As live theater venues around the world make plans to reopen, the cultural juggernaut that is Game of Thrones is sharpening swords and praying to both Thespis and the Lord of Light in a bid to bring blood and fire to the stage. A theatrical presentation based on the work of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire was recently announced for Broadway, London's West End, and in Australia.
The upcoming show will focus on an event in the history of Westeros that takes place prior to the events of both Martin's books and the popular HBO television series: the Great Tourney of Harrenhal. This moment saw many key story points in Martin's fictional history take root, with younger versions of Ned Stark, Tywin Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister, and more venturing down good ol' destiny road. The event is referred to often in both the books and the show, but now we'll be able to see it live on stage, just as we'd always dreamt of doing.
In a theatrical sense, what will Game of Thrones on stage even be? There are many possibilities and more than a few precedents that we can look to.
An obvious one is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a two-part sequel to the Harry Potter stories that will likely be up and running again as soon as the Master of the Revels reopens the playhouses. It marries stylized movement and technical stagecraft together and ends up being something between a dance and a ride. It won the Tony Award for Best Play, it makes a lot of money, and it's not going away any time soon. It is also highly stylized, using inventive choreography to bring the magic of Hogwarts to life.
So, it's possible we could be looking at a "Game of Thrones Presents: The Tourney of Harrenhal, LIVE ON STAGE, The Show Is Now The Ride" sort of situation. However, although Game of Thrones contains magic (and dragons), this is no sequel. The Tourney story doesn't contain much magic, and though Targaryens are present, it's towards the end of their dynasty when dragons weren't around anymore. Why have actors dance around with swords when they can just open up and wail on each other with them? Have some theatrical risk with that pigeon pie!
Since the story is a prequel to what was in the show, a familiar framing device could be useful. That makes us think about a Waiting for Guffman style opening, with Bran the Broken turning to the audience and saying, "Oh, didn't see you creep up on me! Now that I've got your ear, how 'bout a story? I have the entire history of this world in my head after all, haha, so!" They won't do that, but now we find ourselves asking another question. Is anyone gonna be singing? Will this be Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones the Musical?
The Lord of the Rings received an epic stage musical, which was more of an experience that fused giant effects with songs. Hobbits sang, elves sang, mostly everyone sang except for Sauron, which may have been a missed opportunity. The gargantuan show played in the West End and Toronto, but it never came to Broadway.
Is Tywin Lannister gonna be singing? Will Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark share a ballad? Will Jaime and Cersei perform a frenzied patter number as they scramble to get their clothes back on? Probably not. We may want those things, but we want them for all the wrong reasons. Singing in the Game of Thrones universe is mostly reserved for bards and/or Ed Sheeran, and is usually as a preamble to murder. The White Walkers haven't returned yet either, so there's no (good) reason to put the actors in skates and toss the show on ice. Our hopes of Ice Cathrones are momentarily dashed.
Perhaps we're thinking too grand. Theater happens in Westeros, popping up on the HBO series in a number of places. Joffrey had the "War of the Five Kings" staged as a pantomime at the Purple Wedding, Arya Stark briefly became entwined with an acting troupe. The "company of traveling players" angle could be a way to go, but why stop there? TV went big, so use theater to go small. Rent the smallest house on Broadway, paint the walls black, and have Patrick Stewart perform every role wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants.
Zounds! While the incredible Ser Patrick is more than capable of doing something like that, Robert Baratheon would turn down a night of binge drinking and butt slapping before the producers of this show would put it in a small house. They'll find the biggest one possible, and if there isn't one big enough, they'll build it.
The most plausible theater genre the show could take is that of a real-life history play. Shakespeare has provided many, and some of them are full of considerable spectacle. They're revived often, and from time to time several of them are jammed together to make a big event out of it. Orson Welles once tried to put on every play from Richard II to Richard III in one huge show called Five Kings. The history of the War of the Roses would have been covered there (taking up the three parts of Henry VI and Richard III) and that's what formed the basis for Martin's work in the first place. (In case you're curious about Five Kings, crossbow bolts were accidentally fired off into the empty audience during rehearsals. It never opened.)
A better example would be the stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It came in two parts, and it played out the history of Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell, and Anne Boleyn. Martin's fiction is often treated as alternate history instead of fantasy, and for many fans the Great Tourney of Harrenhal is just as real as anything having to do with Henry VIII. If they treat it that way, using certain techniques that all of the aforementioned shows have used, it could be quite interesting. It would appeal to tourists (any version of this show will do that, so victory is assured in that sense), but it might also have a shot with regular theatre-goers. Might.
Who are we kidding, though? Unless they go full Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark it'll be successful no matter what they do. Part of us thinks that Broadway doesn't need this, but another part of us loves seeing swordfights onstage. An even bigger part of us wants to be in it no matter what form it takes, so Valar Morghulis.
In 2023, you'll believe that Ned Stark can fly. To paraphrase the lawyer from Jurassic Park, "They're gonna make a fortune with that thing."