HBO’s *Game of Thrones* to Become a *Confederate* Victory

First, let me get this out of the way. I have never seen an episode of “Game of Thrones” and I can’t tell you much about what it is even about. OK.

Yesterday HBO announced that the show’s writers will soon begin production of a new series that explores the events leading up to the Civil War, but with an outcome that includes “Confederate” independence. A show about the Confederacy winning its independence…now why hasn’t anyone thought of that one before?

Here is description of the basic outline of the show:

‘Confederate’ chronicles the events leading to the Third American Civil War. The series takes place in an alternate timeline, where the southern states have successfully seceded from the Union, giving rise to a nation in which slavery remains legal and has evolved into a modern institution. The story follows a broad swath of characters on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Demilitarized Zone – freedom fighters, slave hunters, politicians, abolitionists, journalists, the executives of a slave-holding conglomerate and the families of people in their thrall.

First, slavery was already a “modern institution” by 1860. The cast of characters looks predictable. My first question is why do you have to imagine a counterfactual scenario to write these characters? Why not just set the story in the 1850s along the Border South?

Regardless of the specifics of the outcome that the writers envision, the period after independence must involve some form of reconstruction. Americans, however, have so little understanding of Reconstruction as it actually played out that it seems perverse to enter the world of fantasy.

I am sure African Americans will embrace the opportunity to tune in each week to see how the story of slavery unfolds. Why not set the story in a Concentration Camp around a counterfactual Nazi victory? The Jewish community will love it.

All kidding aside, this has been done in recent years and to great effect, in both the faux documentary, C.S.A. and in Ben Winters’s recent book, Underground Airlines. I highly recommend both. They work, in part, because one of their goals was to force the viewer/reader to consider how little changed, along racial lines, even with a Union victory and the end of slavery.

Of course, it is still too early to be so judgmental, but this is my immediate reaction. Really, what could go wrong?

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

48 comments… add one
  • Maryann Germaine Aug 5, 2017 @ 10:09

    A comment above suggests the point of the show is entertainment, not scholarship. HBO, how obtuse can you be, and just how “entertaining” do you think this will be to black Americans? It’s infuriating to peddle this in 2017! If execs stopped long enough to read two books (Ed Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told, and Douglas Blackmon’s Slavery by Another Name) they would hopefully stop themselves and this production before its release. Ta-Nehisi Coates had a much shorter & forceful wakeup call in the Atlantic yesterday:

    • Kevin Levin Aug 5, 2017 @ 10:20

      The Coates piece is well worth reading.

  • Bryan Cheeseboro Aug 3, 2017 @ 7:45

    People have fantasized about the Confederacy winning the war sine the Confederacy lost it. I guess we get to do that; after all, it’s only imagination but for some of us, the prospect is pretty disturbing. But I know one person who will probably be a fan of that show. he’s a guy who is descended from a Confederate general and is a big fan of “Game of Thrones.” Persoinally, I feel the same way about the prospect of this show as I did with that show that was supposed to be about KKK members as a work in progress of reforming from their bigotry to racial and religious tolerance.

  • Joshism Jul 27, 2017 @ 17:09

    “My first question is why do you have to imagine a counterfactual scenario to write these characters?”

    I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the popularity of the The Man In The High Castle series.

  • MSB Jul 25, 2017 @ 21:08

    @ Michael Aubrecht
    IIRC The Clansman was a popular novel of the time. Basing a movie on it reflected the open racism of the period, as today’s racist tropes in film and TV reflect the more subtle racism of the current period.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 26, 2017 @ 1:07

      Exactly. I think it goes to the point that Hollywood movies often reflect the current culture rather than steer it in new directions.

      • Forester Jul 29, 2017 @ 14:30

        I’m confused now. Isn’t “steering in a new direction” the same thing as “having an agenda?”

        What I was trying to ask was whether BOAN was a movie made by people who happened to be racist, or a movie made to specifically promote racism. It’s effectively irrelevant, but I’m curious. Did America become more racist after BOAN or was racism already the status quo?

        On a side note, I watched it this winter for a film studies class, and in 2015, I went to see Within Our Gates, which was kind of a black response. My college was recognizing the 100th anniversary of BOAN with a response.

        • MSB Jul 30, 2017 @ 2:49

          I think so. Both Kevin and I have argued that BOAN and the proposed series were/would reflect, rather than steer.

  • fundrums Jul 24, 2017 @ 5:29

    I think as Civil War aficionados we tend to be too critical of productions like this. It is for entertainment purposes – not scholarship. I found ‘Gods and Generals’ to be very entertaining as a film. I didn’t look at it as a documentary. This looks like an interesting fictional angle and shouldn’t be judged beyond those intentions IMO.

