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HBO has officially ordered a pilot episode for a Game of Thrones prequel series about the Long Night during the Age of Heroes, set some 8,000 years before the War of the Five Kings in the original TV series. It is currently one of four Game of Thrones prequel projects being actively considered for development by HBO.

Jane Goldman will be showrunner, with George R.R. Martin attached as a co-producer.

Overview

Jane Goldman IMDB profile pic

Jane Goldman, showrunner on The Long Night prequel pilot.

On June 8, 2018, HBO put out a press release that it had ordered a pilot episode for the prequel pitch by Jane Goldman - with George R.R. Martin attached as a co-producer. It provided this short description for the prequel:

"Taking place thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones, the series chronicles the world's descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour. And only one thing is for sure: from the horrifying secrets of Westeros's history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East, to the Starks of legend...it's not the story we think we know."[1]

The White Walkers first attacked during the Long Night, which occurred some 8,000 years before the War of the Five Kings and narrative of the main series, during a historical epoch known as the Age of Heroes.

On June 11, 2018, George R.R. Martin commented on the announcement in his personal blog. He congratulated Goldman, but stated that at this point, only the pilot script was finished: no directors, filming locations, or actors had been looked at yet.

Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin

Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin.

Martin went on to say that while a pilot has been ordered, there is no guarantee that HBO will order production of a full TV series based on it. Moreover, Martin clarified that three other prequel projects are still in active development - Goldman's was just the first to be officially ordered (though this may indicate HBO's confidence in it). As Martin understands it, HBO's intention is to have at least one and possibly all three of the other prequel pitches film pilot episodes, then pick one of these to develop based on the strength of the pilots. He also believes that HBO intends to hopefully premiere the first prequel series in 2020, about one year after the original TV series has its finale - enough time later that they don't overlap, but close enough that interest in the franchise as a whole doesn't start to fade.

On November 19, 2018, Martin gave a brief comment about the Long Night prequel (during an interview with Entertainment Weekly), in which he directly confirmed what was already obvious from the Timeline: House Targaryen is not in the Long Night prequel, nor is their original civilization of dragon-lords, the old Valyrian Freehold. There are no dragons or dragon-riders in the Long Night. As Martin said: "Westeros is a very different place. There’s no King’s Landing. There’s no Iron Throne. There are no Targaryens — Valyria has hardly begun to rise yet with its dragons and the great empire that it built. We’re dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series."[2]

Martin more clearly stated in an interview with The New York Times from November 2018:

"It's set thousands of years before Game of Thrones. King's Landing does not exist. The Iron Throne does not exist. There are no dragons there."[3]

This makes it more certain that not just "the Targaryens" are absent, or even "the Valyrians" - as there was some vague speculation that perhaps dragon-riders from such other ancient and lost civilization (perhaps Asshai) might appear, or even wild, rider-less dragons. Instead, Martin has directly stated that "there are no dragons" in the Long Night prequel.

Title

The final title of this prequel project has not been determined yet. Martin stated in his blog announcement about it in June 2018 that he would personally choose "The Long Night" for this prequel, but he doesn't have final say. Also, he thinks HBO would probably want to put "Game of Thrones" in it so audiences will know they're part of the same franchise. Thus this article uses "Game of Thrones: The Long Night " as a placeholder title for navigation purposes, pending further updates.[4]

Throughout the rest of 2018, Martin made blog updates re-iterating that "The Long Night" is what he wants to call the project, but he has no control over this, and HBO warned him to make it clear that this isn't the confirmed, final title. On November 5, 2018, he said:

"HBO has informed me that the Jane Goldman pilot is not (yet) titled THE LONG NIGHT. That is certainly the title I prefer, but for the moment the pilot is still officially UNTITLED. So...mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. Elsewise, the pilot is coming along well, with casting falling into place."[5]

The apparent tension between HBO and Martin over the title has led to concern from reviewers. As Miles Surrey said in TheRinger.com:

There's so much sadness to unpack here. The fact that Martin added 'yet' in parenthesis, hinting at his undying yet futile hope that the network is going to name the prequel what he'd like it to be named; the 'that is certainly the title I prefer,' yet another reaffirmation of his desires, and a feeble attempt at strong-arming a handful of executives at HBO whom he apparently doesn't have much leeway with; 'It makes me very sad,' Binge Mode cohost Jason Concepcion told me, 'George created a world which spans centuries of detailed fictional history. That creation became the most popular and culturally important television show of the era. And yet he now has so little juice [with HBO] that he's been reduced to suggesting titles for the show via his blog. I am saddened by this."[6]

Production

Writing

Jane Goldman has been announced as head writer and showrunner. It is also known that, in contrast with Game of Thrones, this series will have a full "writing staff" - most drama series of this scale have writing staffs of about half a dozen people, while on Game of Thrones, showrunners Benioff & Weiss admitted that for most of its run, the only writes were themselves and Bryan Cogman (and one or two other writers in earlier seasons). The identity of the other staff writers on The Long Night is unknown as of February 2019.

