2019 is the end of Game of Thrones. After eight years, countless deaths and a LOT of sexposition, the biggest show in the world will bring its epic fantasy storyline to a close, cutting millions of fans off as we finally learn the fate of Westeros and its remaining residents.
Except, of course, it isn’t really the end of anything. The direwolf in the room during any article discussing Thrones’ epic, final, end-of-everything series is that every couple of weeks there’s a new casting announcement for the Game of Thrones prequel, which is set to start filming later this year.
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Thrones understandably wants to have its lemon cake and eat it too, talking up the momentous importance of a final series while still quietly planning for its replacement.
But once upon a time, a critically-acclaimed, popular TV series (like, say, the Sopranos, another HBO hit) may have been allowed to fade into the long night without plans for its continuation already in motion. By contrast, these days any ending for a popular pop culture offering is unlikely to stick long.
The Sopranos is now getting a prequel movie, over 12 years after it finished. Game of Thrones, by contrast, hasn’t even waited 12 months before getting started on what’s next – and it’s far from the only offender when it comes to artificially extending the life of valuable IP, while still trying to reap the kudos and interest from putting out a “final” instalment.
Just look at Star Wars. Sure, after the original trilogy we returned to the galaxy far far away with the prequels, but there was a good decade or so for fans to wait before they emerged. After the prequels, the franchise again had a bit of a rest before Disney started making their Star Wars films (incidentally pumping out more movies from 2015-2019 than the franchise previously managed over a quarter-century).
After this December’s Episode IX, we might once have expected the series to take another 10-year break, or even stop entirely, especially considering the fact that the next movie is being billed as “the last chapter in the Skywalker saga” – a story strand that began with the original 1977 Star Wars.
But already plans are in motion for TWO separate new trilogies from Rian Johnson and Game of Thrones bosses David Benioff and DB Weiss exploring the Star Wars world, along with multiple TV spin-offs, making it hard to anticipate Episode IX as anything other than just another step on the road instead of the momentous final destination it might have been.
In fact, the sheer determination with which LucasFilm is trying to force out new brand extensions is already forming cracks in their business model, with the poor performance of spin-off movie Solo (once part of a grand plan of spin-offs that would ensure Star Wars’ longevity past Episode IX) believed by many to be a result of fans becoming over-used to, or even bored with Star Wars after Disney pumped out so many films so quickly.
Even the Marvel universe is complicit in this 2019 trend. While no one really expected the MCU to end after Avengers: Endgame, both this movie and last year’s Infinity War were marketed as the end of an era for the shared universe, featuring real consequences for the characters involved.
But Marvel’s need to keep their lucrative stable of superheroes moving means that we’re already seeing teases for future movies set AFTER the yet-to-be-released finale, most prominently Spider-Man: Far From Home which actively spoils any tension and impact Endgame was supposed to have. Spoiler alert – Spider-Man is alive, and even if no-one really believed all the heroes had properly died, it seems strange that we’re not even pretending the stakes are real any more.
Hollywood and the TV industry is full of people thinking of ways to extend their intellectual property beyond their natural lifespans, often to the detriment of the brilliant ideas that made their projects such successes in the first place. I would argue that keeping these properties onscreen, no matter what, without giving them a break risks diminishing returns, and we may be beginning to see the start of that already. An obvious example is JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts franchise which has faltered with its second film, The Crimes of Grindelwald – its reception a long way off from the dizzy heights of the original Harry Potter movies.
Of course, I’m aware it’s not exactly a revelation that big corporations want to keep making money, and that it’s no surprise that everyone behind-the-scenes is keen to keep successful, beloved TV and film franchises going. And it’s not like the Game of Thrones spin-off, or the new Star Wars trilogies will definitely be bad – on the contrary, I’m quite intrigued to see both.
It just strikes me that if we let franchises have a fallow decade every now and then, allowing them the chance to settle and regrow (yes, it’s a tortured Glastonbury metaphor) like they used to, we’d keep the IP feeling fresh while still allowing them to continue. Everybody wins! Even if it’s a long-term view.
And in the temporary absence of these big hitters, who knows what other cool and prosperous new projects might spring up? While Star Wars was on its last long break, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was birthed in 2008 – would there have been room for that in the blockbuster staple if there was already a Star Wars film in cinemas every single year?
Whatever the truth, I worry that the “next Game of Thrones” will now never be made – because they’re already making another Game of Thrones.
Game of Thrones returns to Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on the 15th April, and will never truly be gone