‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel Revs Up with Naomi Watts and Josh Whitehouse

The series is off to a great start with a strong, mysterious premise and unexpected but promising casting choices.

Naomi Watts The Impossible
Summit Entertainment

There is no doubt that Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon to reckon with. The immersive richness and intricacy of George R. R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire are coupled with many instances of shocking, nihilistic ruthlessness, but that has turned out to be a cracking combination on the small screen. Whether or not HBO’s adaptation of Martin’s popular fantasy series is personally your cup of tea, there will be a significant gap in the entertainment industry once its final season airs in 2019.

Luckily, a number of Game of Thrones prequels are in development as we speak (um, write), introducing some new voices to Westeros and beyond. While the realities portrayed in David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ show are often brutal, they are made fascinating by the backstory behind them. Benioff and Weiss concretely introduced the Known World of Game of Thrones to the TV-watching masses, but we are long overdue for some fresh perspectives supplementing the legacy of A Song of Ice and Fire in a more holistic fashion. Benioff and Weiss will soon pursue other projects, anyway, and a plethora of creatives are on board for as many as four different “successor shows.”

Specifically, the series that is co-created, co-written, and will eventually be showrun by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass) was given a pilot order in June 2018. Several months later, we are now treated to multiple tidbits of casting news within the same week. Variety announced that Naomi Watts of Mulholland Drive and King Kong fame will lead Goldman’s series as “a charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.” Meanwhile, relative newcomer Josh Whitehouse (BBC’s Poldark) also joins the growing ensemble cast, according to Deadline. His role will be key to the story but is otherwise kept secret.

Martin has some level of involvement in this series, having co-written the prequel’s story with Goldman. He has actually been candid about referring to the show by his preferred title, The Long Night. A tweet of his following the news of Watts’ casting even seems to confirm it as the series’ official christening, despite trade outlets continuing to label it untitled.

Regardless, these consecutive reports already present some plausible hints at what we can expect from The Long Night, even though only the vaguest of plot summaries currently exists. Set thousands of years before Robert’s Rebellion, the War of the Five Kings, and other crucial storylines that thread all present-day Game of Thrones shenanigans together, the series is said to cover a period leading up to the Age of Heroes‘ “darkest hour. The lore of the White Walkers and “the Starks of legend” will come into play as the story takes a trip Eastbound on a quest to uncover fables and conundra that await. Overall, the machinations behind Westeros as we know it will be unearthed in ways that we haven’t seen before.

In typical Game of Thrones fashion, this bare-bones plotline sounds extraordinarily dramatic. We’re lucky that the in-depth mythology crafted by Martin throughout his lengthy novel series — which is still ongoing, whenever he decides to publish The Winds of Winter — provides an excellent foundation for fan theories to start brewing.

From what we know so far, the aforementioned darkness refers to the eponymous Long Night of old, an overwhelming bone-chilling era that starved and wiped out thousands when crops failed to thrive under blankets of snow. During this time, the White Walkers descended on Westeros and ignited a brutal war as they sought annihilation and an endless winter.

In addition to this, fan theories that call for more focus on the Eastern continent of Essos have credence for multiple reasons, too. Firstly, the synopsis of The Long Night openly references “the mysteries of the East.” How far East the show will go is anyone’s guess. However, A Song of Ice and Fire‘s companion encyclopedia, The World of Ice and Fire, dictates that Essos has its own lore about early calamities that were said to occur around the same time as the Long Night across the Narrow Sea. Exploring these customs and traditions far enough East of the Known World would be fresh and enlightening. And moreover, an especially favored hypothesis floating around the internet right now envisions Watts’ clearly affluent character as a member of the Valyrian Freehold, an ancient dominant civilization responsible for colonies across Essos. This speculation certainly makes sense, provided that Watts — blonde-haired and blue-eyed as she is — isn’t made to wear a wig of some kind in the show.

In terms of potential characters who will populate The Long Night, we can’t expect familiar faces to pop up in the series when it backtracks several millennia. Nevertheless, a July 2018 TCA session with HBO president of programming Casey Bloys confirms that the show remains focused on drawing together a number of vibrant personalities. According to Bloys:

“There are very strong female characters but it’s an ensemble, there is men and women. Jane is a very good writer, we don’t want to limit her to writing female leads. There are a lot of very complicated leads in (the pilot).”

I certainly hope this statement proves to be true. Watts herself deserves so much better than what numerous filmmakers have given her in the past. Beyond the above-mentioned Mulholland Drive and King Kong is a steady resume of acting work in Eastern Promises, 21 Grams, and the Twin Peaks revival, just to name a few. Watts has shown an aptitude for being coy, cunning, empathetic, and more on screen. No doubt that kind of versatility will come in handy in Westeros.

In comparison, Whitehouse isn’t as recognizable just yet. His stint on Poldark somewhat put him on the map, though it definitely teeters between meddlesome and amiable as he plays a romantic foe who undercuts the dynamic of the show’s main couple. I wonder if Whitehouse could be on his way to becoming a household name nonetheless. Between nabbing roles in The Long Night and the musical redo of Valley Girl that’s currently in post-production (he will play the lead role popularized by Nicolas Cage in the original), it’s possible.

The Long Night is off to an auspicious start, either way. We can trust in a veteran like Watts to deliver one of her excellent performances and expect that the show will be the ideal propellant for actors still getting started in the industry. Everything about the series feels like a breath of fresh air. With the added assurance of Martin’s blessing, all bets for Goldman’s new venture are off in the best way.

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Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Curator of daily stuff and things here at Film School Rejects.