George R.R. Martin's actual level of involvement in creating and writing The Long Night is largely tangential, and only in an advisory role. In an interview with The New York Times on November 30, 2018, Martin explained that he didn't have unpublished notes on the Long Night, nor plans to develop any narrative in it (apparently meaning that it was HBO and not Martin himself who selected this as an idea for a prequel TV series). Martin's novels don't discuss anything more about the Long Night than the brief legends which have already appeared on-screen in the TV series (such as Old Nan repeating the legend about it in Season 1). Very little is even known about what society was like in Westeros during the Long Night, given that it occurred 8,000 years ago, before the beginning of recorded history.

Martin therefore explained that he did not create the plot outline, characters, or setting details for the Long Night TV series. HBO owns the rights to create a Long Night prequel TV series, not Martin himself, so they could have made it with or without him. Instead, Martin said that his role in this series is mostly advisory - giving notes on Jane Goldman's ideas, which she is not required to follow. Thus it is something of a misnomer for HBO to say that Martin "co-wrote" the Long Night prequel pilot with Jane Goldman. Martin does not even have control over the title of this prequel pitch.

In his interview with The New York Times, Martin stressed that the Long Night prequel is "mostly" the creation of Jane Goldman. In his own words:

"If you look at the published books so far, there's really very little material about [the Age of Heroes and the Long Night] — a sentence here, a sentence there. Old Nan tells a tale that takes up a paragraph. So Jane had to create the characters, the settings and some of the events, and we had to look at everything that was said and say, 'O.K., here’s what was said at this point, we need to make it consistent to that.' We kicked around some ideas and I made some suggestions. But mostly it's been Jane running with it."[7]

The reason why Martin is still technically credited as "co-writing" the Long Night prequel might be comparable to when later seasons of Game of Thrones changed or invented subplots that weren't in the books, such as the Season 5 subplot in Dorne: the changes were not Martin's idea, but he was still credited as a "writer" on the project due to his role as an advisor. Martin sent the showrunners notes reacting to this new material, and sometimes they incorporated some of these ideas - i.e. originally Jaime Lannister was supposed to have a big fight scene fighting off multiple Dornish guards on the beach, but Martin sent a note reminding the showrunners that Jaime can't fight well after having his sword-hand cut off, so the scene was updated to reflect this. Martin's specific level of involvement with developing the Long Night prequel might have actually been more extensive than this, but remains ambiguous - depending on what exactly he meant when he said he "made some suggestions". As of February 2018, Jane Goldman hasn't made any comments about the level of involvement between her and Martin on the project.

Casting

Long Night Casting Naomi Watts Josh Whitehouse

Naomi Watts and Josh Whitehouse

Long Night cast January 8 2019

Left to Right: Georgie Henley, Naomi Ackie, Sheila Atim, Ivanno Jeremiah, Jamie Campbell Bower, Denise Gough, Alex Sharp, Toby Regbo.

It was announced on October 30, 2018, that Naomi Watts will portray the lead character in the series, described as "a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret".[8] The next day, it was announced that Josh Whitehouse will also star in the series.[9]

On January 8, 2019, several other cast members were announced in major, but as-yet-unknown roles:[10]

It had been rumored since December 5, 2018, that Gough and Atim were being approached for the project.[11]

On 18 March 2019, it was announced that Miranda Richardson had joined the cast.[12]

On March 27, 2019, it was announced that Marquis Rodriguez, John Simm, Richard McCabe, John Heffernan, and Dixie Egerickx had joined the cast.[13]

HBO reiterated this information in an update post on their website summarizing all news about the Long Night prequel so far.

Starting in late 2018, casting sheets began circulating for roles which are apparently in the Long Night prequel. Starting in the later seasons of Game of Thrones, however, HBO stopped putting character names on casting calls, to avoid spoilers - only basic physical parameters for the actors. The Long Night prequel continued this trend, only identifying characters in casting sheets by alpha-numeric code-names: "S", "M3", "V2", etc. Whether these identifications are totally random or follow some sort of pattern is unknown (such as if "S" and "S2" are somehow linked). Several were identified as "Series Regular", though it is unclear how much can be read into this: Game of Thrones had over two dozen recurring cast members from one season to the next who were technically listed as "starring" (for pay grade purposes), but the core five to seven "Tier A" cast members were still the center of the narrative. Thus "Series Regular" could mean "Tier A core cast" on the scale of a Jon Snow or Jaime Lannister, or, it could be someone on the scale of Samwell Tarly or Jorah Mormont.

The initial batch of casting calls, which surfaced as of September 10, 2018, was for:[14]

  • "A" - "Mixed race" male, age 17-22. Series Regular.
  • "S" - Black female, age 24-32. Series Regular.
  • "I" - Caucasian female, age 17-25. Series Regular.
  • "F" - Black female, age 16-23. Series Regular.

Notice that these code letters spell out "ASIF", a possible acronym for A Song of Ice & Fire. That these were the first casting calls that began circulating, all are identified as "series regular", and they are part of a possible acronym may indicate that they are fairly prominent.

