ASOIAF is coming: The next great fictional universe
As news of the great ASOIAF expansion lit across the land a few months ago, murmurs become whispers, whispers turned to speculation, and speculation begot confirmation of a fifth GOT expansion in the works by GRRM. HBO has five follow-up series in the works, less sequels than further explorations of Westeros and the thousands years of history GRRM built behind A Song of Ice and Fire.
The prestige television community crowned HBO’s Game of Thrones as Lord of Dramatic Series, Protector of the Silver Age of Television back in 2015, and it truly was a monumental achievement for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Alas, we were Knights of Spring, then.
As the tale goes, GRRM purposefully crafted this story in the early 90s to be unfilmable. You want to option A Song of Ice and Fire and cash in on the Lord of the Rings craze? Here’s a dozen characters, a third of whom are narrative red herrings. Oh and the two “main characters” won’t meet till the very end, oh and by the way I haven’t finished writing the damn thing yet, and they may take a while. And dragons.
An irony, though, in crafting a series of fantasy novels unfilmable in their scope and hard-boiled imagination was that instead GRRM created the next great fictional expanded universe. In creating a world too rich for one simple adaption, he created one for an infinite number of adaptations.
If our popular culture is dominated by anything now (or if you can purchase merchandise plastered with any IP right now), it’s Star Wars, Marvel, and Game of Thrones. And that comes with some responsibility, the responsibility of delivering that same narrative high again and again. For the MCU, I think it’s an idealized conversation on American identity and the great Hollywood “Chris” debate (Hint: it’s Pine though). As far as Star Wars, it’s Joseph Campbell in space.
Marvel has continued to hum along this past few years. Superhero fatigue, despite the annual hot takes and think pieces, remains theoretical for Marvel. But once a taut web that came together as a blaze of glory called The Avengers, the MCU feels more like a chore now, relying on the inter-connectedness of its universe than actual, containerized storytelling (of which Wonder Woman was a great example).
Then, there’s the whole Han Solo movie issue. To recap, Disney/Lucasfilm hired Lorde and Miller, the popular though idiosyncratic team behind the Jump Street series, The Lego Movie, and a string off off-beat though well-received tv shows like Last Man on Earth. Lucasfilm gave them a script from Lucasfilm godfather Lawrence Kasdan, a cast of talented young actors and improvisors, and the keys to the Millennium Falcon.
Then, as reels of quips and alternative takes came in, Lucasfilm pulled the rug in favor of Kasdan and Ron Howard. Lucasfilm presumptively sent the message across the galaxy: Don’t meddle with our IP.
It’s hard to improvise when one quip could blow the continuity of this newly glistened, Disney backed Star Wars expanded universe like a third Death Star. Let’s not ignore the irony of Lucasfilm laying down the law in support of order and standardization against a free-wheeling, dare we say, rebel creative process.
What does this mean for HBO’s Game of Thrones expansion? We’re Knights of Summer now, beneficiaries of the great GOT #content harvest. But Disney’s MCU and Star Wars universes are warning signs, I think. It’s easy for a grand fictional universe to become what it has always fought against.
The expanded ASOIAF, though, will be history/continuity made dramatic narrative. That may be a better place to start.