Testing times for Game of Thrones. After the series ended on an unmistakably damp note, with even its director admitting it was “rushed”, the showrunners put the boot in even more, alienating the core fanbase at a film festival panel. Now comes even worse news: Bloodmoon, the long-awaited Game of Thrones prequel, has been killed, with another spin-off being put to series ahead of it.
It’s a big, embarrassing about-face for HBO, who have been pouring millions into wringing more cash out of the Game of Thrones universe. Bloodmoon’s development was in the advanced stages – it had a cast including Naomi Watts, a set, an in-the-can pilot, an audience of eager fans who you suspect would gobble up anything with the Game of Thrones stamp … but it wasn’t enough.
Bloodmoon was seemingly meant to depict the ancient history of Westeros (indeed, before Westeros may even have been called that). But that period of the continent’s history has been left fairly nebulous by Martin himself. It gets all of 2-3 pages in The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros. What we do know from Martin’s brief outline is that the Children of the Forest (and the giants) were the original inhabitants of Westeros. The First men, who crossed over from Essos, began resettling Westeros and came into conflict with the Children of the Forest, whose weirwoods they had felled.
This is a period Martin calls the ‘Dawn Age’ — one that ends with a pact between the Children and First Men, signalling a ceasefire in their longstanding hostilities. Before their truce, however, Martin writes of the Children being driven to a “desperate act”. It isn’t clear what this desperate act is — the creation of the Night King; or the sinking of ‘the Neck’ (the region near Moat Cailin in present-day Westeros), by which the Children hoped to break Westeros into two land-masses and therefore stop the migration of the First Men. Also unclear is if this is the same event that caused the ‘Arm of Dorne’ — a strip of land that connected Essos to Westeros, and which the First men seemingly used to cross over — to shatter. In The World of Ice and Fire, Martin describes “The Battle for Dawn”, in which a hero fights his way through the White Walkers to reach the Children. With the Children’s help, the First Men won the battle that broke the endless winter. These men would also go on to form the very first Night’s Watch, and patrol the Wall erected by Bran the Builder, protected by the Children’s magic.
The Targaryen history is the quintessential game of thrones — and their power struggles and dynamics make for a riveting, bloody tale. Unlike the Ice and Fire series, Fire and Blood — despite the vast expanse of time and developments it covers — isn’t quite as sprawling (read: unmanageable) a narrative. Made well — and there’s reason enough to believe that creator Ryan Condal and director Miguel Sapochnik (The Gift, Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter) can deliver on that count — House of the Dragon is likely to resonate far more with viewers, with its more easily drawn connections to present-day Westeros, than Bloodmoon. Whether or not it will win over fans still stewing over Game of Thrones season 8 remains to be seen, but in sticking to a material that George RR Martin has written, HBO has already chosen the stronger contender in House of the Dragon. Fire will reign.