Game of Thrones is back in the news in a big way this week. We’re hearing whispers about the audacious, movie-like nature of the eighth and final season of HBO’s influential fantasy series. But even as David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ adaptation of George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire approaches its grand finale, the saga continues to take shape in prequel form.
There are as many as four prequels in varying stages of development, but the project spearheaded by Stardust and Kingsman screenwriter Jane Goldman, as well as Martin himself, is leading the pack and moving forward quickly. According to HBO, the series has secured an excellent director and executive producer to craft its pilot: S. J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones). Furthermore, the show has added a number of relatively fresh faces to its cast, revving up for a new slew of up-and-comers to take over the small screen in Westeros.
Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: Episode IX), Denise Gough (Colette), Jamie Campbell Bower (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street), Sheila Atim (Harlots), Ivanno Jeremiah (Humans), Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Alex Sharp (To the Bone), and Toby Regbo (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald) join the already-cast Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) and Josh Whitehouse (Poldark).
Just as Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington weren’t always household names, these actors could shoot to stardom through these ties to the Thrones franchise. But to compare them further might not be wise, as this as-yet untitled prequel series — alternatively called a “successor show” by Martin — will be narratively different compared to the earlier series.
Martin candidly christens the prequel — written by Goldman from a story she co-penned with him — The Long Night on social media, despite HBO’s own reticence to confirm any moniker. But even such a name inspires the expectation of experiencing the worst winter Westeros has ever known, taking us thousands of years into the past. This setting allows for the “true origin” of the White Walkers and legendary families like the Starks to be unearthed.
We’ve known about this plot information for a while and have done a good bit of speculating ourselves. Nevertheless, actually seeing the cast and crew of the prequel materialize in such a fashion is thrilling in and of itself. Two key creatives behind the camera will be women and the confirmed cast is gender equality personified at the moment.
This has blatantly not been the case in the history of Game of Thrones on- and offscreen. The problem of gender and the trappings of the male gaze have come up frequently enough over the series’ existing seven-season run as some contentious caveats to the show’s enjoyment factor.
I can certainly attest to this myself as an erstwhile Thrones fan. I had once been very enamored by all the drama surrounding the Iron Throne, religiously sticking around for a good few seasons and braving the intense gruesomeness. The show can, at times, warrant that, as it has certainly introduced fascinating ideas and dynamics regarding heroism and villainy that tend not to tick basic, dichotomous boxes.
Yet, personal interest in the series has significantly dwindled since and pinpointing why isn’t an issue. I got tired of watching good characters (mostly female ones) succumb to poor writing with inconsistent, unsatisfying character development (i.e. Sansa) that comes across as repetitive, regressive, or just outright confusing (i.e. Daenerys). Of course, there are definitely ways to account for Game of Thrones‘ legacy while still acknowledging these faults; something that our own Natalie Mokry does very well in her write-up of the show’s ultimate impact on pop culture.
Regardless, I’ve just needed more from HBO to feel like the women of Westeros could be as consistently groundbreaking as their male counterparts. That they could get more screentime without also getting dehumanizing story arcs.
Without much evidence of whether Goldman and Martin’s prequel series can stand on its own two feet yet, at least knowing that women will be directly involved in the show’s development is more heartening. The lack of women in the core creative team of Game of Thrones has been a real elephant in the room.
As a reminder, Michelle MacLaren served as the only female director on Thrones‘ slate and hasn’t returned to the post since season four. Screenwriters Jane Espenson and Vanessa Taylor both worked on the show, but not since season three has a woman written a Thrones episode. Finally, none of these women even necessarily crossed paths; MacLaren didn’t get to direct a script by either Espenson or Taylor.
That’s about to change with Goldman’s screenplay and Clarkson’s directing. I’m especially stoked about the latter (who could be revolutionizing the Star Trek films in the near future, too), seeing as she led Jessica Jones and its spin-off, The Defenders, through strong pilots of their own. Punchy charisma oozes from Goldman’s scripts, as well. They seem like an impeccable fit as collaborators.
Basically, I really want to lean into what the head of programming at HBO, Casey Bloys, reminded us at a TCA session last year: that strong characters of all stripes will appear in the show. Women will have their due. Hopefully, with the current slate of creatives behind this prequel, this promise truly comes to fruition.