    – Michael Aubrecht

    • Kevin Levin Jul 24, 2017 @ 5:31

      Do you think we should take the same position re: “Birth of a Nation”? That was also a highly entertaining motion picture for many Americans in 1915.

      • fundrums Jul 24, 2017 @ 8:13

        Good comment Kevin but I respectfully think there is a distinct difference. BOAN was intentionally made to support a racists agenda where this series is not. The intention of these film makers is not to subjugate a race as was intended with BOAN. I just don’t think they should be susceptible to the same criteria as a film that is meant to educate first, entertain second. I first and foremost hope the show is entertaining as there is a lot of crap being produced today.

        – Michael Aubrecht

        • Kevin Levin Jul 24, 2017 @ 16:15

          Thanks for the response.

          BOAN was intentionally made to support a racists agenda where this series is not.

          Do you have any evidence for this claim? Certainly, we can look back on this film and see the racism and there were certainly people at the time who called it out for its racist depictions, but that is different from claiming that it was the goal of the movie. I would love to hear more.

          • Michael Aubrecht Jul 25, 2017 @ 7:13

            I read that the film was originally called “The Clansman.” Clearly it glorified the Ku Klux Klan. That is what I meant by a “racist agenda.” Perhaps they were more socially acceptable at the time but their racist agenda was loud and clear.

            – Michael Aubrecht

            • woodrowfan Jul 25, 2017 @ 15:31

              And Dixon pressed to have the movie made to promote his racist agenda. He originally wrote several pro-Klan novels as a counter to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” which he felt made the south look bad. (ya think?)

          • Forester Jul 25, 2017 @ 18:01

            Is “agenda” the right word?

            I thought that movie was simply reflecting the common understanding of history in 1915, when the Lost Cause was at it’s heyday and the North was embracing reconciliation.

            • Kevin Levin Jul 26, 2017 @ 1:08


            • woodrowfan Jul 26, 2017 @ 1:59

              Dixon had an agenda. He wanted that version (basically the Dunning School) to dominate the public’s understanding of that period. That was not necessarily Griffith’s motivation however. (Wilson had no interest in promoting it. He just loved movies. ) The KKK in BoN was more heroic than usually viewed. Wilson, for example, in his writings did not see the Klan as heroic but as an understandable, if overly-violent, reaction to northern “oppression” of southern whites. The Klan as heroic, however, was a common theme in the south. “Confederate Veteran” advertised at least one book extolling the heroics of the “Invisible Empire. “

              • Kevin Levin Jul 26, 2017 @ 2:33

                I agree that Dixon had an agenda.

            • woodrowfan Jul 26, 2017 @ 2:04

              May I also suggest two articles for those interested in BoN, especially the many myths surrounding it. Arthur Lennig, “Myth and Fact: The Reception of The Birth of a Nation,” Film History 16 (Apr. 2004).: 117-41. and Mark Benbow, “Birth of a Quotation: Woodrow Wilson and ‘Like Writing History with Lightning’.” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. (October 2010).: 509-533.

    • Joshism Jul 30, 2017 @ 8:11

      “I found ‘Gods and Generals’ to be very entertaining as a film. ”

      Nice to know somebody did. I found it better history than entertainment.

      • Kevin Levin Jul 30, 2017 @ 11:12

        I pretty much laughed my way through the entire film.

  • Boyd Jul 22, 2017 @ 4:59

    Afroculinaria makes an excellent point here by asking why it must be a white supremacist alternate history show? The answer is because making a show about the achievement of emancipation in the American Revolution or the election of MLK would “seem unimaginable because of our addictive, national obsession with structurally racist ideas.”

    We like our sci-fi, but not too much sci-fi. Just like in alien movies, where the friendly aliens are just humans with antenna or pointy ears, we like our alternative history to reflect the basic structures of our society.

  • Scott Ledridge Jul 22, 2017 @ 4:07

    Some more info:

    The creators are working with an African American couple. This caught my eye:
    “Nichelle Tramble Spellman insisted that Confederate won’t be like other shows depicting slavery in that it won’t rely on stereotypical images, like the antebellum south projected onto a modern setting. Rather, they’re working to imagine the world that would develop and change organically over time had slavery continued to exist after the Civil War.”

    Didn’t slavery slow progress?

    • Marvin Goodson Jul 25, 2017 @ 1:38

      They aren’t fooling anyone who has at least basic intellect. It’s the oldest trick in the book. Use some black person to help deflect and shield any criticism by fictionalizing they have input. In actuality it’s the suits who have the first, middle, last, and final input.

