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Game of Thrones: How George R. R. Martin’s world can expand in animation

The recent Warner Bros. Discovery merger seems to have added a layer of tense unpredictability regarding the state of WB’s IPs, but it seems that writer George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones world will stay the course with the upcoming House of the Dragon around the corner.

It would be bizarre if it didn’t, as it is HBO’s most historic TV series and proved to be a cultural phenomenon in the process. And with reports of many spinoffs in the works, the network should look to animation as another worthy avenue to explore. Per those reports, there are at least some such projects already in development, and taking advantage of animation’s newfound appreciation could prove to be something more than worth doubling down on.

Exploring uncharted territory

Game of Thrones did manage to explore many places throughout Martin’s world, from beyond the wall to the southern regions of Dorne in Westeros to a handful of locales in Essos. But like with most fantasy franchises, the world of A Song of Ice and Fire has heaps of lore and worldbuilding that paint a much bigger picture unseen in HBO’s series.

With the massive price tags that come with fantasy epics like Game of ThronesHouse of the Dragon, and especially Prime Video’s upcoming The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, there’s only so much that studios are likely willing to portray through live-action and CGI. Animation for a Thronesspinoff could vibrantly — or grimly — bring to life adaptations of the various nooks and crannies of Martin’s dark-fantasy universe.

One of the reported animated spinoffs furthest along in development is under the working title The Golden Empire, and would be set in Yi Ti. This country in Essos is inspired by Imperial-era China as an analog of Westeros’ spin of medieval Britain.

That’s already a strong start should the project get off the ground, as most passing references to different places and people in Martin’s books and the show already have plenty of lore ripe for adaptation behind them. Bringing to screen the unseen history of the world — namely Essos — would also be an excellent opportunity to explore a diverse new cast of characters.

Likewise, many other places could be recreated in animation to stunning effects that might not be explored in live-action, like the rich lands of Old Valyria where the Targaryens and the several other Dragonlord Houses ruled.

Leaning more into the mystical and supernatural

The giant statue of the Titan of Braavos guarding the city.

Martin’s world of A Song of Ice and Fire is dense with the supernatural and the mystical, and while there were some tantalizing looks at that aspect of the universe in Game of Thrones, it certainly could have been leaned into more. Understandably, this isn’t like the more vibrant high-fantasy world of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but even the midrange fantasy of Thrones felt like it was intentionally holding itself back as much as possible.

From a contextual standpoint, it did make some sense, as magic was only recently creeping back into the world with the birth of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons. Likewise, whenever we’d see something otherworldly — whether it’s Dany’s dragons or the dark occult magic of the Red Priestesses — they did admittedly have an air of awe to them.

Maybe it was due to budget restraints for an already-expensive show, creative decisions by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, or a combination of the two, but animation could and should allow for the studio and writing team to get more imaginative about the wondrous side of this dark fantasy world.

Daenerys' dragons Rhaegal and Drogon in Game of Thrones season 8.

The mysterious Shadow Lands beyond Asshai is one such enticing prospect, as this region has been described with ominous tones and has even been claimed to be the origins of dragons. Even more ghostly tales have come from it than just the iconic beasts, such as demons and an ancient ghost city that even dark magic practitioners are terrified of.

Even the Free Cities of Essos that audiences were given a taste of through Arya Stark’s adventures training under the Faceless Men and their god could be a good template, as the nine cities have deep history when it comes to the mythological, magical, and even occult customs of its people.

Political intrigue understandably makes up a strong chunk of what makes Game of Thrones so compelling and establishes a lot of the worldbuilding in its own right, but it’s time that its spinoffs get more inventive with the fantasy aspect.

HBO Max original TV series and movies

Promo poster of The Witcher prequel movie with Vesemir riding his horse toward Kaer Morhen.

This might be an unlikely development considering the current uncertainty behind the merger, but using the HBO Max platform for animated originals could span TV and film. The new leadership at Warner Bros. Discovery CEO has given the ax to many originals, including TV shows and movies, and animated works have been forced onto the chopping block as well.

Nonetheless, the sheer power behind Game of Thrones as a series and brand might make it a rare exception. While Netflix is dealing with its own problems, it’s also doubled down on animated adaptations of video games and the like in both formats.

One example is The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf, which is an animated prequel movie to the mainline TV series centered around Geralt’s mentor Vesemir. With the backing of HBO money and the creative pedigree behind the brand, letting the stories dictate whether a long-running series, limited series, or a movie is in order could pave the way for exciting new directions for the GoT franchise.

Regardless of what the specifics turn out to be or the lore that’s adapted, investing in animation would be an excellent way to expand this world into a widely immersive and diverse on-screen universe.

Game of Thrones is available to watch now on both HBO and HBO Max, with House of the Dragon set to premiere on August 21 on both platforms as well.

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