As we bid farewell to Game of Thrones after eight seasons, fans are already looking ahead. The future is full of stories from Westeros, as HBO currently has at least three spinoffs in various stages of production. Two are still entirely under wraps — and author George R.R. Martin may not have been authorized to comment — but one show has a pilot already going into production and at least one important piece of information revealed about when it takes place. As Martin called it, “the one I’m not supposed to call The Long Night” will be set during the near-mythical Age of Heroes.
The show, created by Martin and Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men: First Class, Kingsman), with Goldman serving as showrunner, has picked up S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones, The Defenders) to direct the pilot and will begin filming in Belfast in June. So far, the announced cast includes Naomi Watts (21 Grams, Twin Peaks: The Return) as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret,” Naomi Ackie (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker), Jamie Campbell Bower (Harry Potter, Twilight: Breaking Dawn), Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia), Toby Regbo (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game, Harry Potter), and Denise Gough (The Kid Who Would Be King), among others. The description of Naomi Watts character is vague enough to be almost anyone, but her blonde hair indicates she’ll probably be a Lannister ancestor. Perhaps even the infamous Lann the Clever, as it would be very in keeping with Martin’s world for a myth to have misidentified the gender of a strong female founder to that of a male as it was passed on.
Lore nerds like myself are very excited as all the Game of Thrones source material is written in-universe, meaning all the history books are written by fictional Westerosi Maesters, with all the built-in prejudices, blind spots, and conflicting timelines that would engender. The Seven Kingdoms do not have archaeologists and they barely have historians. Watching the Age of Heroes unfold on television will be the first look fans have at which parts of the mythology of ancient Planetos history are accurate, and which parts were warped over millennia of retelling. So just what can audiences expect? A lot of larger-than-life characters, and probably a ton of magic.
A JOURNEY BACK IN TIME
Within George R.R. Martin’s world history, the time period known as the Age of Heroes spanned thousands of years. Taking place sometime between 8,000 – 10,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones, if the Maesters are accurate, the Age of Heroes lasted from the moment the peoples of the First Men set foot on Westeros until the Andals arrived, millennia later. Some of the most important events in Westeros history happened during this era. Ancient family lineages were begun. The war with the Children of the Forest begins and ends during this period, including the Long Night when the Others — also known as the White Walkers — came from the Lands of Always Winter.
However, Martin leaves a lot of wiggle room for fallibility in his histories. It’s possible the Age of Heroes lasted even longer, or perhaps even only a few centuries. Within The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and Game of Thrones, the Maesters take a lot of liberties. This includes merely guessing how long the migration of the First Men from Dorne to the Lands of Always Winter would take. Despite historical sources claiming the First Men came in the hundreds of thousands (seemingly fleeing from something) and spread throughout the continent of Westeros within a generation, the Citadel refuses to believe in such rapid expansion. Using a more “natural” rate of population movement adds thousands of years onto the era.
For the purposes of the new show, this gives the writers a large canvas to work with. It would be very in line with Martin’s own style to condense the events of the Age of Heroes down to a few decades. The source material is littered with Maesters waxing poetic about how silly it would be to believe in living giants beyond The Wall or that wargs exist or that the Children of the Forest could see into the future. All things we the audience know are true. In fact, it appears the more incredulous a Citadel author is about a myth, the more likely it is to be true.
THE MAESTERS KNOW LESS THAN THEY THINK
After collecting scraps of ancient texts, translating runes older than written language, and transcribing oral histories from family mythologies, the Maesters of the Citadel know a lot of things. But mostly what they know is that they don’t believe anything that happened in the Age of Heroes could have been as cool as all the stories make it sound. The hubris, for the audience, is hilarious.
The Maesters aren’t sure how The Wall was built, but they know it wasn’t magic. They don’t know why Storm’s End is constructed in a seamless way that defies known architectural science, but they know it wasn’t magic. They know House Tyrell, House Lannister, House Stark, and House Baratheon definitely weren’t founded by demigods descended from the horned god known as Garth the Green. They know that if Garth the Green existed at all, and if he helped lead the First Men from Essos into Dorne, then he was a leader and petty king, not a deity.
The Maesters are certain the Children of the Forest were primitive and that the stories about them are certainly untrue. They know there is no way the Children had the ability to talk to animals or speak with them or even become them. The idea that the First Men were chopping down weirwoods because the Children could see through them to spy is preposterous to the learned men of the Citadel. They don’t believe the legend that the Children used their magic to shatter the land bridge from Essos to Dorne nor that they still reside in the deep islands of the lake called the God’s Eye next to Harranhal.
While it certainly would be true that legends and myths would grow and morph throughout the centuries, the audience knows what the Maesters do not: that magic is real. We know the Children of the Forest wield it, we know wargs are fairly common among the Free Folk. We definitely know the First Men were right to fear they were being spied upon by the weirwoods. If all those things are true, why not the rest?
In fact, it’s very possible the Maesters are downplaying the ancient history of Westeros for their own reasons. In A Feast for Crows, Samwell learns from Maester Marwyn that the Citadel has been trying to quietly remove magic from the world since at least the Dance of the Dragons nearly tore the Seven Kingdoms apart. Regardless, it seems likely that whatever the Age of Heroes show ends up being called it will deal with magical elements.
POSSIBLE PLOT POINTS
George R.R. Martin has written tens of thousands of words about the Age of Heroes, giving writers of the new HBO series a vast reservoir to draw from. But within that time period, there are a few moments that stand out as both narratively important and visually stunning. There is the shattering of the Arm of Dorne, which the Children allegedly did in order to stem the flow of men running from Essos. There is the discovery of Pyke, where the “men” who would become the citizens of the Iron Islands found a ruined castle older than time itself. There’s the war between the encroaching First Men and the Children of the Forest (and the giants). There’s the creation of the Night King and the resulting Long Night. There’s the Night King building his undead armies and laying waste to all living creatures. And there’s The Pact, the treaty between the Children the First Men after generations of war.
Then there is the founding of several major noble Houses by larger-than-life players Bran the Builder, Durran Godsgrief, Lann the Clever and Garth Greenhand. These men (or men and women, should Naomi Watts’ character turn out to be Lann) reach demigod status in the lore surrounding them. Bran the Builder built The Wall, Winterfell, the Citadel, and Storm’s End. Durran Godsgrief married the daughter of two gods, forever earning their enmity. Lann the Clever reads basically like a trickster god who dupes the ancient Casterly family into marriage or extinction and takes their castle, The Rock. And, of course, there’s Garth Greenhand aka Garth the Green, who may very well have been a legitimate nature god.
Depending on how wide this show wishes to cast its narrative net, there are other tantalizing options as well. Looking beyond Westeros, audiences could finally get their first glimpse of Asshai-by-the-Shadow or the unearthly Ghost Grass that chokes out life from the plains around the far eastern part of Essos. They could delve into the ancient blood magic that either created or tamed dragons, who existed in the wild long before the rise of Old Valyria. Perhaps they might even give hints as to the origins of the Mazemakers of Lorath or how the legends of the Long Night ended up as far away as Yi Ti.
Of course, GRRM leaves a lot of blank space in his ancient history of Westeros. The timeline is muddled, but none more than the current tale of the Night King. Within the narrative of Game of Thrones, Leaf tells Bran that the Children created the Night King to help them win the war against men. She never says, but it is implied, that the Children of the Forest lost control of their creation, ushering in The Long Night. But that event supposedly happened after the Children and the First Men made their peace treaty. Something doesn’t add up. Hopefully, the new HBO show will shed some light on the confusion in a year or two.