  • Diane Hyra Jul 21, 2017 @ 8:20

    I might (MIGHT) be more open to the idea of this series had it been proposed by historians, preferably some of color. The article I read says HBO wanted to retain the use of the creators of ‘Game of Thrones’ now that the books have all been filmed and came up with this story line. That is not a good reason for a series with this content. I hope it goes the way of the HBO series — don’t know the name — that was about horse racing. It ended very quickly because some horses died while it was being filmed.

  • Forester Jul 20, 2017 @ 11:16

    Expect to see lots of violence and rape committed against people of color, with gratuitous nudity and gore. I expect shock theater of the lowest kind, peppered with excessive vulgarity. They’ll probably drop the N-bomb enough times to make Tarantino blush. Expect exploitative, tone deaf abuse of POC while centering “good whites” as the stars of the narrative.

    I rather think of HBO as the lowest common denominator, John Adams and Band of Brothers notwithstanding (but even those shows had some pointless “HBO moments” of nudity and gore).

  • MSB Jul 20, 2017 @ 10:29

    If they want to do a CW counterfactual, why not use Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain (where John Brown succeeds, the slaves take over the South and form Nova Africa)?

  • Randy Watkins Jul 20, 2017 @ 10:12

    I’d like to see a series or documentary about what would have happened if the Civil War had not been fought. How far would the country have progressed socially and politically had, as I think Lincoln estimated, slave had ended in 30 to 80 years. If society progressed at the rate it did, then Brown v. Board of Educaton might not has occurred in 1954 but 1984 or not until 2034.

    • Forester Jul 20, 2017 @ 11:11

      Or it could have happened sooner. A gradual emancipation would have avoided the complications caused by sudden, immediate emancipation (since Jim Crow was a backlash against the sudden entry of blacks into the competitive economy). Maybe a world with no Civil War would have turned out much better. Or not … whatever, it’s all fictional anyway.

      That’s the trouble with counterfactuals: they only reflect what we WISH were true, relative to our own modern perspectives and personal background.

      Maybe if the South won, I would now be living on a spaceship and own a pet dinosaur. If you’re gonna dream, dream big. 😉

      • Eric Koszyk Jul 20, 2017 @ 13:10

        Jim Crow was not a backlash against blacks somehow being competitive economically (by and large that never happened during Reconstruction). Jim Crow and the rollback of Reconstruction was the means by which white supremacists regained their power over black people.

        Also, there is zero chance that a gradual emancipation would have ever been allowed to occur by the slave states. Again, slavery was one of the most profitable economic institutions the world has ever known and the slave states did everything in their power to keep it that way as well as expand upon it.

      • Joshism Jul 27, 2017 @ 17:15

        “That’s the trouble with counterfactuals: they only reflect what we WISH were true, relative to our own modern perspectives and personal background.”

        Disagree. Just because I think a counterfactual is interesting doesn’t mean I would want it to happen. I think Confederate victory counterfactuals are interesting and I have never had any desire for the CSA to have achieved their independence.

    • Eric Koszyk Jul 20, 2017 @ 12:54

      It really is wishful thinking that slavery would have ended without the conflict known as the Civil War. As has been examined in several books, including most recently in Edward Baptist’s excellent “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism,”American slavery was one of the most profitable economic systems the world has ever known (if not THE most profitable). A good portion of the world’s wealth was based on slavery, even in places were slavery was already illegal (New England banks and ship builders, English textile mills, etc.).

      The idea that slavery was going to just die off on its own accord is ridiculous.

      • Forester Jul 20, 2017 @ 15:02

        Of course it’s wishful thinking. Counterfactuals are all about wishful thinking, that’s my point. I would prefer a history where the war never happened: no one fought, slavery died of natural causes, and I now have my own pet dinosaur.

        Most counterfactuals start with a certain idea (eg, “I want a dinosaur”) and then tailor the situation around making it occur. In this case, HBO is starting with a dystopian vision of a modern hell on earth and then working backwards from that premise. It’s all just circular reasoning and induction.

        “Confederate” will be interesting as a study of contemporary memory trends, but useless as anything else. Much like how GOT is useless to Medievalists.

        • Eric Koszyk Jul 20, 2017 @ 16:20

          Again, that’s the thing we need to always remember and state unequivocally — slavery would never have died of natural causes. It was very profitable and entrenched. There is no evidence that it was faltering or about to falter. By stating that it might even be a possibility, really diminishes just how profitable, powerful, corrupt and violent the system of slavery truly was.

          • Kevin Levin Jul 20, 2017 @ 16:59

            This is an important point and supported by some excellent recent scholarship.

