Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Why setting a Game of Thrones prequel during the Age of Heroes is an odd choice

Why setting a Game of Thrones prequel during the Age of Heroes is an odd choice
30 Jun

Not long ago, HBO announced that it had greenlit a Game of Thrones prequel series set during the Age of Heroes, a long forgotten era of Westerosi history full of larger-than-life figures who have passed into legend by the time the main show gets started. The announcement sent a wave of excitement through the internet, as many things involving the words “game,” “of” and “thrones” tend to do. Now that that initial wave has crested, let’s drill down and look at what an Age of Heroes show might look like, and why it’s an odd — if fun — choice for the successor to HBO’s massive crossover hit.

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The Age of Heroes is akin to something like the worlds of Greek and Roman mythology, were ordinary men and women had brushes with gods and demi-gods, and sometimes performed fits to match them. Some great houses of Westeros claim to be able to trace their lineage back to these god-like figures, like how the Lannisters claim to be descended from Lann the Clever, a man so devious he tricked the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock. Structures like the Wall, Storm’s End and Winterfell are all built during this time, a time the continent as we know it began to emerge. So with all the excitement during this time, why might it be problematic for HBO?

First, the Age of Heroes covers thousands of years of Westerosi history. Many of the big events, from Durran Godsgrief’s feud with the gods to the slaying of Urrax the dragon by Serwyn of the Mirror Shield, take place hundreds or even thousands of years apart. Compared to Game of Thrones, which covers just a few years of Westerosi history, the stories from the Age of Heroes could prove tricky to form into a coherent narrative, with one group of heroes and villains to root for and against.

Now, by the sound of it, the show will chronicle “the world’s descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour,” likely meaning the Long Night, or the first arrival of the White Walkers. So maybe HBO can get around the sprawl problem by drilling down on one time period. But even then, the Age of Heroes lacks many of the touchstones that attracted fans to Game of Thrones in the first place. Gone are the dragons, the Iron Throne, King’s Landing, the maesters and many of the houses we both love and hate. Houses Lannister and Stark are born in this age, but families like the Targaryens and Baratheons are non-factors. Also, those Houses that do exist had little to do with anyone other than their immediate neighbors, so the continental intrigue we are used to on Thrones is gone as well. At this time, before the Targaryens came along and united the continent, Westeros is sharply divided into different territories, each ruled by petty kings.

And finally, the Age of Heroes is a fantastical period of time in Westeros, one filled with all manner of magic. The Children of the Forest are still around, occupying the deep woods of the world like sprites from a fairy tale, and as we already said, we expect the White Walkers to make a comeback (in the past…). This is very different from the time period on Thrones, where magic has been all but forgotten. Now, magical elements need not be a bad thing, but those viewers tuning in for the backroom soap opera antics they love from the original may be shocked to find kids mounted on mammoths tossing nature grenades at ice demons riding spiders, and the like.

I have no doubt the Age of Heroes show will have eyeballs on it when it premieres, but given these factors, HBO may have a hard time making the show as popular as its forebear. Personally, I’m excited to see the origins of the Seven Kingdoms and its traditions, but I wonder if I’ll be in the minority. As a fictional history buff, I want to learn how House Lannister was founded, but others might just want to see Cersei cause more chaos. I’m interested in how House Tyrell went from stewards of the Reach to its rulers, but others may not be on board with Lady Olenna providing her running commentary of snark.

All that being said, I do have faith that HBO can pull off the series. There were other, easier Game of Thrones prequels out there it could have made, ones that more closely resemble the Seven Kingdoms we all know and love; the Dance of the Dragons, for instance. That gives me hope that HBO has some sort of trick up its sleeve; you have to be pretty confident to go with the harder choice. Ultimately, the show can be successful if it has solid writing and a group of compelling characters. If HBO can achieve that, the geography, magic and all the rest won’t matter. Here’s hoping they do.

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