A special report from Game of Thrones Wiki Administrator and "Keeper of the Lore", User:The Dragon Demands:
I was recently contacted by a tipster with knowledge of the four potential Game of Thrones prequel series being pitched to HBO. I was sworn to total secrecy, and only got a tantalizing glimpse of some extensive written materials (which are not in my possession so don't ask to see them).
Based on what I've seen, the creators of this prequel (Max Borenstein, of Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island - and possibly others) have relied extensively on fan-made wikis such as ours as a guide to the storyverse and worldbuilding, which made me excited and hopeful about the care that went into the details of the world.
In the coming days, I will put together more comprehensive thoughts and analysis of where I believe this series will be heading based on these tantalizing glimpses. So keep checking back for updates!
For the time being, here is what I heard and saw:
- The title of this prequel series is " Empire of Ash ".
- It is about the events leading up to the Doom of Valyria: the massive volcanic super-eruption which destroyed the Valyrian Freehold in a single day.
- It is also the story of the origins of House Targaryen, a minor family of dragon-lords in old Valyria who rose to prominence by fleeing to Westeros just before the Doom - leaving them with the world's only living dragons.
- This story centers on the decline and fall of Valyria, a colonial empire which ruled half of the known world at its height.
- It reveals the social, economic, and political crises which tore apart the empire from within - these themes rang eerily familiar to me in today's climate.
- "Empire of Ash" seems to be planned out to last five seasons or more. It's not just a short one-shot special or something. It's another full TV series.
- Similar to Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Different political factions intriguing against each other - with a larger magical threat looming for the endgame.
- "Valyrys lenton jatas!"
- ―"Valyrians go home!" - street graffiti in conquered Meereen
- George R.R. Martin has said that Valyria was "like the Roman Republic, with dragons". A major focus of this prequel is on diversity, as it deals with issues of immigration, naturalization, and cultural identity - all within a multi-ethnic democratic state. The central conflict that kicks off the series is, "what does it mean to be 'Valyrian', and who gets to share in that power and prestige?"
- According to its summary documents, this story addresses themes of a free republic in decline, the fallout of military and cultural imperialism, colonialism, immigration, and racial diversity (sound familiar?)
- Did I mention there are dragons? Lots of dragons. Hundreds of dragons.
- Something like a third to a half of the cast are non-white characters - multiple members of the primary cast. It explicitly instructs this in their casting sheets.
- This also extends to diversity of female and LGBT characters, several of whom are also core cast members.
- Something like a third to a half of this prequel series is actually set in Sothoryos, George R.R. Martin's fantasy version of Africa, mentioned in ASOIAF and The World of Ice and Fire. Sothoryos and Valyria are the two big axises around which the show revolves: the tension between the capital city and its provinces.
- The capital of Sothoryos, one of the major settings of the action, is conceptually supposed to be "Roman North Africa", a mix of Carthage and Constantinople, a major port city with a multi-racial society. Looking at a map, I would guess pre-Doom Zamettar.
- Thus, most of the characters there are "non-white": according to the casting calls, they're looking for variously African, Asian, other groups (it's a very mixed, "melting pot" port city).
- One of the main characters, a POV core cast member, is a platinum blonde black female dragon-rider - one of her parents was a white Valyrian, the other a foreigner, leading some to deny that she's a "real" Valyrian.
- One of the other main characters is a self-made former slave, a deceptively matronly-looking Asian woman in her 50s, that's now not only one of the richest citizens but also a major political leader and government intrigue-player.
- Concept art already exists for three rival political factions in Valyria: the Sphinxes, the Young Dragons, and the Free Holders.
- The Targaryens may be a minor family of the Young Dragons, but I cannot confirm.
- I only got a brief and blurry look at artwork of their war banner. It's a dragon of some kind.
- Aenar Targaryen and his daughter Daenys the Dreamer are also characters but I don't know if they're introduced in Season 1.
- This prequel puts a massive amount of work into worldbuilding, fleshing out the lost Atantis-like civilization that was Valyria.
