Thankfully, we've learned that the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones will not be the last we see of Westeros. American television network HBO is developing a pilot for a new series, which will be set long before the War of the Five Kings and the bloodthirsty antics that we know and love.
This prequel (working title: Bloodmoon) won the "game of thrones" (so to speak) between a group of five potential spin-offs, of which the remaining four were cast aside - Valar Morgulis.
With just one episode to go in the original series, here is everything we know about the Game of Thrones prequel so far:
When can we watch it?
It's a good thing that Game of Thrones fans are used to waiting (eight years and counting since the last book), because the new series won't be on our screens until 2020 at leasr. That's because Casey Bloys, HBO's president of programming, wants "the final season of Game of Thrones to be the final season of Game of Thrones".
He told Hollywood Deadline in January: "I don’t want to use it to launch something else, I want it to stand as the finale of the greatest TV show of all time, I don’t want to do anything that infringes on that."
Who has been cast and who will they play?
Casting news is being released in fits and starts, but HBO appears to be bringing the dragonfire power.
Two-time Oscar nominated British actress Naomi Watts, who is best known for her roles in films Mulholland Drive, King Kong, 21 Grams and Showtime’s revival of cult series Twin Peaks, will be the lead of the still-untitled prequel’s ensemble cast.
The details of Watts' character are being kept mum, but it is known she will play “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.”
Fans are already speculating whom Watts will be playing, with some thinking she could be Nissa Nissa, a casually referenced figure in Westerosi lore. Nissa Nissa was the wife of ancient hero Azor Ahai, the Lord of Light and central figure of the faith of R’hllor. Legend has it, he forged the magical sword Lightbringer by plunging it through the heard of his beloved in order to defeat the White Walkers.
Until further details are announced, anything is possible but Watts’ character’s description draws similarities to Cersei Lannister; perhaps she could be a Lannister ancestor?
In January, a flurry of names were added to the cast list. Series regular roles have been given to a number of rising stars Lady Macbeth's Naomi Ackie, Jamie Campbell Bower (Twilight, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Ivanno Jeremiah (Humans, Black Mirror), Toby Regbo and Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia).
In March, it was revealed that Harry Potter star Miranda Richardson would join the cast as a series regular. The Golden Globe-winning actor is known for playing Queen Elizabeth in Blackadder and Rita Skeeter in the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
A handful of actors best known for their theatrical efforts have also been cast, among them Angels in America's Denise Gough, Sheila Atim, John Simm, Marquis Rodriguez, Richard McCabe, John Heffernan, Dixie Egerickx, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time's Alex Sharp.
Who is involved?
Game of Thrones creators and executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss will not be on board, but purists need not worry. George R R Martin himself is creating the show alongside Jane Goldman, and it is based on a story that the pair have written together.
Goldman has form in adapting books for television: she wrote the screenplay for Neil Gaiman's Stardust, Peter Ackroyd's The Limehouse Golem, comic-book adaptation Kick-Ass, Susan Hill's incredibly creepy The Woman In Black, and Tim Burton's big-screen version of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.
That's not to mention her co-producing credits on Kick-Ass, The Limehouse Golem, and both of the Kingsman films. The flame-haired wife of Jonathan Ross, Goldman certainly has impeccable geek credentials.
Excitingly, the talents of SJ Clarkson have been secured to direct the show's pilot – she'll also serve as an executive producer. Clarkson has earned directing and production credits on Jessica Jones, the Marvel-Netflix show, as well as Orange is the New Black. She'll be taking on the project after directing the next film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise.
What will it be about?
HBO have revealed that it will tell of "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’ 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."
The Age of Heroes is supposed to have taken place 10,000 years before the events of the show, and to have ended around 6,000 years before the show started (If you're a stickler for detail, the first season of the show is set in 298 AC (After Conquest) and season eight was set in 305 AC. The Starks have been through a lot in just five years.).
The official companion book The World of Ice and Fire describes it thus:
The Age of Heroes lasted for thousands of years, in which kingdoms rose and fell, noble houses were founded and withered away, and great deeds were accomplished. Yet what we truly know of those ancient days is hardly more than what we know of the Dawn Age. The tales we have now are the work of septons and maesters writing thousands of years after the fact.
That's nicely vague. However, in the 4,000-year Age of Heroes, there is one particularly notable event that ties in with the action of the show. In the episode Lord Snow, Old Nan tells Bran stories while he recovers from his fall (the fall that, if you remember, sparked the cataclysmic events of the entire show off). She tells him:
"Thousands of years ago, there came a night that lasted a generation. Kings froze to death in their castles, same as the shepherds in their huts; and women smothered their babies rather than see them starve, and wept, and felt the tears freeze on their cheeks... In that darkness the White Walkers came for the first time. They swept through cities and kingdoms, riding their dead horses, hunting with their packs of pale spiders big as hounds."
These events are known as the Long Night, and took place about halfway through the Age of Heroes. Given that the White Walkers play such a huge part in the show's mythology, it is very likely that we might see this. Fittingly, it was reported in June that the working title of the officially unnamed prequel is “The Long Night.”
Who will be in it?
Given that the prequel will take place at least 6,000 years before Bran Stark got pushed out of the window, we won't be seeing such sights as Varys' youth as a slave and pickpocket, or the events that led Tywin Lannister to be such a terrible father (take note, other prequel writers!).
However, we may well see the ancestors of some of our favourite characters. It was during the Age of Heroes that Brandon the Builder built several of the forts that we see in the show, including Stannis' seat Storm's End (the one with the gigantic map-shaped table), Winterfell, and the Wall itself. Brandon founded House Stark and was the first King of the North, making him the ancestor of Sansa, Arya and Robb.
His counterpart is Lann the Clever, who took Casterly Rock (which Dany sent the Unsullied to attack in season eight) and founded House Lannister. He allegedly lived for 300 years, and a similarly long-lived character was the Grey King. He was the first of the Ironborn, married a mermaid and slew a seadragon. He was reputed to live for a thousand years, but commonly accepted fan wisdom has it that the procession of years in the Age of Heroes is deliberately exaggerated to make it seem more mythical, or perhaps simply fudged because written language didn't make it to Westeros until after the Age of Heroes had ended.