one of Game of Thrones' chief writers.
"It's a fantastic group of writers and talent, most of whom have lived inside the Thrones eco-system so are very, very familiar with its intricacies," HBO chairman Richard Plepler said.
"I think we will find with this embarrassment of riches an exciting property for us to move forward with. We are looking at some things, I have read a couple of early bibles and I'm excited about what I've seen."
(George RR Martin also has his own idea for a spin-off, called Spear Carriers, which would be set during the events of Game of Thrones but follow the 'regular folk' of the Seven Kingdoms – HBO's apparently not keen, though.)
That name hasn't been officially confirmed by HBO, though – and Martin later clarified that "the Jane Goldman pilot is not (yet) titled THE LONG NIGHT. [That] is certainly the title I prefer, but for the moment the pilot is still officially UNTITLED."
However, the development of this pilot doesn't mean the other spin-off projects are 100% dead. "If you have been following along, you know that we started with four, and eventually went to five," George RR Martin wrote on his blog. "One of those has been shelved, I am given to understand, and of course, Jane [Goldman]'s pilot is now moving to film.
"But that does not mean the others are dead. Three more Game of Thrones prequels, set in different periods and featuring different characters and storylines, remain in active development."
S.J. Clarkson (Star Trek 4 film, Succession, Jessica Jones) will be directing the pilot.
When Digital Spy spoke to Goldman - shortly after her involvement in the spin-off was announced - the writer confirmed that her concept for a Game of Thrones spin-off combined her trademark blend of humour and gore.
"Those are things I love and things I like to do," she told us. "It would be remiss of me not to put them in. So yeah!"
As for directors, JJ Abrams has said that while he'd "be honored" to be involved, he would rather watch as a fan, rather than work on it and "de-mystify the thing ".
But the Thrones season 8 director, David Nutter, won't be brought back.
"I'm not involved in it," he said during a Reddit AMA on Tuesday (November 13th).
"I'm not sure if I will be involved in it right now, but I wish them a lot of luck."
Game of Thrones spin-off ideas: Which stories will they be?
Here's the official description for Goldman's pilot: "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." You can read more of our speculation on what that all means here.
George RR Martin has suggested that Westeros is "a very different place" in Goldman's spin-off. "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," he said.
"We're dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.
"[Jane Goldman] is a tremendous talent. She flew into Santa Fe and we spent a week talking about her ideas. She's going into territory that I haven't explored very much in the books. I've hinted about them. But she's a major writer, I love her work."
"There is certainly no lack of material," Martin had previously said. "There are eight million stories in Westeros... and even more in Essos and the lands beyond. A whole world full of stories, waiting to be told... If indeed HBO is interested.
"The most natural follow-up would be an adaptation of my Dunk & Egg stories. Each of the novellas could easily be done as a two-hour stand-alone movie for television; that would probably be the ideal way to do them, rather than as an ongoing weekly series."
Alas, he later ruled out that series, about Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire, the future King Aegon V, because he's only written three of a projected 10 tales.
"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."
HBO also won't be doing Robert's Rebellion – the story of how young Robert Baratheon (with the help of his friend Ned Stark) took the Iron Throne. "By the time I finish writing A Song of Ice and Fire, you will know every important thing that happened in Robert's Rebellion," Martin promises.
Martin was unusually explicit about Bryan Cogman's show, writing on his blog: "Bryan's series will be an adaptation, and one that will thrill most fans of the books, I think, set during a very exciting period of Westerosi history."
Could Cogman's pitch be based on Martin's Fire and Blood, a reference book about the "monumental history of the Targaryen kings of Westeros"?
"I know I am going to be asked whether those [spin-off] shows are going to be based on material from Fire and Blood," Martin has said. "The only answer I can give is… ah, well, no-one is sure yet, and anyway, I am not allowed to say. So let's move that to the side."
Fire and Blood or not, an "adaptation" means that Cogman's show must cover a period already written about by Martin – however sketchily. Assuming a pre-Robert's Rebellion timeline, these are some of the richer story threads that could work:
• The Long Night
Eight thousand years ago, the White Walkers first terrorised Westeros after being accidentally unleashed by the Children of the Forest. The war between them and the living led to the reshaping of continents (the Children magically drowned a land bridge that had existed between Westeros and Essos) and the building of The Wall.
If HBO wants to go more down the fantasy route, this could be the tale to tell. You want to meet Bran the Builder, right? Luckily, it would seem to be the subject of Jane Goldman's spin-off.
