As Game Of Thrones approaches its end, what can replace it?
George R.R. Martin is probably as surprised as anyone by the cultural phenomenon that his multi-volume book seriesA Song Of Ice And Fire has established. Filmed as Game Of Thrones, HBO’s live action adaptation of Martin’s work has managed to boost a fantasy-themed story above and beyond the niche genre audience that it would normally appeal to.
The plot of A Song Of Ice And Fire encompasses 7 books, with the sixth book still yet to see print. Meanwhile, the speed of TV production has meant that the TV adaptation has eclipsed the books with the final season now about to go into production. With the end of Game Of Thrones in sight, there’s already speculation about which of Martin’s other properties could repeat the success of the TV series. Certainly, Martin has decades worth of work to draw from. Although nothing that Martin has done previously quite matches the scale and ambition of A Song Of Ice And Fire, nevertheless there are more than a few stories that could be shrewd choices for adapting.
Surprisingly, Game Of Thrones, isn’t the first time that Martin’s work has managed to get the live action treatment. ‘Remembering Melody’, an unsettling ghost story from his 1983 collection Songs the Dead Men Sing, was adapted for a 1984 episode of The Hitchhiker (an anthology series known as Deadly Nightmares in the UK).
Meanwhile, ‘Sandkings’, a novelette which had originally graced the pages of Omni magazine back in 1979, was adapted as an episode of The Outer Limits in 1995. ‘Sandkings’, which dealt with the idea of a wealthy playboy (played by Beau Bridges) taking charge of some exotic and unusual alien animals, was also part of an expanded universe that Martin had established known as the ‘Thousand Worlds’ universe.
Although the stories themselves are largely self-contained affairs, these ‘Thousand Worlds’ stories take place against the backdrop of a rich and detailed universe with its own history, religion and numerous alien species. Meanwhile, humanity itself has spread across the galaxy on countless colony worlds.
Weaved into this universe is a 7-part pantheon which acts as a major religion (and which also echoes the 7-part pantheon that forms one of the major religions in Game Of Thrones). In the award-winning story ‘…and Seven Times Never Kill Man’ the story introduces a fanatical sect that worships Bakkalon, one of the pantheon’s figures and a god of war. Bakkalon, known as the ‘Pale Child’, also appears as something of an ‘Easter egg’ in A Song Of Ice And Fire as a statue in the House Of Black And White – the location of the Faceless Men (and also where Arya Stark learned her killing skills).
‘…and Seven Times Never Kill Man’ deals with themes that today are uncannily timely. It explores the scenario of what happens when a military element of this religious sect (known as Steel Angels) attempts to colonise a world with an indigenous species. The denouement, which shows a primitive species under oppression from a technologically advanced invading army, displays some of the cruelty and brutality that would later be an essential part of Game Of Thrones.
But another contender for a live action adaptation in the post-Game Of Thrones world is now in planning. ‘Nightflyers’ was originally a 1980 novella which was later expanded into a lengthier tale that appeared in the 1985 collection of the same name.
‘Nightflyers’ is an unusual story, embracing science fiction, murder mystery and horror. At the same time, it paints a background steeped in myth and cosmological mystery – elements which Martin excels at in his Thousand Worlds stories.
A team of investigators pursue a legendary, possible mythical, species rumoured to move in interstellar spaces. Known as the Volcryn, this species is incredibly ancient, existing only in very old stories throughout the many cultures that inhabit known space.
The team, led by Karoly D’Brannin, commission a starship known as the Nightflyer for their transport. When the crew encounter bizarre accidents and people start dying, suspicion falls on the enigmatic captain of the Nightflyer, Royd Eris, who never leaves his cabin and is only seen as a hologram by the crew.
Intriguingly, ‘Nightflyers’ had already been adapted as a film back in 1987 which featured British actor Michael Praed (better known for his role in cult TV series Robin Of Sherwood). It’s not the best example of big screen science fiction and was very much a product of its time. Certainly, the lack of a big budget and some hasty script changes haven’t been kind to the final result. Despite this, it’s a worthy attempt to try and bring Martin’s Thousand Worlds universe to life.
There’s also a coincidental connection between the film adaptation of Nightflyers and Game Of Thrones as the actor that plays d’Brannin, John Standing, also played the part (or corpse!) of Jon Aryyn in the TV series.
A new adaptation of ‘Nightflyers’ has recently been commissioned by cable outfit Syfy with Jeff Buhler (Jacob’s Ladder) tasked with scripting the series. Syfy are probably best known for adapting James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse (arguably one of the best genre shows currently on television) which suggests that Nightflyers could deliver a polished adaptation of Martin’s work.
Martin himself has previously suggested other potential stories that would work as adaptations. This includes Tuf Voyaging – a 1986 novel (essentially a series of short stories) which deals with the misadventures of Haviland Tuf, a trader who travels between worlds getting caught up in difficult situations. Martin has suggested that Irish actor Conleth Hill (who plays Varys on Game of Thrones) would be a good choice to play Tuf for any potential TV series.
Meanwhile, there’s a broad range of other potential properties set in the Thousand Worlds universe that could equally survive the transition to either film or TV adaptation. Stories such as Men Of Greywater Station (a co-write with Howard Waldrop) deals with a research team trapped on a planet with a hostile globally-spanning fungus. Capable of controlling the indigenous species through airborne spores, the story’s drama rotates on the difficult decisions the team face when a military ship crewed by heavily-armed soldiers crashes on the planet.
In ‘This Tower Of Ashes’, which takes place on the Thousand Worlds locale of Jamison’s World, the vast interior of the planet’s main continent remains unexplored. In a story that’s clearly influenced by events in Martin’s personal life, Bowen, a jilted lover, has relocated from the colonised islands to take up home on the mainland. This isolated existence is occupied by hunting the large dream spiders that haunt the forests. Their poison is a natural hallucinogenic, highly prized by the ‘Jamies’ on the islands.
Bowen lives in tower built of sooty, black bricks that he surmises was built by the original indigenous inhabitants of Jamison’s World. Like the Volcryn from ‘Nightflyers’, Martin has a knack for painting a rich background of cultures and creatures that may or may not be mythical.
Whether the planned adaptation of ‘Nightflyers’ can replicate the success of Game Of Thrones remains to be seen. However, it’s likely that it won’t be the last attempt to mine Martin’s rich library of work for other potential stories that can capture the attention of a broad span of TV audiences.