Samuel Brace on HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoffs…
With news breaking that HBO are indeed working on a spinoff for the impossibly popular fantasy drama Game of Thrones, one’s mind tends to drift to thoughts of just what the potential series could entail. We know that there are four different spin-offs being pursued, with the aim of HBO, as EW puts it, “to find at least one title that can successfully carry the flame of the GoT franchise.” The good news is that there are myriad options to pursue. Such is the impressive world built by George R.R. Martin – and indeed the team at HBO – that any future show could head in numerous different and exciting directions. However, there is indeed one problem that comes with such a venture, and one rule that must under no circumstances be broken.
Spin-offs have spun into the future before; back in the day, it was a popular route for equally admired sitcoms to continue a character’s journey beyond the events of the original series. These days, with film and TV, journeying into the past is the go to method for a series continuation. This, however, creates a major problem, THE problem of this article’s title. If the greenlit spinoff is to be a prequel, we will already know the eventual outcome, and therefore any prequel MUST centre on characters of whom their fate is not known.
This rule is crucial, oh so crucial, and must be adhered to for a series to be anywhere near as successful as its parent show. Perhaps the most high-profile spinoff series in a recent memory is Better Call Saul – the prequel drama to the colossal Breaking Bad. This is probably the best analogue to go by considering Bad and Thrones are the two most celebrated shows of this generation (perhaps ever), so any GoT spinoff would do well to study the success Vince Gilligan and his team have found. Better Call Saul was faced with the exact problem that any Game of Thrones prequel will run into, and it had to contend with the one rule that must not be broken. Part of the show’s success has been its attempt to adhere to that rule. Even though the show is indeed centred around two characters that we knew from Breaking Bad, the series has provided its audience with a number of new characters that we never knew of before, and whose fates that we now deeply care about (one way or the other).
Now, Saul could have been helped even further along the path to success by sticking more strictly to our rule. The show’s villains are (for the most part) characters whose ends have already been revealed. This is where Game of Thrones must pay attention. If say, the new spinoff is set during Robert’s rebellion, a seemingly likely choice, they can of course (and will have to) feature the odd individual we are familiar with, but it must be built around a new cast of characters who we do not know, and have no idea what will happen to them. If this fails to come to pass, any drama and suspense for the show will be severely limited, and the show’s potential success crippled right out of the gate.
Under no circumstances can the show centre around the exploits of a young Ned, or a young Robert, or even Rhaegar. We know what happens to these men, and any drama built around them will as a result be tepid. Stakes are everything in fiction. They don’t have to be world ending, or even life and death, but they have to be there. And by building a series without any, as we all know the result of Robert’s uprising, your show is doomed to fail. The answer is clear. Of course set a new series during this time period, or any other whose events are already certain, but create for us a cast of new faces, with a story and plot points that aren’t necessarily tied to the main events of Westeros. This world is so big, and so richly populated, there is no end to the inter-house squabbles and disputes that can provide us drama. As long as the writing is there, and the characters are as alive and vibrant as we’ve come to expect in GoT, success is there for taking.
This problem is systemic to prequels, guys. And this rule will mean everything to whether any spinoff will be able to win our hearts. There can no doubt be exciting and cool moments should HBO fail in this regard, but that heart pounding tension, and those watermark moments of “OH GOD! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?” that we all adore from Game of Thrones, will not exist without the mystery and suspense that only comes via a central narrative that has yet to be determined.
No one can blame HBO for wanting to continue on this money train, and if the proposed show succeeds like Thrones, than these will be exciting times indeed. HBO have certainly earned our trust over the years, in this and in other series, so every confidence should be had that they will do the job right. They have all the tools to succeed, but if the spinoff will indeed be a prequel (of course not a guarantee); the problem discussed will occur if this rule isn’t taken seriously, or avoided all together. The options are vast for the future of Game of Thrones, but we must also remember to not put the cart before the horse. They still have a series to finish after all, a series that has set the bar not just for TV fantasy, but for what should be expected from all those stepping into the medium. Let’s hope that they nail it, because no one will want a spinoff if this falls off the tracks.