Words and Photos from Bleeding Cool’s Hilton Collins:
George R. R. Martin’s most famous for producing the uber-popular Game of Thrones TV series that’s based on his legendary epic fantasy book series. Thrones enthralls legions of fans with intense drama and bloody, suspenseful confrontations. In a Thursday afternoon panel in the Indigo Hilton Bayfront Ballroom, a packed room full of Martin fans learned about his next show Nightflyers, a series that appears to share a lot in common with Martin’s most famous opus.
The brand-new clip takes place inside the titular Nightflyer ship, an advanced spacecraft that contains a group of scientists on a mission to find and study another advanced spacecraft of alien origin. In zero-g, Dr. Agatha Matheson (Gretchen Mol) frantically “swims” through a room to a wall before smashing an anti-gravity button. She falls to the floor and speaks into a recorder.
“This is a warning, not a distress call,” she says calmly. “Do not bring the Nightflyer back to Earth.”
She speaks of fatalities and structural damage, and then she hears a man whistling, which prompts her to hide under a table. Xenobiologist Rowan (Angus Sampson) enters the room carrying an axe, casually swinging it like a club to knock things off shelves. When Rowan leaves, Matheson rushes to put the recorder in a container so she can send the warning message out in space, presumably so others can find it someday to get a heads up. She accidentally drops the lid, and it hits the metal floor with a loud smack. Then Rowan smashes the axe through a wall near Matheson, Shining-style. He finds her, they fight, and he appears to have the upper hand until she wounds him, temporarily keeping him at bay. Matheson sends the warning out through a waste chute and then picks up a small motorized bone saw.
You’d assume Matheson would use the saw to attack Rowan, her assailant, but Matheson stuns the audience when she walks over to a spaceship window and uses it… on herself. She cuts her throat and falls to the ground, dead.
The camera slowly pans away from the spaceship window to an exterior shot showing the Nightflyer drifting in space before the scene fades to black. The intense ending leaves a truckload of questions for the audience. Why did Matheson kill herself? And why was that man menacing her with an axe?
The panel members didn’t answer any of those questions directly during that event, but they teased plenty of drama and bloodshed. Panelists included Mol and Sampson as well as cast members Eoin Macken, David Ajala, and Jodie Turner-Smith, as well as writer and producer Jeff Buhler. Karama Horne, producer for Syfy Wire, moderated the event.
The pulse-pounding clip was the beginning of the very first episode, according to Buhler.
And at times, the cast was just as in-the-dark as the audience was. “We weren’t told what would happen from episode to episode,” Sampson.
Nightflyers is a SyFy Channel series based on a little-known Martin novella that was originally published in 1980, several years before his career-defining Game of Thrones book series hit store shelves in 1996. The novella takes place in the Thousand Worlds universe where Martin set several of his earlier sci-fi stories. The Thousand Worlds refers to the collective worlds of humanity left over after an advanced Earth empire was destroyed in wars with alien societies. The collapsed human civilization splintered off in different areas, but many retained sophisticated technology.
In the Nightflyers novella, a group of scientists embark on a spaceship called the Nightflyer to study mysterious aliens called the volcryn. The ship is so advanced and autonomous that it only requires one person, Roy Eris, to control it; yet Captain Eris is reclusive and cuts himself off from the crew. He only communicates with them by voice or hologram, and then a strange force starts killing people onboard the ship. One genetically enhanced crew member, Melantha Jhirl, emerges as the main protagonist to oppose the threat.
Nightflyers won a Locus Award for best novella and was nominated for the Hugo Award for best novella. Robert Jaffe produced Nightflyers as a sci-fi horror movie that was released in 1987, starring Catherine Mary Stewart as Jhirl.
Jaffe is also a producer on the upcoming 10-episode season, which debuts this fall. The Syfy Channel website calls it a psychological thriller, which seems like a departure from the more traditional slasher-horror tone of the film. Martin himself calls the show a “haunted house story on a starship” in a promo video. He also says it’s “Psycho in space,” comparing it to the legendary 1960 Alfred Hitchcock horror thriller.
The upcoming TV series will depart from the source material in some key areas, however. The show won’t take place in the distant future after a civilization-destroying space war with extraterrestrials. Instead, it takes place roughly 75 years from now, so the world and its people act a lot like they do today. The Nightflyer’s mission, in this instance, is to seek help for a world with depleted resources and fractious international relations. The planet’s not doing well, and life is no longer sustainable.
“We tried to keep everything very grounded and realistic,” Buhler said.
Macken plays Karl D’Branin, the scientist who discovers the volcryns’ existence and picks people who’ll board the Nightflyer for the journey. “He handpicks these people he can work with,” Macken said.
He recruited Jhirl, Turner-Smith’s character, as a second-in-command. In Syfy’s version of Nightflyers, Jhirl is adapted for space travel and better able to live off planet than the others.
Macken joked that when everything goes wrong, people should blame “Mel,” short for Melantha. But Turner-Smith quipped back by replying, “Everything that goes right is because of Mel.”
Ajal plays Capt. Eris, who struggles with human interaction and social skills. He implied that his character may experience a story arc that forces him to grow as a person.