Thursday, November 30, 2023

A Robert’s Rebellion Show is a Bad Idea

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Yesterday, Entertainment Weekly reported that HBO plans on making several new prequel shows to Game of Thrones to go along with House of the Dragon, the Dance of Dragons-era Targaryen prequel set to begin filming in April. Among those being considered is a show covering Robert’s Rebellion, the war that ended Targaryen rule in Westeros and placed Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne.

This is a terrible idea.

Robert’s Rebellion is understandably popular among ideas for new content in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. It features many of ASOIAF’s most popular characters in their prime, it remains an era of foundational questions to the main series, and we already know how it begins and ends so there is no worry about another Thrones-style disaster. Many of the most important questions about ASOIAF are tied to unanswered questions from Robert’s war to topple Aerys Targaryen.

I get it. I really do. But answering those questions by creating a whole show of the war is not the right way to do so.

One of the key aims of ASOIAF is the deconstruction of the fairy tale fantasy happy ending. Robert’s Rebellion is the fairy tale upon which George RR Martin bases his deconstruction. It is the just war where a brave hero charges into battle to topple the evil dragon lord who stole the woman he loved. Robert Baratheon is the hero who saves Westeros and takes the crown. And peace reigned for a thousand years, etc.

ASOIAF then quickly proceeds to begin tearing this myth to shreds from the very first book. Robert is an awful king who hates his crown. He has bankrupted the Seven Kingdoms. Lingering bitterness over the war creates new conflict. The remaining Targaryens threaten Robert’s rule.

Much of what makes Martin’s story work is the preservation of Robert’s Rebellion as the fairy tale he deconstructs. He picks and chooses key facts for characters to contradict each other over. Differing perspectives present different characters as villains. The larger motives beyond Robert, Rhaegar, and Lyanna suggest themselves as the true motives for the war. Even the definitive event which inspired the war, the kidnap and rape of Lyanna, is revealed to almost certainly be false.

Again, though, the key is SELECTIVE deconstruction. Taking the whole event apart and revealing every cold, ugly, morally gray truth defeats the entire purpose for why ASOIAF exists to begin with.

We are not supposed to know everything, because then we are no longer discovering truths alongside the characters. We are no longer able to view characters by the internal logic of their decisions and views of the war because we now know what actually happened. Robert’s Rebellion ceases to be a fairy tale.

This is without even getting into the inherent bias of putting this on film because these accounts are all we know. This means one of two things will happen by making this show.

One, we get a gritty, morally grey piece of war fiction that lacks the romance that makes Robert’s Rebellion so interesting to fans of ASOIAF. Robert is confirmed as the ugly, warmongering philanderer, Rhaegar and Lyanna as complete morons, everyone looks wrong for fighting the war, and the magic is gone. Well, the main series already puts in this work, since that is the purpose of its existence. Why do we need another show telling us every single detail of things we already know, that completely invalidates the debates we love to have?

The other possibility is that the show treats Robert’s Rebellion like the fairy tale. Rhaegar and Lyanna are really really in love, Robert really is the brave warrior fighting for his lost love, and we get a boring, predictable story with nothing new to tell us that is actually interesting. In the process, the show would completely overlook the reasons why Robert’s Rebellion was this fairy tale to deconstruct or how the biases inherent to the characters inform what we know.

Consider how Game of Thrones adapted the Tower of Joy. Rather than understanding this to be a fever dream Ned has while nearly dying in a dungeon, an amalgamation of multiple events in the most traumatizing moment of Ned Stark’s life visiting him as a single repeating nightmare, Game of Thrones instead treated it as historical fact.

I would expect a Robert’s Rebellion show to make this exact same mistake.

There is a reason Martin has long resisted the idea of expanding upon Robert’s Rebellion with its own separate work. He knows the importance of preserving the foundational myth upon which his main work is based upon. He has plans for what he will reveal, when, why, and what impact he means those revelations to have for both the characters and the audience. I doubt he ever bothered plotting out everything that happened, because there is no need. We are not supposed to know.

I hope HBO does not end up telling us.

Images Courtesy of Random House Publishing

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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