With Game of Thrones announced to be ending after two final shortened seasons, discussions once again turn to the prospect of a spinoff series. It has now been confirmed that HBO and George RR Martin are developing no fewer than four potential Game of Thrones spinoffs, although what shape they might take is still unknown at this time.
Upon being asked last year, Martin said: “I do have thousands of pages of fake history of everything that led up to Game of Thrones, so there’s a lot of material there, and I’m writing more.”
It seems to be a no-brainer for all concerned that the broader universe be allowed to continue in some form. For HBO and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, it allows them to continue their immensely successful brand and also keeps the cash cow flowing. Admittedly though, it appears that Benioff and Weiss will have a nominal role in the new series’ genesis, serving as executive producers but playing no part in their development (and presumably their eventual breakdown writing). More importantly, however, for the millions of fans who face the horrifying prospect of it all coming to an end so soon, it’s a chance for more entertaining stories from the world we’ve grown to love.
The big question is therefore, once the battle for the Iron Throne is done, and we’ve seen whether Daenerys ever makes it to Westeros, where do we go next?
Luckily for us all, the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” novels, as well as their extended universe, which was fleshed out so intricately by The World Of Ice and Fire ‘Untold History’ book, has provided plenty of source material to work with.
Here are just a few possible directions for prequel spinoffs, should HBO and friends decide that going backward is the best way to go forward.
Arguably the most obvious choice for a spinoff series would be the momentous conflict that helped set the wheels in motion for the Game of Thrones story we already know. If you cast your minds back to season 1 of the show, a time when Mark Addy and Sean Bean were still on the cast list and the promise of a wedding didn’t yet fill us with an unshakeable sense of dread, Robert Baratheon sits atop the throne and most of Westeros lives in relative peace. Sullen old Ned Stark is Warden of the North until his old pal King Robert arrives at Winterfell and asks him to serve as his Hand in King’s Landing. The previous hand was the pair’s mutual father figure John Arryn, who had recently died in mysterious circumstances. These events set in motion the Stark/Lannister ruckus and eventually the tumultuous War of the Five Kings.
Approximately 15 years, before that particular game of thrones began, however, there was the conflict that put Robert on the throne in the first place. This was the same struggle that saw the Targaryens ousted from power and subsequently led to Daenerys being born while in hiding near Dragonstone as she and brother Viserys were smuggled away to Essos. The war ended with the brutal sack of King’s Landing, which also marked the murders of Prince Rhaegar’s wife and children on the orders of Tywin Lannister. This was also the conflict that led to Jaime earn his title of ‘Kingslayer’ when the Mad King finally lost the last of his marbles, as well as caused the infamous events at the Tower of Joy that were witnessed in season 6.
To book readers, these events are no doubt firmly fixed in the mind, as they are I imagine by now for most TV die-hards too: the Baratheons seizing power; the Targaryens being overthrown; and the Lannisters flexing their muscle. With this war, the foundations for the present day Game of Thrones were laid.
The key players in this series would for the most part be younger incarnations of characters we already know, including Ned, Robert, Jaime, and Tywin. However, the demented, Mad King Aerys II would make for an unforgettable new character, whether played by David Rintoul as he was in “Blood Of My Blood” or otherwise. His descent into madness and paranoia would build as the series develops, culminating with his orders to burn the entire city of King’s Landing to the ground before Jaime Lannister forcibly changed his mind. Likewise, the beloved and charismatic Rhaegar Targaryen would play a pivotal role in proceedings. We’ve oft heard tell of him on the show so far with Robert Baratheon and Sansa Stark painting him in quite the negative light while Barristan Selmy (at one stage part of the Mad King’s Kingsguard) painted a far more positive picture of him as a music loving man of the people.
Running through the series would be the saga of Rhaegar’s actions towards Lyanna Stark, either a cruel abduction or a doomed romance, depending on your point of view. The series could position the infamous Tourney at Harrenhal at its outset, this being the tourney at which Rhaegar triumphed and fatefully crowned his own ‘queen of love and beauty’ as not his wife Elia Martell, but Lyanna Stark instead. Lyanna’s abduction and the subsequent gruesome killing of both her father Lord Rickon Stark and her brother Brandon would likewise play a major role in the series’ ongoing drama.
The only hitch in this is that by using Bran’s warging time travel abilities, we’ve already seen several pivotal moments of this war play out in “flashbacks” in season 6. And presumably, we will see yet more such moments occur in the final two seasons, which may put a pin in revisiting this specific era in greater detail.
