Game of Thrones' strength lies in the vastness of its universe. Like J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, George R.R. Martin has constructed a rich ecosystem with ties in the past, present and future, which means that there are a wealth of new stories just waiting to be tapped into – and the wheels are officially in motion.
Following the end of the fantasy drama series in 2019, fans will have something shiny and (almost) new to fixate on.
The Long Night is a White Walker origin story set thousands of years before Game of Thrones during the Age of Heroes, when a great shadow was cast across the world and winter reigned supreme.
(That title, btw, is unofficially official – George RR Martin originally declared that GoT's first spin-off would be named The Long Night, but later clarified that "the pilot is still officially UNTITLED.")
The teaser synopsis reads: "Only one thing is for sure: from the horrifying secrets of Westeros' 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."
George RR Martin has suggested that Westeros is "a very different place" in the spin-off. "There's no King's Landing. There's no Iron Throne. There are no Targaryens, Valyria has hardly begun to rise yet with its dragons and the great empire that it built," he said.
"We're dealing with a different and older world and hopefully that will be part of the fun of the series.
"[Jane Goldman] is a tremendous talent. She flew into Santa Fe and we spent a week talking about her ideas. She's going into territory that I haven't explored very much in the books. I've hinted about them. But she's a major writer, I love her work."
Martin previously revealed that there are five spin-off scripts in development, but HBO's President of Programming, Casey Bloys, has said that the network only expects to produce one: "The idea is not to do four shows [or five, as we now know]. My hope is to get one show that lives up to it."
But we all know just how quickly things can shift, and if the prequel is a success, there's plenty more where that came from.
The Long Night release date: When will it be out?
The team behind Game of Thrones hasn't had any qualms about taking their sweet time with all eight seasons of the show. The final chapter, as you would expect, is taking the longest, with the final six episodes of the series all being extended beyond what we've seen previously – though not to two hours, as Bloys initially hinted at.
And there was a big hoo-ha when it was announced that the eighth and final season was likely to premiere in June rather than May, which is still a solid eight months away.
The Long Night also doesn't have an official premiere date as it stands, but it's expected to start shooting in 2019, so 2020, we're looking at you, kid.
The Long Night trailer: When can we see it?
With no clues as to when we can expect the prequel, don't expect to see a trailer or official photos any time soon – the fact that we're still waiting on a trailer for season eight says it all.
But HBO did unveil a trailer to tease all of its upcoming shows back in August, and squirrelled away among a number of Thrones season seven shots was a brand new clip featuring Jon Snow and Sansa Stark.
Yes, we are living on scraps.
The Long Night cast: Who's in it?
Naomi Watts (Twin Peaks, King Kong) will lead the charge as "a charismatic socialite with a hidden secret" which doesn't sound particularly Thronesy, but that's as much as we know.
Bloys also revealed that Watts is just one of several "very strong female characters" who will appear in the new pilot, which we can all agree is very exciting.
Incredibly, the Oscar nominee had never actually seen Game of Thrones when she signed up for the part. "I am late coming to it, I have to say," she toldEntertainment Tonight. "I am bingeing it right now and studying. It's very exciting."
Poldark star Josh Whitehouse will also feature in a major role but yet again, we've hit a brick wall because that's all they're giving us at the moment.
Rumour has it that actresses Denise Gough and Sheila Atim are also in talks to appear in the pilot, with Black Panther's Letitia Wright having been in early talks but later dropping out.
In September, casting calls went out for series regular roles in a "confidential untitled HBO project" that will begin shooting in February 2019 – thought to be Goldman's spin-off.
The four characters included a black woman, age 24-32, codenamed "S"; a mixed race man, age 17-22, "A"; a white woman, age 17-25, "I"; and finally a black woman, age 16-23, "F".
More casting calls for the spin-off, courtesy of Spotlight via Watchers on the Wall, were posted on October 24th. Here are the parts currently being cast:
- B3 (Male, 50 – 63 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 50s. Black actor.
- W (Male, 37 – 45 years old) Playing age late 30s-mid 40s. Caucasian actor.
- E (Male, 30 – 38 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 30s. Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European.
- V2 (Male, 49 – 58 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age 50s. Genuine Scandinavian, Germanic, or Eastern European.
- N (Female, 31 – 34 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age early 30s. Caucasian actress.
- M3 (Female, 28 – 31 years old) SERIES REGULAR. Playing age late 20s. Caucasian actress.
Watchers on the Wall reported in mid-November that the search for an actor to play "A" was still ongoing, with another character - "S2", a black woman somewhere between her forties and sixties - also now being cast.
The spin-off is also looking for a pair of twins, aged 23-29, to play twin sisters in their twenties, and someone to play 'A2', is a man in his seventies, with a "genuine Scandinavian, Eastern European or German actor" being sought.
Bloys has specified that we won't have met any of the Long Night's characters before, which means no Jon Snow (Kit Harington) or Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), something that was confirmed by both of their representatives.
"I have no doubt there'll be prequels and sequels and who knows what else," Clarke told Rolling Stone. "But I am doing one more season. And then that'll be it."
Harington agreed that it makes sense to move on, telling Entertainment Weekly that he is "happy to step away from Jon Snow".
"There's so much scope for this story that's been going for thousands of years," he added.
But there is a chance that viewers will recognise certain names, Bloys hinting at "[familiar] bloodlines".
Martin recently revealed on his blog that the team are "busy in London right now, neck deep in casting", so watch this space for more announcements.
The Long Night writers: Who's involved?
Just as the entire Game of Thrones cast as we currently know it are moving on to pastures new, so are the people behind the cameras. Martin, of course, will play a key role as executive producer, but showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss will not play a part.
"I'm sure there will be other series set in Westeros, but for us, this is it," said Benioff at the 2016 Emmys.
The torch has been passed on to screenwriter Jane Goldman, who worked on Kick-Ass and Kingsman. The 48-year-old will be heading up the 'successor show', as Martin has been calling it, with her own team.
As for who might direct The Long Night, JJ Abrams has said that while he'd "be honored" to be involved, he would rather watch as a fan, rather than work on it and "de-mystify the thing ".
David Nutter, the director of GoT Season 8 (and a number of other instalments including "The Red Wedding") hosted a Reddit AMA on Tuesday (November 13th) to talk about the upcoming season.
Naturally, the prequel pilot was mentioned, to which he said: "I'm not involved in it. I'm not sure if I will be involved in it right now, but I wish them a lot of luck."
But despite waving goodbye to Thrones, the story is far from over.
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