These casting calls were not handled by longtime Game of Thrones casting director Nina Gold, but by Jane Goldman's longtime collaborator Lucinda Syson, who was casting director on several of her earlier projects such as Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class.

The second batch of casting calls was posted on October 24th, with a time window closing on November 17th. These six roles were listed as:[15]

  • "B3" - Black male, 50-63 years old. Playing 50s. Series Regular.
  • "W" - Caucasian male, 37-45 years old. Playing late 30s-mid 40s. (Not listed as "Series Regular").
  • "E" - Caucasian male, 30-38 years old, playing 30s. Specifically "Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European". Series Regular.
  • "V2" - Caucasian male, 49-58 years old, playing age 50s. "Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European." Series Regular.
  • "N" - Caucasian female, 31-34 years old. Playing age 30s. Series Regular.
  • "M3" - Caucasian female, 28-31 years old. Playing late 20s. Series Regular.

Afterwards, a new casting sheet circulated on November 14th which contained two roles - re-iterating the call for the mixed-race man "A" (who apparently still hadn't been cast, as well as:[16]

  • "S2" - Black female, age 40s to 60s.

After the major announcement of eight cast members at once on January 8th, a new casting call went out for three other characters, by around January 20th:[17]

  • "L2 and W2" - cast as a pair. Two "confident young black actors, ages 6 and 10". Casting them as a pair may indicate that they are brothers, or at least friends who share many scenes.
  • "F2" - Caucasian female, age 26-33" and the call noted that "HBO needs a very strong actress for this role" (though what they meant by "strong" is unclear, given that it can broadly refer to heavy emotive scenes in general, i.e. breaking down crying in grief).

Curiously, few of the ten actors announced by January 8th 2019 actually resemble these casting calls. One simple explanation is that the calls are only for open casting, but it is common practice to sometimes hand-pick roles for actors without an audition. Case in point, Naomi Watts is "Caucasian, female" but also 50 years old at the time of casting: this doesn't match any of the casting calls, but it's possible that because she is such a prominent theatrical actress that she was just hand-picked without an audition. Going down the list:

  • Quite prominently, no one so far matches the physical description of "A" - a "mixed race" male 17 to 22 years old. The casting call was even re-circulated. The ten cast members are all either "Caucasian" or "Black".
  • Of the Caucasian male actors, Josh Whitehouse is 28, Toby Regbo is 27, Alex Sharp is 29, and Jamie Campbell Bower is 30. All of them seem too old to match the description of "A", who seems about a decade younger.
  • Besides Watts, none of the other cast members are over 40 years old. Thus "B3", "S2", and "V2" haven't been cast yet, and probably not "W" or "E" either.
  • There are three Black cast members so far: Ackie and Atim (female) and Jeremiah (male). Jeremiah doesn't correspond to any prior casting (the one Black male was listed as 50-63 years old). Ackie is 27 years old, and Atim about a decade younger...thus by process of elimination, they might be playing "S" (Black Female, age 24-32) and "F" (Black female, age 16-23), respectively. However it is equally possible that they are playing entirely different characters, i.e. that they were hand-picked for their roles with no audition.
  • There are three Caucasian female cast members, and three roles listed as "Caucasian female" so far. However, Watts is 50 and Gough is 39 - while the three roles have age ranges of "17-25", "31-34", and "28-31". Watts and almost certainly Gough are too old to match these (unless the roles were re-written). The only one that seems to match up is that Georgie Henley is 23 years old - matching the description of "I", who is "17 to 25".

Therefore, of the eleven roles from the casting calls put out before the major casting announcement in January, up to eight of them have yet to be matched by any of the ten announced cast members. Vice versa, only three out of the ten current cast members have identifiable roles based on casting sheets (though some, like Naomi Watts, could have just been hand-picked with no audition). It seems probable that Georgie Henley is "I", Naomi Ackie is "S", and Sheila Atim is "F", based on the casting descriptions matching up.

As the Long Night isn't based on a prequel novella by George R.R. Martin and he has no extensive notes about the Long Night, only a few names and legends, determining which characters these cast members might actually be playing would be the purest conjecture. Martin's writings mention few named female characters from the Age of Heroes, and no non-white ones by name. Named women include Nissa Nissa, tragic wife of Azor Ahai, and Durran Godgrief's wife Elenei. There are also one-time mentions of several of Garth Gardener's daughters (who have no significant narratives, or even connections to the Long Night), and the unnamed female member (or members) of House Casterly (though there is no evidence that Lann the Clever would even be in the narrative of the Long Night).

Pilot

The January 8, 2019 casting release also announced that the pilot will be directed by S.J. Clarkson. She is previously known for her work on Orange Is the New Black, Dexter, Bates Motel, and the pilot for Jessica Jones.[18]

At the TCA event in August 2018, HBO's head of drama programming Casey Bloys said that production would begin on the pilot in "the first half" of 2019. Later on February 4th, 2019, Bloys told Entertainment Weekly that production on the pilot would officially begin in "early summer" 2019 (still technically "the first half" of the year).[19]

References