There are then three key events which will not only make for dramatic conclusions to the series in their own right, but also perfectly foreshadow the present-day Game of Thrones saga. These are the siege of Storm’s End, an occurrence that showed Stannis Baratheon’s resolve, formed his bond with Ser Davos Seaworth and also laid the groundwork for his disillusionment with his older brother Robert.
Next there are the events at the Tower of Joy – a pivotal incident returned to in season 6. The book version saw Ned and six companions overcome the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Gerold Hightower, as well as his fellow guards Arthur Dayne and Oswell Whent. All three guards had been personally entrusted by Rhaegar to protect the tower in which Lyanna Stark was being held for “unknown” reasons. Ned will eventually enter the tower and find his dying sister, at which point, realizing he is unable to save her, he makes her one final promise. What that promise was we don’t yet know (except we all kind of do really, but that’s another discussion for another time).
Finally, there is the assault on Dragonstone where the Mad King’s wife, Queen Rhaella, is smuggled away with her son Viserys. During a terrible storm that destroyed the remaining Targaryen fleet, the queen died in childbirth after having daughter Daenerys, thus earning the latter one of her many nicknames, ‘Stormborn.’ This is the perfect denouement to the prequel series with a young Dany and her brother being whisked off to Essos before the usurper’s men can capture them. As the season ends, the Targaryens are out of power and all but destroyed; Robert Baratheon is mourning the loss of his betrothed Lyanna Stark while promised to a young Cersei Lannister; and Ned Stark heads back north with a bastard son in tow.
Some 200 or so years before Robert’s Rebellion, Westeros’ first Lord of the Seven Kingdoms was crowned and the physical Iron Throne itself was forged. Prior to this event, the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros were led by individual rulers, such as Torrhen Stark in the North and the ‘King of the Rock’ Loren Lannister. However Aegon Targaryen had something different in mind.
At this time, Aegon was Lord of Dragonstone, an island off the coast of Westeros that was once the westernmost outpost of the former all-powerful Valyrian freehold. After the ‘Doom of Valyria’ wiped out the rest of the freehold and sent its former colonies into uproar, the Targaryens remained aloof and slowly amassed their power. After ignoring pleas from the Free Cities to assist in assembling a new freehold, Aegon instead opted for a far more ambitious plan that would see him unite the entirety of Westeros as one realm.
He sent word to the existing kings of Westeros stating that anyone who bent the knee would keep their lands and titles, but everyone else would be destroyed. With that, he and his two sister-wives (classic Targaryen), Rhaenys and Visenya, mounted their dragons and along with just 1,600 men, landed on Westeros, and began to sweep across the land. The use of dragons proved pivotal in the conflicts that followed and meant that resistance was extremely difficult. Eventually, even Torrhen Stark of Winterfell knelt, and the Targaryens dominated six of the seven kingdoms. The only one that successfully resisted was the Dornish seat of House Martell.
As a series, this would mark a sharp change of era from the traditional Game of Thrones saga. The Targaryens would be the most powerful family by far, and their dragon riding abilities would be common practice rather than just a rumor disbelieved by many. Character-wise, the series would of course focus primarily on Aegon, who is noted as being a charismatic but enigmatic leader. He and his sisters would dominate proceedings, but the show could also focus on the struggle of individual houses and their respective leader’s attempt to resist the Targaryen invasion. In this regard, the Starks in the north and the Martells in the south would make interesting counterpoints. One bending the knee, the other remaining resolutely unbowed, unbent, and unbroken.
While the series’ main plotline would undoubtedly revolve around the campaign’s various battles, there would of course be space for internal power struggles and desperate actions of the houses themselves as they face the insurmountable odds of dragonfire. The series would ultimately build to Aegon’s eventual crowning as the first of his name, King of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the realm. The Targaryen dynasty in Westeros commences and to mark the occasion, Aegon has the swords of all who opposed him melted down and turned into the Iron Throne, the reveal of which would make for an excellent closing sequence.
The Night’s King
It’s pretty clear that the real final battle that will be fought in Game of Thrones will not be one between rival houses, but the battle for mankind itself as they face off against the White Walkers. Season 5’s barnstorming “Hardhome” was a breath-taking showpiece of an episode that saw Jon and the Wildlings come under a terrifying attack by the undead army. As the survivors sailed away, a frightening white figure stood before them and with a gesture of his hands, he commanded the dead back to life.
