'Game of Thrones': What's Next for Westeros After the Naomi Watts Prequel Pass?

In the wake of HBO's decision to not move forward on Jane Goldman and George R.R. Martin's prequel pilot, where does the fantasy franchise go from here?
Helen Sloan/HBO
'Game of Thrones'

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away (no, not that galaxy… too soon?), Game of Thrones delivered a prophecy that paved the way for one of the final season's most shocking twists: "I see a darkness in you, and in that darkness, eyes staring back at me: brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes … eyes you'll shut forever."

Five seasons after first hearing those words, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) seized her destiny by stabbing the Night King (Vladimir Furdik) with Valyrian steel, killing him and the entire White Walker army in a single blow. It was a sudden departure for the overwhelming supernatural threat of Thrones, one that was met with its fair share of backlash from fans who felt creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss concluded one of the HBO series' biggest storylines way too easily, and certainly too quickly. But for the section of the audience deeply invested in the White Walkers, there was a silver lining: These ice-cold creatures from far beyond the Wall would return again, thanks to HBO's development of a Thrones prequel co-created by Jane Goldman and author George R.R. Martin, set thousands of years before the events of the main series — right at the moment in Westeros history when these frozen monsters first reared their heads.

Well … so much for that silver lining. 

It's as the saying goes: "If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention." The death of Goldman and Martin's Naomi Watts-led Game of Thrones prequel, which comes after a pilot was produced over the summer, is almost as shocking as the most brutal fatalities in the world of the sprawling fantasy epic. But should it be? Given the prequel's focus on the Age of Heroes and the first Long Night before the dimly lit "The Long Night," is it a surprise that the notion of another Thrones epic building up to a big battle against the White Walkers would fall to pieces, quickly and without warning, not unlike the Night King's own demise?

Mileages will vary on "surprising," but "quickly and without warning" surrounds the current Thrones discourse. News of HBO's decision on the prequel pilot comes not even 24 hours after Benioff and Weiss' official exit from their planned Star Wars trilogy, not to mention a recent public appearance that reopened war wounds from those still reeling from the controversial Thrones finale. A refresher thread on that subject, for those who missed it:

It's been a tough news cycle for the Thrones brand, to say the least — and it's only Tuesday. In the wake of HBO's decision to pass on the pilot, the news about Benioff and Weiss' Star Wars departure and the incensed reaction to the finale, The Hollywood Reporter's West Coast TV editor Lesley Goldberg tossed the question out to the Thrones fandom: Is the brand damaged? Reactions are varied. A sample of three types of takes:

• The resounding "yes": "The last season, and especially its final episodes, ruined the series"

• The resounding "no": "Hell no it’s game of freaking thrones anything that is a spin off of the show I am sitting they’re glued to my TV" 

• And and the waters in between: "Truth? I still get furious about the ending, not sure i'll ever not think of the show again without that knee jerk reaction. However I would love to see a prequel because I still love the world and characters it's just that ending.....was terrible."

More than half a year has passed since Game of Thrones ended. It's way too soon to know what the ultimate legacy of the series will be. But for many, six months of distance are not enough to heal the wounds caused by Jon Snow (Kit Harington) stabbing Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in the heart — words that all on their own are sure to induce some level of red-eyed rage from fans who were invested in the show for nearly a decade, not to mention those who have been along for the ride since 1996, when Martin first started publishing the Song of Ice and Fire novels on which the drama was based — a series with an unsatisfying conclusion of its own, of course, insofar as it remains unfinished. The most recent installment, A Dance With Dragons, was published in 2011, with at least two more novels said to be planned.

There may be some measure of appetite for future stories set within post-Thrones Westeros, even if such stories do not feel particularly likely at the moment, as per these comments from HBO's Casey Bloys to THR on the possibility of a sequel: "Nope, nope, nope. No. Part of it is, I do want this show — this Game of Thrones, Dan and David's show — to be its own thing. I don't want to take characters from this world that they did beautifully and put them off into another world with someone else creating it. I want to let it be the artistic piece they've got. That's one of the reasons why I'm not trying to do the same show over. George has a massive, massive world; there are so many ways in. That's why we're trying to do things that feel distinct — and to not try and redo the same show. That's probably one of the reasons why, right now, a sequel or picking up any of the other characters doesn't make sense for us." 

Some of the castmembers share Bloys' sentiment, including Sophie Turner, who told THR: "It's time for me to say goodbye. She's ended up in a place that I'm so happy with. I don't know. It would be different if someone actually came and said, 'We want to do a Sansa spinoff show,' but I'm pretty sure I'd say no. It's been 10 years of watching this character grow, and she's at her peak right now. I'm sure if she carried on and did a spinoff show, it would just be downhill from there. She'd have to go through some other terrible traumas or something, and I don't want to do that."

The possibilities surrounding a sequel feel endless (a friendly reminder that you can read the rantings and ravings of a mad sequel-dreamer right here), if not particularly likely — and even if Goldman's prequel is dead, there will very likely be another successor series along before long. For instance, there's the one from Martin and Ryan J. Condal (Colony), said to take its cues from Martin's Fire and Blood novel, focusing on the Targaryen kings, allegedly close to a pilot order. Fire and Blood provides a deep wealth of material, with literally centuries of stories to draw upon … but how much enthusiasm exists for those stories? If the White Walkers' reputation took a hit in the resolution of the final season, how much damage was done to the Targaryen legacy in the course of the Thrones ending? 

There may yet be an appetite for more fire and blood eventually — but for right now, perhaps the death of Goldman's pilot is an opportunity to let the greater Game of Thrones franchise rest on ice and shut its eyes for a spell, if not quite forever.