First, let’s get the perfunctory out of the way: George R.R. Martin really is never finishing these books. Once you get through that mourning process, it becomes possible to appreciate that there is still plenty of life in the Game of Thrones franchise’s old bones. The latest spinoff announcement is just the latest example of how rich the remaining storytelling can be.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, HBO Max is developing two more animated spinoffs of Game of Thrones, set in Martin’s world of Westeros/Essos. Coupled with a previous announcement, this brings the number of animated Thrones spinoffs up to three. The nature of two of these animated projects remain unknown, but THR’s report reveals the setting of the third…and it’s awesome.
One of the three series being developed will be set in the Golden Empire in the region known as Yi Ti. Yi Ti is mentioned only in passing in Martin’s original book series. Daenerys sees a trader from Yi Ti in A Game of Thrones and the nation that resides by the the Jade Sea is brought up a couple more times. Thankfully, however, Martin and Elio Garcia’s wonderful Thrones-world encyclopedia, The World of Ice & Fire, devotes a full chapter to the vibrant Eastern kingdom.
Both readers of A Song of Ice and Fire and viewers of Game of Thrones may have observed that there seems to be a whole lot of white people in Martin’s universe. That makes some sense on a storytelling level as the continent of Westeros is inspired by Medieval European history. The continent of Essos, however, is far larger and much more diverse. Yi Ti, which resides close to the Eastern edge of Essos (the only regions further east are the ominously named Shadow Lands and Grey Waste) is roughly analogous to China and it’s sprawling history.
The history of Yi Ti is beyond fascinating. The region was formerly home to a dynasty known as “The Great Empire of the Dawn.” According to legend, the Empire’s first ruler was a being known as the Gon-on-Earth, the only son of Lion of Night and the Maiden-Made-of-Light. The God-on-Earth ruled for 10,000 years before passing the keys to the kingdom off to his son, the Pearl Emperor. After that, subsequent dynasties were named after precious jewels like The Jade Emperor and the Opal Emperor.
This history resembles a very basic reading of China’s long history, in which various dynasties conquer others, but each reign is viewed as a continuation of the other due to the “Mandate of Heaven.” In any case, the Great Empire of the Dawn ended when darkness fell in the Long Night and an unnamed hero wielded the sword Lightbringer to bring back the light. Yes, terms like “The Long Night” and “Lightbringer” should sound very familiar as Westeros and western Essos have similar legends that play on those same things. It really does seem as though Game of Thrones’ planet experienced a truly cataclysmic event thousands of years ago.
Now the governing body of Yi Ti is the Golden Empire. It is ruled by a series of God-Emperors whose dynasties take their names from various colors. According to The World of Ice & Fire, the current God-Emperor is the 17th azure emperor, Bu Gai. Of course, this wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if there weren’t some political intrigue. It appears as though the age of empires is waning. Bu Gai’s supremacy in the capital city of Yin is challenged by a sorcerer lord claiming to be the 69th yellow emperor in Carcosa, and a general named Pol Qo styling himself the first orange emperor in Trader Town.
To complicate matters, the Golden Empire exists in a constant state of war against the Jogos Nai, a nomadic people akin to the Mongols. It also has a complicated relationship with an island nation in the south known as Leng (which is likely based on Japan).
While there haven’t been any current day stories told about Yi Ti or the Golden Empire in the Game of Thrones TV series or books, it’s quite undeniable that the set up for compelling tales is all there. It’s certainly frustrating that we’ve gone more than a decade without updates on Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Tyrion Lannister, and the like. But at least Yi Ti provides the opportunity for a whole new tale to become obsessed with all over again.