- I'm told religious scholar Reza Aslan, author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, was brought in - whether as a consultant or a writer I can't say but I hope it was to impact the religion-building of the world.
- Gender and Sexuality have also received a lot of worldbuilding. Apparently, in this series Valyrians don't take issue with homosexuality - one of the leaders of the conservative "Sphinx" faction is publicly in a homosexual relationship and no one thinks it's particularly unusual.
- While I don't have access to these documents on an ongoing basis, I was shown two documents amounting to extensive series bibles. Yes, "Bibles" plural.
- The first of these is the Season 1 script outline. 10 episodes. Over 200 pages in length. These are not finished teleplays with dialogue, but they are more than just generalized notes. It's basically a scene-by-scene guide to the entire season!
- But that isn't even "the" series bible, that's the Season 1 outline (the "script bible"). As for the series bible...well, we tend to use the term "jaw dropping" too casually. But when I glimpsed this document mine did: it looked like a second volume of The World of Ice and Fire. I mean that literally, like you could walk into a book store and find it ready for sale on the shelf. The entire thing is fully illustrated. Professional quality illustrations. Some of them were maps I recognized from wikis, others, particularly the character and location artwork...it looks like they must have secretly hired major artists who did the World book and annual ASOIAF calendars to do new concept art without telling the public about it. Apparently "about 100 copies currently exist", which, if true, makes it even more insane that this was kept secret for so long.
- There was even a new map in it of pre-Doom Valyria, in the style of The Lands of Ice and Fire. I don't know if they photoshopped it from the original or outright hired the original "Lands" artist, but it looked good enough I couldn't tell the difference. A lot of work and money went into this.
- And of course, you know, I'm one of the people who writes up encyclopedia info for the wiki here. So when I saw this secret, unreleased internal series bible...not as an abstraction or "ideas we tossed around the office" but a true "Series Bible" of the kind we dream of...just wow. Stunned.
- My first reaction? "It looks like these people locked themselves in a room for 2 years with a copy of The World of Ice and Fire, and wrote a TV show based on it." Heavily researched, but also including stuff never in the books. It's very clear world-building matters to them, as does staying true to Martin's work. And if the Reza Aslan rumor is true, they clearly care about history as well.
- According to the source I spoke with, while several potential prequels are in development at HBO, the two front-runner projects are Jane Goldman's "The Long Night" and Max Borenstein's "Empire of Ash". That isn't to say that HBO will discard the other pitches. They're starting to see this as their Star Wars scale franchise and are planning it out in advance. Consider how many years in advance we heard about anthology movies like "Rogue One" or "Solo", even before the Sequel Trilogy movies were released.
- Moreover, based on what I've heard, Borenstein's prequel is surprisingly close to beginning production. Apparently, veteran Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik is attached to make the pilot episode for Empire of Ash (consider his experience filming the extensive dragon battle sequences during the Second Siege of Meereen in Season 6).
- I'm unsure why or how a prequel could get this far in development without HBO spreading any news about it, or why the Long Night prequel was announced first - especially when that storyline, set so long before the events of ASOIAF has garnered only limited enthusiasm from fans: consider the reaction video that Elio & Linda made at Westeros.org last month - I share a lot of their concerns.
- So if these are the two front runners, why did they only announce the Long Night? While giving no word about the only other prequel project that is actually very deep into production? I can only assume it is some sort of legal or budgetary wrangling: based on what I saw of "Empire of Ash", the only reason they haven't gone forward with a pilot order yet seems to be ink on paper, they already have a director in place and everything.
- By the Smith's hammer...the series bible exists. It is astonishing. I hope you all get to see it someday. It's our Holy Grail - our Ark of the Covenant, containing the holy texts of knowledge handed down from the Creator.
- They know what they're doing.
- I look forward to this prequel getting a full pickup.
The rest of it is a little too much to fit in this short press release post, so look for my follow-up long-form analysis post with further info & theories coming soon.