This eerie character was first introduced a few seasons back where he was revealed to be the legendary ‘Night’s King,’ a character hitherto referred to only as a legend of sorts in the books and TV show alike. There would appear to be some doubt as to whether the TV version and the book version are the exact same character, however. The books posit that the character was born during the distant Age of Heroes, a time that has now passed by into myth more than history.
In the spectacular season 6 episode “The Door,” it was revealed that the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers and the Night’s King himself in an attempt to turn the tide of their battle against the armies of men. Interestingly, this is never mentioned in the lore of the books where despite writing of when the Children and the First Men came together to defeat the White Walkers in battle, the origin story isn’t covered.
The book version of the Night’s King’s creation story states that he was initially the 13th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (for a bit of historical time context, Jon Snow was 998th Lord Commander), not long after the wall itself was first built. However, after he met a woman and fell in love with her despite her possessing “skin as white as the moon and eyes like blue stars,” he promptly forsook his vows. He brought his love back to one of the Watch’s castles, the Nightfort, from where he declared he and his love to be King and Queen. When he consummated the unholy union, it was said that he gave away his soul.
The Night’s King was said to be responsible for a series of grotesque horrors and his was a reign of terror that swept across the North of Westeros. His reign was ultimately ended thanks to an alliance between the King of Winter, Brandon Stark, and Joramun, the King Beyond the Wall, who combined to oust the Night’s King and went on to expunge him from history. Naturally, however, Brandon and Joramun couldn’t get along and according to Ygritte in the TV show: the latter was forcibly returned to his side of the wall.
In terms of a TV series, the obvious problem we now face is that the story behind the Night’s King’s creation has already been presented in a certain way. Yet, hwat they could do is incorporate the children creating him into proceedings, perhaps by having them kidnap the 13th Lord Commander and turning him into a White Walker before learning the error of their ways.
In general terms, the Stark/wildling king teaming up in an uneasy alliance against the Wights may sound undeniably familiar. However, as a one-off special series, acting as a deliberate precursor to the modern day, perhaps as a reminder of the lessons of history having not being learned, it would be a powerful and especially dark storyline to follow.
The atrocities committed by the Night’s King are a little vague but could no doubt be fleshed out in grisly detail. The Night’s King himself would be a gloom-ridden but terrifying creature. Once a regular man, he eventually became embroiled in a doomed loved story that ultimately brought about his downfall. Meanwhile, the Starks and wildlings would need to co-exist in order to bring him down and free the North from his tyranny. The series could end with the Starks and wildings distrusting one another as much as ever, foolishly assume they have done away with the Night’s King forever, only for the blue-eyed bastard to reveal himself alive and recuperating his strength in the great icy wastes.
The Brotherhood Without Banners
Briefly name-checked in season 6, we saw a relatively short glimpse of the Brotherhood Without Banners on the TV show while Arya, Gendry, and Hot-Pie were making their way through the Riverlands. Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion’s most telling impact by far was revealing the true powers of the Red God, R’hllor, as we see Thoros bring Beric back from the dead.
For those with short memories, the Brotherhood is essentially a guerrilla band of men falling primarily into the Robin Hood school of banditry, robbing from the rich to assist the poor. While the nobles fight their battles with scant regard for the little people, the Brotherhood offers them some protection. Although with this being said, there is a noticeable undercurrent in both book and TV show that they do sometimes also rob from those less well off with the assumption being that they will put said resources to better use.
The group’s actions may seem relatively insignificant in terms of their relevance on the show; however, their presence in the books is far more prevalent. Originally they were a group sent out by Eddard Stark while he was Hand of the King to bring Gregor Clegane and his band of marauders to justice. Once the Lannisters seized power, the group became outlaws and throughout the second and third books especially, we hear tell of their actions in the Riverlands, protecting the smallfolk and targeting Lannister soldiers.
What would make a spinoff series for the Brotherhood so interesting would be a chance to take their actions, hereto only described in terms of hearsay and rumor, and expand them into an underdog guerrilla struggle that would take place against the backdrop of wider Westerosi events. The struggle for the Iron throne would not concern them; they seek merely to protect smallfolk and bring Lannisters, and later anyone involved in the Red Wedding, to justice. Beric’s resurrection part would also become a key element of the series, with the danger being that as each resurrection takes a little more out of him, there may eventually be one resurrection too many.
