Normally around this time in May, Game of Thrones, HBO’s hit show about sailing and cousin-fucking, is approaching the halfway point of its season. The course of the season’s plot has been charted, glowery dudes have glowered across dimly lit tables at each other, and at least one character has been parted with their head-in graphic fashion. However, this year, the rollout has been pushed back to mid-July, and the truncated season will feature just seven episodes, one more than next year’s final season.
***Minor Spoilers To Follow, If You Don’t Want Them, May I Suggest Cocaine Dogs***
The show’s endgame is rapidly approaching and also sort of obvious given the well-corroborated leaks of Season 7's plot. Withdrawal is setting in with the broader community, as the focus of the normally effervescent /r/ASOIAF has become increasingly esoteric. There is precious little mystery for showrunners to solve, but given the way that the plot has diverged from the books, the wild theorizing that is the most consistently engaging and entertaining part of ASOIAF fandom still has a home. Stannis might be dead as dirt on the show, but he still has a large part to play in the dicing up of the North in the books. Rickon was just used for target practice at the end of S6, yet a semi-plausible book theory regarding his whereabouts posits that he is getting in touch with his wildling side and hanging out with unicorns on the little-touched island of Skagos. The show will not get there, but the books could, thanks to GRRM’s maddening writing pace.
All the meat that the show leaves on the bone leaves theorists slavering. Hardcore fiends aren’t deterred by the dissonance, they thrive because of it. Friend of the program Preston Jacobs is still chugging along with the raw shit, and if you enjoyed his ramblings about how ASOIAF is post-apocalyptic and how the worst character is a secret telepathic genius, you will dig his close reads of chapters from the books and episodes from the show. Poor Quentyn, a Deadspin favorite, is out there with theories about how Quentyn (a bad minor character in the books) is actually extremely good and how Oldtown will be subsumed by a giant Lovecraftian horror monster. If you want a musing on the best military strategy to defeat the army of approaching ice zombies, it’s not hard to find.
Like those ice zombies, Game of Thrones must die at some point—the story it set out to tell is penned in by existing source material (well, sort of), its actors are becoming too famous, and there’s just not that much story left to tell, especially with the existing one having excised crucial plots about possibly-fake Targaryen claimants, LSD-quaffing sorcerers, etc.—and HBO will need to replace it somehow. Westworld is fine and checks a lot of boxes for what people seem to want out of a flagship HBO drama, but it can’t replace Thrones on its own. The only thing that can is, as it turns out, more Thrones.
Anyway, HBO knows people are junkies and wants to give them more. Thus, HBO announced yesterday that they are in the process of developing a quartet of scripts for some sort of forthcoming spinoff set to “explore different time periods of George R.R. Martin’s vast and rich universe.” While GRRM may not have pages, his existing oeuvre does not lack for rich material that talented writers could turn into a new TV show. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series is built upon a robust fake history of Westeros and he’s even fleshed some of it out in his Tales of Dunk and Egg series, a trio of novellas about a large doofus knight traipsing around the countryside with a royal child. GRRM is working on two of the four scripts, which means that The Winds Of Winter will come out in 2030 if we’re lucky.
Dunk and Egg seems like the most logical place to start since it follows the Thrones model of building on written source material. (Like ASOIAF, Dunk and Egg is unfinished; you’re shocked.) The events of those novellas take place about 100 years before Game of Thrones starts, when the Targaryen dynasty rules over a Westeros in peacetime. For my money, the most intriguing facet of Thrones is the level of detail that the world is rendered in, and Dunk and Egg would certainly be the most seamless way to explore the finer textures of Westeros. As much as some would enjoy a walking tour of the Riverlands, though, a small-scale show about two dudes Don Quixote-ing around wouldn’t exactly pop like Thrones’ full metal dragon bombast would.
The closest analog to the story Thrones told would be the story of Robert’s Rebellion, and it would be a sort of direct prequel to Thrones. With one exception—last year’s flashback to the Tower of Joy—the events of Robert’s Rebellion never appear on screen in the show, but they form the backdrop for all its machinations. I’m not spoiling anything here, since this all happens off-camera, but Robert’s Rebellion began after Rhaegar Targaryen supposedly abducted Lyanna Stark. Rhaegar’s motivations and Lyanna’s willingness are a matter of debate, and one of the many tie-ins to Game of Thrones could be a definitive answer to the question of what actually happened to bring about the birth of Jon Snow. Regardless, after Lyanna was captured, Stark senior leadership visited The Mad King Aerys Targaryen and was tortured to death in spectacularly grisly fashion, leading to a good old-fashioned uprising.
The political intrigue and big-ass battles would make for good television in the same vein as Game of Thrones, and there’s enough character overlap that several beloved Thrones actors could actually reprise their roles. Viewers would probably dig the chance to see the stories of why certain characters (e.g.: Jamie Lannister) got to where they started out at the onset of Thrones (self-cucked into the Kingsguard in order to bone his sister). It’s a virtual guarantee that one of the scripts being developed is Robert’s Rebellion, and it will probably be the easiest sell, even if it has a predefined ending that everyone knows already.
However, neither of these stories would be the best the ASOIAF universe has to offer. I don’t expect writers to pitch a 10-season arc about shadowmancers and palace intrigue in the untouched cities of Yi-Ti and Asshai, but if HBO is going to reboot Game of Thrones, their best bet for a sprawling story that could touch the entire world and span multiple seasons would be Aegon’s Conquest, which took place 300 years before the events of the show and involved Danerys’s ancestors, who were engaged in a polygamous, incestuous marriage, using dragons to unite (most of) Westeros under Targaryen rule. This would allow writers to loop in a region that mostly serves as backdrop—the Free Cities and Essos—and link it up with the known players in Westeros, because before Aegon Targaryen took over six of the seven kingdoms of Westeros, his family was stuck on Dragonstone, a shitty rock off the east coast of the continent. The story of Aegon’s Conquest begins with the downfall of Valyria, the most intriguing as-yet unexplored region and story in the ASOIAF universe, and deals with politics and wars on both sides of the Narrow Sea.
Game of Thrones has reached such a wide audience because of its gratuitous nudity and violence, but succeeds so well because of its writing and world-building. It would be a lot to ask for a new show to explore the Doom of Valyria, the internecine bickering of the Free Cities, Aegon’s dragon-fueled conquest of Westeros, and (eventually) the conquest of Dorne, but if it worked out, this rich vein in Westerosi history would make for the best and most intriguing show given the available raw material. It would also, though, make sense for whatever new ASOIAF-adjacent show to want to shy away from the Thrones formula, in which case Dunk and Egg (or a more tightly contained story like the origin of the Night’s Watch and the Wall) would make for an ideal fit. There are a near-limitless amount of stories to tell, so whatever ends up hitting the screen could be something completely tangential to Game of Thrones as it exists currently. For my money, give me dragons or give me death.