The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones is almost done filming, with episodes set to air sometime in 2019. And while that finishes the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series of books, HBO is already working on new adventures in the world of Westeros. Four prequels are currently in development, with one from Kingsman and Kick-Ass writer Jane Goldman already being ordered to pilot.
Little is known about Goldman’s story other than it takes place 8000 years before the events in Game of Thrones. HBO’s initial announcement stated, “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.”
That blurb led many to wonder whether we’d be meeting some of the founding members of major houses that originated during that epoch – Lann the Clever, who tricked the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock, or Bran the Builder, who crafted the castles of Winterfell and Storm’s End and raised the Wall. But the Age of Heroes lasted thousands of years, with Lann sitting at one end and Bran the other. That left a lot of room for conjecture on what might be coming. Then George R.R. Martin honed in on the exact moment in history when he revealed his preferred name for the prequel series: The Long Night.
The Long Night is, as told by Old Nan and maesters alike, an earlier invasion of the Others from the desolate reaches of the far north that nearly wipes out humanity. Like everything else from the Age of Heroes, details are scant and likely exaggerated. But as the story goes, the Long Night was a winter that lasted an entire generation, ending only with The Last Hero teaming up with the Children of the Forest and the newly formed Night’s Watch to defeat the Others. The tale ends with Bran the Builder raising the Wall to guard the realms of men.
For stories taking place several thousand years apart, there’s a lot of similarities between the prequel and the original. Starks, Boltons, and Lannisters roam the land. Ironmen reave the western coast. Slave empires dominate Essos. A mysterious evil approaches, requiring humankind to set aside their petty squabbles over land and title to avoid utter destruction. As far as time periods go, you couldn’t find a moment in Westerosi history that mirrored the events of the original Game of Thrones saga more than The Long Night.
It is even heavily suggested that the battle between humanity and the Others is a core repeating feature in the Game of Thrones universe. The followers of R’hllor believe that the world is locked in an endless war between the Lord of Light and the Great Other. When the cold darkness falls upon the world, the hero Azor Ahai emerges again to deliver the world from oblivion. That’s what brought the Red Priestess Melisandre to Westeros: she was seeking The Prince That Was Promised, Azor Ahai reborn.
“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world,” the prophecy reads. “In this dread hour, a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.”
Many fan theories on how the current Game of Thrones series will end rely heavily on this prophecy, although no one knows quite how it will play out. Is Daenerys Azor Ahai reborn? Or is it trickier than that … is Jon Snow the warrior, and Daenerys the fire? Maybe Lightbringer isn’t a literal sword but the child of Jon and Dany! Prophecy is a tricky beast that can be twisted to fit nearly any story, as proven by fans who made a convincing argument that even Hot Pie could be Azor Ahai.
Regardless, beyond all the inter-house politicking that makes the show so great, it’s always been Azor Ahai at the core of the Game of Thrones story, and it is Azor Ahai at the core of The Long Night. In this way, the upcoming prequel pilot is largely resetting the chess board and letting us watch the saga unfold again with a new set of protagonists at the helm of a mostly familiar set of great houses and would-be kings.
I don’t want this to sound like a complaint or criticism. Mankind has been retooling savior mythology for thousands of years, giving us everything from Zeus to Jesus to Robocop. There’s certainly more than one way to tell the tale, and George R.R. Martin sounds thrilled with what Jane Goldman has shared with him thus far. As for those of you still upset that we’re not getting something completely different like the Valyrian empire or rise of the Targaryens, good news: there are still three more prequels in development.