Why was the first Game of Thrones spin-off cancelled? What was it about?
Everything you need to know about the first Game of Thrones prequel from Jane Goldman, which has been cancelled
One of the mooted Game of Thrones spin-offs has surprisingly been scrapped, with HBO pulling the plug on the drama – which was set thousands of years before the events of the main series and starred the likes of John Simm and Naomi Watts – despite filming a pilot.
Exactly why the series was cancelled before it even began, and exactly what it would have covered remain a mystery - but here's what we DO know about the almost-Thrones spin-off and what we might have expected from it.
What was the cancelled Game of Thrones prequel about?
The new prequel was ultra-secretive to keep as much under wraps as possible.
“I’ve been living more or less in Belfast, where they filmed it, for the past six months,” Jonathan Ross, the husband of showrunner Jane Goldman, told the Mirror.
“I’ve never seen a bigger set, they built it in a car park and surrounded it with containers to block it off from view. But people could still see it as it was next to the Titanic Museum, which has an observation deck that oversees it – ‘Oh look, Naomi Watts’.”
Still, we do know a few things. According to HBO, the new series was to be set around 5,000 years before the events of the main drama during a time known by Game of Thrones characters as the Age of Heroes, a period of history when iconic and near-mythical figures had all sorts of unusual adventures.
"Look there has been some stuff released - Naomi Watts & Miranda Richardson is in it. I am in it, other people are in it. We have shot the pilot already. That is all I can say," series star John Simm said while the series was still a possibility.
"It is set about thousand years before [the main series]."
More specifically, HBO had said the series will chronicle “the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour.”
They added: “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.”
And George RR Martin, who wrote the original novels the series is based on and created Westeros, revealed that the series would have found a very different Westeros to the one we knew...
“Westeros [would have been] a very different place,” he told EW. “There’s no King’s Landing. There’s no Iron Throne. There are no Targaryens — Valyria has hardly begun to rise yet with its dragons and the great empire that it built. We’re dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.” Sadly, now we'll never know.
More recently, it had been rumoured that the series would at least partially focus on the elf-like Children of the Forest (a group of magical beings who created the White Walkers in their battle against humanity), who previously played a part in Bran Stark's storyline in seasons four and six. It's unclear whether any of the actors cast (below) were to play those characters, or whether any of the Children we met in Game of Thrones would have reprised their roles.
Why was the first Game of Thrones prequel cancelled?
Currently unknown, though Deadline reports that HBO was unhappy with the series' pilot which was shot and reshot at great expense after the first cut wasn't positively received. There were also rumours of difficulties filming in Northern Ireland, though we may have to wait a while to find out exactly what went wrong.
Were any characters going to return?
It would have been unlikely, considering the huge time gap between series. Still, the White Walkers had been confirmed to be a part of the prequel and who knows how long they live? Maybe one or two familiar rotting, frozen faces were planned to pop up from time to time - though now, given the show's cancellation it may be a moot point.
"None of the characters or actors from Game of Thrones will appear in the new show," Martin had insisted, for his part - though he has revealed that the Stark family, at least, would have still been around, along with one or two familiar locations.
“The Starks will definitely be there,” he said.
“The Lannisters aren’t there yet, but Casterly Rock is certainly there; it’s like the Rock of Gibraltar,” he added. “It’s actually occupied by the Casterlys — for whom it’s still named after in the time of Game of Thrones.”
“Obviously the White Walkers are here [too] — or as they’re called in my books, The Others — and that will be an aspect of it," Martin continued. "There are things like direwolves and mammoths.”
Now, fans will have to look to surviving spin-off House of the Dragon for their Thrones reference needs.
What was the dumped Game of Thrones spin-off called?
As far as we know there was never an official title - but George RR Martin already had a pretty good idea, stemming from the deadly war with the White Walkers die to be featured.
"My vote would be The Long Night, which says it all, but I’d be surprised if that’s where we end up," he wrote.
"More likely HBO will want to work the phrase “game of thrones” in there somewhere. We’ll know sooner or later."
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Later, Martin seemed to confirm that The Long Night would be the official title before walking back his comments.
Even more recently, it was suggested that the prequel was currently filming under the working title of "Bloodmoon," perhaps referencing the more elemental, magic-filled route it seemed to be heading down. A leaked logo for the production would lend credence to this title becoming permanent, but George RR Martin was less sure.