This series would also allow for the introduction of Lady Stoneheart, a character thus far not included in the TV show, much to the disappointment of many. I won’t go into any greater detail on who she is, but the series would build naturally from the group’s actions during the War of the Five Kings to the emergence of Stoneheart and their far grislier change of direction as the War went on. Their development from petty bandits, to cutthroat vessels of vengeance would make for dramatic television. There’s also a great deal of scope to create all new stories involving the group with George R R Martin’s deliberate policy of us only hearing tell of the band’s actions second-hand from various central characters meaning there’s plenty of opportunity to expand on their story.
The Dunk and Egg Stories
The Dunk and Egg novellas are an ongoing series of stories written by George R.R. Martin which take place in Westeros some 90 years before the events of Game of Thrones. As a pre-existing trilogy of stories, and with as many as nine further tales planned, it does mean the likelihood of a TV adaptation is already fairly high. Martin himself has admitted that there has been interest in making a film or TV show out of these stories, though rights issues are rendering its future slightly murky at present.
The stories are based around a Hedge Knight (a travelling knight for hire) called Ser Duncan the Tall, a former street urchin from Flea Bottom who went on to be a part of Aegon V’s Kingsguard, as well as young Aegon V Targaryen himself–the titular Egg. Aegon earned the ‘Egg’ nickname in his youth thanks to his appearance as a small, shaved-head boy. When Duncan is out in the country travelling to a tourney, the duo cross paths, and Egg pesters the knight to let him be his squire.
To provide a little timeline context, in the books, Aegon is the Mad King’s grandfather, Dany’s great grandfather and Master Aemon’s younger brother. In the TV show, they have skipped out a generation, making him the Mad King’s father instead. All clear? Good. The Targaryen family tree really is every bit as complicated and confusing as it sounds.
The Dunk and Egg stories basically follow the duo from their meeting and formative friendship at the eventful tourney of Ashford to their ongoing travels across Westeros. The events that unfold do so in the shadow of the momentous Blackfyre Rebellion, and the ongoing Targaryen family soap opera. Martin himself has said he wishes to continue these stories on right through the duo’s lives, from their early years as hedge Knight and Squire, right through to their time as King and Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. This was also presumably included the mysterious events that eventually transpired during the infamous tragedy at Summerhall. Which I will avoid spoiling here and leave to your discretion once more.
These stories thus provide an interesting snapshot of the state of Westeros at this very different era. Martin has mentioned that a planned fourth entry would see the pair meeting the ‘she-wolves’ of Winterfell , an indicator that this series could take in the various realms of Westeros, introducing us to various powerful families nearly a century before the War of the Five Kings.
It may not have as clear of a story arc as other suggestions here, but the interesting aspect of a Dunk and Egg series would be its focus on two central characters over a long period of time, rather than a wide range of characters over a relatively short one. This would at its core be their story, with the broader Westerosi story playing out in the background.
The Blackfyre Rebellions
The Blackfyre Rebellions involve a dynastic dispute amongst the Targaryen family which stemmed from the actions of Aegon IV (aka: Aegon the Unworthy. Never a good nickname to earn really). He is generally regarded as one of the very worst of Targaryen monarchs. Aegon decided to present the ancient Targaryen sword Blackfyre to his bastard son Daemon Waters, rather than his legitimate heir Daeron, and then went on to legitimize his various ‘Great Bastards’ on his deathbed. Eventually, Daemon Blackfyre led an open rebellion for the throne, born from resentment over his bastard-born status as well as a growing dislike for the rightful King Daeron II due to his scholarly nature and marriage to a Dornish princess.
To go into too much detail here about the Blackfyre Rebellions would be a fool’s errand, such was their extensive nature and the sheer volume of characters involved. To condense it down to its bare bones: from the first Blackfyre Rebellion in 196 AC to the fifth in 260 AC, various Targaryen and non-Targaryen houses and nobles picked sides and switched allegiances, and the conflicts tore the country apart into a full-on open civil war.
The TV series would need to condense the sprawling saga somewhat, and may benefit strongly from focusing purely on the first rebellion.
There are plenty of exciting characters to introduce into proceedings, as alongside the rightful King and the charismatic pretender to his throne, we also have their respective right hand men. Siding with the rightful King Daeron was another of the Great Bastards, Brynden Rivers, aka ‘Bloodraven’ (runner-up in the Blackfyre end-of-season ‘cool nickname’ competition), a Targaryen loyalist who eventually became Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and, according to both TV and book lore, may well be a certain Three-eyed raven. Meanwhile, backing team-Bastard all the way was Brynden’s half-brother Aegor ‘Bittersteel’ Rivers (winner of aforementioned Blackfyre end-of-season ‘cool nickname’ competition) who fought fervently for the Blackfyre pretenders.
