While David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have rather respectably bowed out of the multitude of Game of Thrones spinoffs HBO currently has in development (four by the official count), that does not mean they are at all done with premium cable or long-form storytelling. Indeed, as Game of Thrones continues its penultimate season, the two producers have rather, ahem, boldly announced their next project at HBO: an alternate history series entitled Confederate. And it sounds exactly as you might expect since it’s a series about how the world might’ve changed had the Confederate States of America succeeded at seceding from the Union in the 1860s.
Here is the official logline:
Confederatechronicles events leading to the Third American Civil War. It takes place in an alternate timeline, where the Southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate, and the families of people in their thrall.
This is certainly a potent storyline that will drop these showrunners right into the heart of race in America, slavery, and the wounds that divide. However, it has always been a fascinating “what if” scenario regarding how American, and even world, history might’ve changed had the Confederates won the Civil War. Southern apologists imagine a reality where slavery would have gradually faded out of practice… and Benioff and Weiss are clearly avoiding that pipe dream. But it is an open question if there would still be a United States or if the country itself would have eventually collapsed after the first successful secession. And if there was no United States, how would have World War II have gone?
These are interesting academic questions. But Benioff and Weiss treading into that territory with HBO appears less studious and more intentionally pot-stirring. The allegorical opportunities of presenting the corporatization of slavery might be rife, but so are the many, many, many pitfalls lying in wait beneath this conceptual tightrope. Albeit partnering with executive producers and writers Nichelle Tramble Spellman of Justified and Malcolm Spellman of Empire shows at least one step in the right direction.
For their part, Benioff and Weiss said, “We have discussed Confederate for years, originally as a concept for a feature film. But our experience on Thrones has convinced us that no one provides a bigger, better storytelling canvas than HBO. There won’t be dragons or White Walkers in this series, but we are creating a world, and we couldn’t imagine better partners in world-building than Nichelle and Malcolm, who have impressed us for a long time with their wit, their imagination and their Scrabble-playing skills.”
Be that as it may, this series is jumping into some intentionally troubled waters. It’ll be fascinating to see how it comes out at the other end.