“I heard a suggestion that it could be called The Longest Night, which is a variant I wouldn’t mind,” he said. “That would be pretty good.”
Who starred in the new Game of Thrones prequel?
A number of the spin-off's cast were revealed over the last few months, including John Simm, Jamie Campbell-Bower, Miranda Richardson and Naomi Watts, the latter of whom was the only figure to have some character information released.
Watts was described as "socialite with a dark secret" and was set to lead the series, though we never really learned more about the rest of the cast.
They included: Marquis Rodriguez (Luke Cage), Poldark's Richard McCabe, John Heffernan (Collateral, Dracula), Josh Whitehouse (Poldark), Naomi Ackie (Star Wars Episode IX), Dixie Egerickx (Patrick Melrose), Ivanno Jeremiah (Humans, Doctor Who), Denise Gough (Angels in America), Sheila Atim (Harlots), Georgie Henley (Chronicles of Narnia), Alex Sharp (To the Bone), and Toby Regbo (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald).
Who wrote the series?
Kick-Ass screenwriter Jane Goldman (who is married to British TV host Jonathan Ross) made and wrote the series with some help from George RR Martin himself, the author of the Song of Ice and Fire novels upon which Game of Thrones is based.
"I’ve consulted with all of the writers on all of the successor shows, and several of them have visited me in Santa Fe for long days of discussion, and we’ve gone back and forth in email, text, and telephone, so I have definitely been involved… but really, the accolades here should go to Jane," Martin wrote on his blog.
"She has been an absolute thrill to work with… and my god, what a talent."
Hopefully, this won't be the end of Goldman's association with the Game of Thrones world.
What is the Age of Heroes?
The Age of Heroes took place many millennia before the events of the main series, and saw the distant ancestors of many Game of Thrones characters begin to build the version of Westeros we know today.
Among them were Bran the builder, a Stark who created Winterfell and the Wall, Lann the Clever, the first Lannister who managed to con his way into a fortune and lands and the Grey King of the Iron Islands, distantly related to the Greyjoys of Pyke.
This period also features legendary figures like the blind knight Symeon Star-Eyes, Garth Greenhand and the original Prince That Was Promised Azhor Ahai, who battled the White Walkers during their first attack on Westeros.
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When will the original Game of Thrones prequel be on TV?
Unfortunately, it seems that the answer is never! All sources seem to agree the prequel is done for, though we suppose there's still technically a chance someone could decide to revive the idea down the line. Stranger things have happened!
What other prequels are there?
Originally HBO revealed that there were FIVE prequel ideas in development, with various intriguing creative talents working on them – however, only Targaryen prequel House of the Dragon has been confirmed. Created by showrunner Ryan Condal with director Miguel Sapochnik and Thrones author Martin, the series is set to examine the rise and fall of the dragon-riding Kings of Westeros, though at the moment little information is available.
“The show stirring up all the internet headlines right now is one of the other [successor shows],” Martin wrote on his blog. “Also a prequel.
“And yes, it is based on material from one of my books,” he added, specifically referring to his non-narrative faux-history novel Fire & Blood, which poses as a chronicle of Westeros’ first Kings.
Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman (who usually wrote a couple of episodes per season, including this year's acclaimed second episode) previously revealed that his idea was one of the many that was rejected by HBO, though Martin has suggested the pitch was reworked into the Targaryen series he's now working on.
“This is it for me in terms of Westeros,” Cogman told Variety. “It’s been a beautifully cathartic thing re-watching the series recently, it’s been ten years of my life.”
Kong: Skull Island screenwriter Max Borenstein was previously said to be kicking round an idea, with Man Men writer Carly Wray and LA Confidential screenplay writer Brian Helgeland also working on their own spin-offs.
But Warner Media executive Bob Greenblatt did warn us that even with these prequels in the pipeline, we shouldn't hold our breath for all of them to make it to a full series...
"The last thing you want to do is roll out a spin-off or two and they’re not up to the standard of the original show and then you’ve just sort of failed miserably,” he told The Wrap.
"But sure, it makes sense to try to sustain it if we can. You know, can you really do two spin-offs? I don’t know."
He ominously added: "I mean, I’m not even sure you can do one. You know, so I don’t know yet is the big, long boring answer and I wish I did."
And if the fate of that first prequel teaches us anything, it's that we should listen to Bob Greenblatt.
This article will be updated with more details as they arrive
Game of Thrones airs on HBO and NOWTV on Mondays