Why HBO should let Game of Thrones fans miss Westeros


HBO is eager to milk the cash cow that is Game of Thrones with multiple prequel series in development. But can any spin-off measure up to the original?

In the four months since Game of Thrones aired its last episode, barely a day has gone by when I didn’t think about the show. The epic fantasy saga created by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and based on the books by George R.R. Martin dominated the cultural zeitgeist for nearly a decade with its spectacular battles, upsetting twists and thorny politics. It changed our collective idea of what television can do, turning the so-called idiot box into a playground for queens and dragons.

Now that it’s gone, the medium is struggling to figure out how to fill the void. The Golden Age jumpstarted by The Sopranos has officially ended, giving way to the limbo of Peak TV. It’s not enough for a show to be liked; plenty of recent shows have managed to generate hype and garner acclaim, from Stranger Things to Fleabag. But there’s something casual and ephemeral about these shows. Their profiles rise and fall according to the whims of social media, or in the case of Fleabag, they’re simply too short to inspire all-consuming devotion. The next Game of Thrones, whatever it is, if there ever is one, has to something that lasts.

So far, networks seem to be taking the label literally, betting big on fantasy adaptations.

HBO is perhaps the most glaring offender. Even before the flagship series was laid to rest, the premium cable channel hired writers for four potential Game of Thrones spin-offs. One, co-created by Jane Goldman and Martin, has received a pilot order and confirmed a sprawling cast led by Naomi Watts. A second series, this one from Martin and Colony showrunner Ryan Condal, is reportedly close to the pilot stage.

Both shows will take place before the events of Game of Thrones. Goldman’s, rumored to be called The Long Night, will depict the Age of Heroes, a period of peace between the First Men and the Children of the Forest that includes the first war against the White Walkers. Condal’s will be centered on House Targaryen, of which Emilia Clarke’s ill-fated Daenerys was the final member.

Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, Westeros is rich with history and mythology. A Song of Ice and Fire describes the Age of Heroes and the mythic figures that lived during it like House Stark founder Bran the Builder in a level of detail that alternates between meticulous and excruciating. In 2018, Martin released Fire & Blood, the 736-page first volume of his chronicle of the Targaryens.

The question, then, isn’t if there’s enough story. The question is if these stories should be told.

It is disheartening that HBO, which has long prided itself on its ambition and out-of-the-box thinking (its former slogan may have been boastful, but it was to some extent accurate), seems to think that its best option for moving forward post-Game of Thrones is to look back.

It isn’t alone either. Amazon’s multimillion-dollar Lord of the Rings series will chronicle the Second Age, when Aragorn’s Númenorian ancestors were at the height of their power, and all of Disney’s Star Wars spin-offs that have been announced so far – both the standalone films Rogue One and Solo and the upcoming streaming shows – are prequels.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to work with material that already exists, particularly when you are dealing with an elaborate fantasy world. But it can also be inhibiting, confining the narrative to a set time frame and limiting opportunities for the kind of twists and turns that made Game of Thrones a phenomenon. The White Walkers will likely seem tame now that we know how they’re defeated, and the royal rivalries and conflicts will likely seem even pettier since there is no possibility of long-term change. After all Daenerys’s efforts to break the wheel, HBO only wants to put it back together.

Ultimately, though, I’m just not desperate to go back to Westeros, regardless of the time period. I miss it – sometimes so much that it’s a physical ache. But missing a show is a way of loving it; it means the show had a big enough impact on the viewer that its absence can be felt, like a shadow presence. One cannot simply replace it.

Fantasy at its best understands that loss and catharsis go hand in hand. As writer Natasha Boyd explains, many entries in the genre function as coming-of-age narratives, sending the characters and, by extension, the audience on an adventure before inevitably returning them and us to reality. For the inhabitants of Westeros, this means living in a world without dragons (or White Walkers). For us, it means living without Game of Thrones. We can revisit it, if we want, but it will be diminished – a memory. The thrill that comes with discovering a new world – the sense of magic – is gone forever.

Related Story. 4 reasons Emilia Clarke deserves to take home an Emmy. light

If the Stark children could learn to grow up, it seems as though we should be able to do so too.