• The Dance of the Dragons
The first major civil war since Aegon's Conquest of Westeros, this took place 129 years after the uniting of the seven kingdoms and saw a war of succession between King Viserys I's children, Rhaenyra and the illegitimate Aegon. Bloody and tragic, it would be the perfect setting for an eight-part limited series.
• The Blackfyre Rebellions
These events (five separate rebellions against the throne) happened during the 40-year period from 196 years after Aegon I's conquest of Westeros (ie a century or so before Game of Thrones). They began when King Aegon IV legitimised all his bastards on his deathbed, leading to competing lines making war on the throne.
Comprising open warfare as well as lower-key schemes and machinations, the period has the potential to offer the epic scale and enormous cast we've come to expect from Game of Thrones and a multiple-series arc: the rebellions even spread into Essos as defeated pretenders to the throne set up the Golden Company of mercenaries that Cersei referred to in 'The Spoils of War'.
• The Night's King
Not to be confused with the Night King, aka the leader of the White Walkers. This instead refers to a Night's Watch legend. Many thousands of years ago, the Night's Watch's 13th Lord Commander met a female White Walker in the forest and took her for his companion.
He declared himself "the Night's King" and for two years the pair used sorcery and human sacrifice to rule over the Night's Watch. They were defeated in the end by an alliance between the Free Folk and House Stark.
• The Doom of Valyria / The Founding of Braavos
Four hundred-odd years before Game of Thrones, the ancient district of Valyria sank into the sea after a series of volcanoes erupted and shattered the entire landmass. No-one knows why.
Given that Valyria features prominently in GoT as the source of ancient magic and lore, but has remained steadfastly enigmatic and almost entirely off screen, it would be an ideal setting for a spin-off. We know virtually nothing about it except for its spectacular destruction, which would look very cool, by the way.
The Doom led to a power struggle between the Free Cities of Essos – Volantis, Braavos, Pentos, Norvos, Tyrosh, Lorath, Lys, Myr and Qohor.
Braavos in particular would make an interesting setting, as it was founded in the wake of the Doom by slaves fleeing the other cities. That's a story that would take more than a few seasons to tell.
• Young Varys
We know very little about the Master of Whisperers' past. He was a child street performer in Essos, sold to a sorcerer who castrated him and left him for dead.
He rose instead to become a master thief (and Fagin-type character). In partnership with the sellsword Illyrio Mopatis (later Daenerys and Viserys' patron) Varys would steal things and Mopatis would sell them back to their owners, unaware that they'd been stitched up.
It's Peaky Blinders, but with a eunuch.
• Bronn Free
Another much-loved character about whom we know very little. What was Bronn up to before he fell in with Tyrion in the Lannister camp during the war against Robb Stark? Where is he from? How did he get so cynical?
It's the Better Call Saul of the GoT universe! Bronn ends up as the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha.
• There's No Place Like Hardhome
Wildlings are fun, right? Lots of beheading, fighting and sex. And snow. And seal fat.
Look, HBO has invested heavily in its Icelandic locations, so it's got to put them to use, right?
• The New World
We don't know anything at all about Sothoryos, the potentially gigantic southern continent to the south, except that its coastline is jungly and it's ridden with plague. There are rumours that the Summer Islanders may have mapped it, and we know there are some ruined cities, but that's about it bar a bunch of racist Westerosi ideas about the people who probably live there.
A whole continent, unexplored.
And we haven't even mentioned Ulthos, the fourth continent, south of Asshai in the Far East. Because we know nothing other than that it's heavily wooded.
Game of Thrones spin-off air date: When will it be on?
In late July 2017, HBO's Casey Bloys said that the spin-offs won't air until at least a year after the series ends – so that means 2020 at the earliest.
"The number-one priority in all of this is the final season of Game of Thrones," he told reporters. "I don't want to do anything with a spin-off or anything that detracts or distracts from that.
"That [final Game of Thrones] season will happen and my guess is it would be at least a year before you saw anything else."
George RR Martin said: "We could possibly see two or even three make it to the pilot stage, with one series emerging on air in 2019 or 2020."
A report in the Belfast Telegraph had suggested that filming for the first spin-off would begin in October 2018. This was later debunked, though further rumblings suggested that HBO was scouting locations in Wales in late September.
"We are doing a pilot that Jane Goldman wrote," Casey Bloys said in July 2018. "We're just starting the search for a director... we have to cast it. We hope to be shooting sometime in the new year."
('You Might Also Like',)