            • Forester Jul 20, 2017 @ 20:26

              What do you mean by “never”? Even after 2007 when Mauritania abolished slavery? :-/

              • Eric Koszyk Jul 21, 2017 @ 10:54

                One of the main reasons why slavery was largely abolished around the world was due to the efforts of countries such as the United States after the Civil War, especially as the U.S. became a world power. If slavery had not been abolished in the US (due in large part to the Union winning the Civil War), the U.S. would not have pushed for its end around the world. Also, if the Confederates had won and the U.S. then had become split into two or more countries, the U.S. would not have become such a world power and would not have had such an influence in ending slavery around the world. (Of course if the Confederates had won, there’s still the question of slavery being allowed to continue to exist in the border states of the U.S., which is debatable).

                Yes, I most certainly can imagine a world where even in 2017, slavery would still exist throughout the world. The reason why it does not is in large part due to events such as the U.S. Civil War.

        • Joshism Jul 27, 2017 @ 17:21

          “Most counterfactuals start with a certain idea (eg, “I want a dinosaur”) and then tailor the situation around making it occur.”

          Quite frankly I think that’s a stupid way to come up with counterfactuals, but maybe that’s why we get books about time traveling white supremacists and rural WV towns flung into the 30 Years War by cosmic accidents.

          I think counterfactuals should start with the question, not the answer. “What if Lincoln hadn’t been assassinated?”
          “What if McClellan had taken Richmond in 1862?”
          “What if plantations were divided up amongst their former slaves?”

          Follow the road and see where it goes. Some lead nowhere interesting and some lead into too much uncertainty, but some lead to interesting alternatives.

  • Shoshana Bee Jul 20, 2017 @ 9:26

    GOT plotlines revolve around murder, torture, and sexual exploitation. The creators will be in their element with this alternate “fantasy”. I find the concept of this series repugnant, and maybe even exploitative, but these are the building blocks of “entertainment”, and I really should not be surprised. The more base the storyline, the more it sells. Meanwhile, substantive drama such as “Underground” and “Mercy Street” get sent to the trash heap due presumably, to lack of interest.

  • Pat Young Jul 20, 2017 @ 8:30

    I doubt it will have a lost cause tone.

    BTW there is a series about a Nazi victory called Man in the High Castle.

  • spinetingler Jul 20, 2017 @ 7:48

    Harry Turtledove frowns in their direction.

  • Jonathan Dresner Jul 20, 2017 @ 7:08

    As I said on twitter, a much more plausible counterfactual would be that after the Confederacy wins independence, it collapses under the weight of slave uprisings, fragments back into individual states, many of which return to the Union under African American leadership. Sort of “Free State of Jones” writ large….

  • Scott Ledridge Jul 20, 2017 @ 4:33

    Man In The High Castle has been well received. So maybe they think they can walk that line. Obviously they’ve done well with GoT. We’ll see how it goes.

    But, I thought they were going to do a spin-off of GoT. I don’t see how they could do both. GoT is such a big production.

  • Gregory A. Rowe Jul 20, 2017 @ 4:18

    I am a GoT fan (novels and show). This is the worst idea possible. From a production standpoint, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have done an excellent job as long as they had George R.R. Martin’s source material to work with. As that began to run out, the episode plots got weaker. Now that that is totally gone, they are going straight to screen from Martin’s mind. At least they have that. With no actual source material, this is gonna be a train wreck!

  • Chris Jul 20, 2017 @ 3:34

    I mean, they’ve done a great job with GoT, so I guess they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt. I’m skeptical of this, though. If not handled very carefully, this could easily serve to reinforce a bunch of pernicious Lost Cause fallacies, at best, or devolve into a fetishized white supremacist fantasy, at worst. I’ll withhold judgment until I see the finished product, but this could easily turn into a giant train wreck.

  • Christy Jul 20, 2017 @ 3:19

    I received the story last night via text and the sender simply said, “Dafuq?” seeking my response. I’ve never seen GOT either, but my initial thoughts were why, will they explore the CSA’s expansion plans into Mexico,Central and South America, how would the rest of the world respond, and again why-knowing none of that would likely be covered. And no- this won’t likely draw black viewers but I suspect there aren’t many for GOT either.

    I like your viewing suggestions better, even if the whole alternate universe thing only works for me with Star Trek.

    • Kevin Levin Jul 20, 2017 @ 3:32

      …will they explore the CSA’s expansion plans into Mexico,Central and South America, how would the rest of the world respond…

      I absolutely love that idea, but you are right that it is nowhere near their radar screen. It will likely reflect some typical shifts in our Civil War memory, but in what form can only be imagined.

    • Marvin Goodson Jul 21, 2017 @ 14:01

      No they won’t touch that because the thought of seeing Mexicans used as slaves would be too traumatic for modern white audiences. So it can’t be shown.

      It’s sick because they should be too traumatized to see anyone used as slaves.

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