How Game of Thrones’ spin-offs are learning from the mistakes of the final seasons

While there’s a whole world of possibility in George RR Martin’s world, HBO are wise to seek out source material.

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There’s been almost as many Game of Thrones spin-offs in development at one time or another as there are horrible murders in Westeros, with a variety of different stories in the pipeline to continue the world created by George RR Martin in his A Song of Ice and Fire novels.

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Given just how expansive the fictional history Martin created for Westeros is, there’s literally a whole world of possibilities for new series, which could be set thousands of years before the main series, across the Narrow Sea in other countries or even in a future society set after the main series – so it’s interesting to see which ideas HBO is actually going with.

First off we have the deep-in-development House of the Dragon, which has cast actors including Matt Smith and Paddy Considine to tell the story of the Targaryen Civil War (aka the Dance of the Dragons), which took place centuries before Ned Stark first headed down to King’s Landing.

And now, an adaptation of Martin’s novella series Tales of Dunk & Egg is also apparently on the cards, following the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Aegon (a Targaryen very far down the line of succession) as they try to act with honour and help the smallfolk of Westeros.

What these two stories have in common is notable – despite not being part of Martin’s main series, they both have source material. Dunk & Egg obviously has the novellas, while House of the Dragon will be drawn from Martin’s fake history tome Fire & Blood, which presents the history of the Targaryens as written by a (fictional) chronicler who draws from various historical sources.

Meanwhile, the only spin-off that actually went without a published source, the Jane Goldman-created series that starred Naomi Watts, has been shelved indefinitely despite shooting a pilot and casting a number of big-name stars.

George RR Martin House of the Dragon
George R.R. Martin

Looking at this trend, it’s hard not to think that HBO is trying to learn from the fan reaction to the last couple of seasons of Game of Thrones, which saw critical and audience appreciation declining as creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss began to create and develop storylines of their own rather than work from adapting Martin’s.

Many fans insist that when Benioff and Weiss ran out of source material (with Martin having failed to conclude his series as quickly as he’d hoped, the last couple of books remain unwritten) the quality of Game of Thrones entered a terminal decline, culminating in a divisive final season that some petitioned to be remade.

Following this, is it any wonder that HBO would be wary of diving straight into an unknown, untested story? Why not instead pick up with other narratives created by Martin, even if like Fire & Blood they weren’t proper novels? In fact, that could be better – they have the bare bones of the story, without a fully dramatised version for fans to negatively compare their version against.

It’s less of a risk, in other words, to pick the bones of Martin’s other diversions into Westeros rather than try to create something from scratch – even if that scratch is still somehow linked to the world of Starks, Lannisters, White Walkers and dragons that we know.

Is it a perfect solution? Well, no – for one thing, in typical Thrones style Martin hasn’t finished the Dunk & Egg series, and due to his focus on finishing A Song of Ice and Fire he’s unlikely to do so anytime soon – but at least in the short term, it offers a path to success for HBO’s “successor shows”.

After all, who wouldn’t want to recreate the hype and triumph of Game of Thrones’ early seasons – even if that did mean you also had to struggle with another lack of source material all over again?

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House of the Dragon is expected to arrive in 2022. Want something to watch? Check out our full TV Guide.