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HBO Goes Big-Name Hunting, Casts Naomi Watts to Lead the ‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel

The ‘Mulholland Drive’ actress will play a “charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret” during the Age of Heroes

Getty Images/HBO/Ringer illustration

With Game of Thrones’ first prequel series officially a go at HBO, it was only a matter of time before we learned who’d be helming the follow-up to one of the biggest phenomena in television history. On Tuesday afternoon, Variety reported that Naomi Watts has officially signed on. Not much is known about her character yet, but her role in the prequel—which, according to HBO, will take place 10,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones, during the Age of Heroes and the Long Night—is being described as a “charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.”

A two-time Oscar nominee, Watts provides a ton of star wattage (I’m so sorry) not afforded to the original series, whose cast was initially composed of mostly relative newcomers like Kit Harington, Richard Madden, Maisie Williams, and Sophie Turner—who over the past eight years have all become household names in their own right—and longtime character actors like Peter Dinklage and Sean Bean.

Watts, who is best known for her work on Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks: The Return, King Kong, and her Oscar-nominated turns in The Impossible and 21 Grams, couldn’t be coming to the project at a better time, after having a recent run that can only be described as rough. In 2016, she starred in the critically panned horror movie Shut In and played the villain in Allegiant, part of the most forgettable franchise from Hollywood’s YA dystopia phase. In 2017, she led the Netflix original drama series Gypsy, which was quickly cancelled. And worst of all, she starred in The Book of Henry, widely regarded as one of the worst movies of 2017. The Game of Thrones prequel doesn’t automatically confirm a return to form—we can’t say for sure whether it’s going to be a total mess—but combined with the news that Watts will play Gretchen Carlson in Showtime’s forthcoming Roger Ailes–focused limited series, the actress appears to be leading herself toward a much-deserved renaissance. I mean, there’s no way this stuff can be worse than The Book of Henry, right?

Now, about her character, the “charismatic socialite hiding a dark secret.” Given the secrecy surrounding the prequel itself, making any guesses as to whom exactly she might play is wildly speculative at best. But given Watts’s blond hair (which again, is not a lot to go off of) and the brief character description, there’s a slight chance she could be connected to Lann the Clever, the legendary hero who helped build House Lannister.

Provided the prequel series focuses on ancient heroes from George R.R. Martin’s text—and the fact that the descriptions of characters like Lann the Clever and Bran the Builder from Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels are intentionally over the top, because that’s how mythmaking works—Watts’s character could be a fascinating entry point into one of that time period’s most iconic heroes. Whoever she plays will certainly be interesting in her own right; and at the very least, the potential connection to House Lannister and the presence of a “dark secret” conjures vibes of Cersei, if you’re into that sort of thing. (Maybe Cersei’s impressive tolerance for wine is hereditary.)

All told, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this prequel series; it doesn’t even have a title yet. But Watts leading the cast means that Game of Thrones will continue to have a strong pull even as the original series culminates next year. My mind is already racing with possibilities—mostly the nonexistent chance that Watts will open the door for David Lynch to direct an episode of Game of Thrones.