The Blackfyre Rebellion is another great chance to focus on the fascinating Targaryen dynasty and their brutal inner-workings. The Great Bastards involvement presents a civil war scenario that would make great dramatic television with family pitted against family and an array of bloody battles on hand to ensure plenty of blistering action. The chance to create violent anti-heroes on both sides is high, and the powerful rivalry between both Daeron and Daemon, and especially Brynden and Aegor (fuelled in no small part by their mutual love of the same lady no less), would be the perfect dynamic to drive this series along.
The Andal Invasion
Some 6,000 years before current events in Game of Thrones, the very genetic makeup of the entire continent of Westeros was changed forever when the Andal people came to the continent. Prior to this event, there had already been a war between the First Men and the Children of the Forest. This was in itself a bloody and destructive conflict that ended with a pact giving the first men dominion over the land and the children over the forest. The two groups lived in peace and even worked together to defeat the Others (White Walkers) during the so called ‘Long Night.’ Until the Andals invaded, the make-up of Westeros remained largely unchanged for those several thousand years. However, the great migration from Essos brought with it years of insurmountable destruction.
The Andals were a warrior people, traditionally tall and fair of hair. Despite being outnumbered, they were technologically far more advanced that the First Men, mastering steel as opposed to the latter’s bronze and having developed writing while their rivals were still using runes. Eventually, primarily through conquest but also through inter-racial marriage, the Andals became the dominant force in Westeros, with their culture and religion (the Faith of the Seven) became ubiquitous in all areas bar the North and the Iron Islands. In these areas, the First Men retained cultural prominence, a fact that still today sees the Northmen view themselves as a group set apart from the rest of Westeros. Most northerners keep to the old gods that their ancestors learned about from the Children of the Forest, while the Ironborn still keep their mysterious Drowned God. The children themselves were forced from their homes in the forest once the ancient pact was broken, and they found themselves withdrawing to the land beyond the Wall.
As with several of my suggestions here, the TV series would need to trim down and streamline the existing stories somewhat considering the invasion itself was spread over hundreds of years. It would be sensible perhaps to focus either on the initial arrival of the Andals, or more likely, their failed final attempt to take the North. The series could come from a northern perspective as the first men sought to repel the Andal hoards against all the odds. The series could set up the spread of Andal ideas on the rest of Westeros and build to a climactic showdown between Northern men led by Starks and Boltons, and the ever-growing Andal armies. Meanwhile the dispersion of the children to north of the wall would mark a clear end of era for Westeros, as well as link to why Bran finds himself out in the frozen wastes so many years later.
Nymeria and the Exodus to Dorne
The warrior queen Nymeria is a much loved historical figure in present day Westeros. Arya Stark even named her beloved MIA direwolf after her. Nymeria’s legend was established shortly after her people, the Rhoynar, were crushed in a war against the mighty Valyrian freehold, a powerful and advanced civilization run by dragonlords and built upon brutal slavery and ruthless expansion. With the might of Valyria threatening to wipe out and enslave what remained of the Rhoynar, a great exodus took place from their spiritual home on Essos as Nymeria assembled a mighty fleet, rumored to be of 10,000 ships, to evacuate the women, children, and elderly to a safer home.
Nymeria led her people to several perilous locations, including the Basilisk Isles, the little known wild continent of Sothoryos, the island of Naath and the Summer Islands. They were plagued by unfriendly locals, harsh conditions and deadly diseases at every turn. At one stage, a breakaway group turned back for Essos and the Rhoyne River, where they were promptly enslaved or worse by the Valyrian freehold.
Eventually, in a last gasp attempt to find a home, Nymeria led her beleaguered and depleted people to Dorne in southern Westeros. Nymeria aligned herself with Mors Martell of Sunspear and the combining of these two forces created a powerful army that would unite the entire Dornish peninsula. Nymeria had her remaining ships ritually burned to emphasise that her people would not continue searching any more.
As a TV show, this story would have a definite Battlestar Galactica quality to it. A beleaguered armada desperately searching for a home against insurmountable odds. The character of Nymeria would make a fierce and powerful female role model, and her predominately female army would also ensure a different tone to the often male-centric universe. The struggles and desperate search of her and her people, one false dawn after another, constantly facing a devastating dilemma, would make for great drama. I’m sure the looming presence of the Valyrian freehold would pose a constant threat too, with a TV series perhaps deciding to bulk up their role in proceedings by showing them chasing the Rhoynar at every turn.
This feature originally appeared in June 2016 on Den of Geek UK.