George R.R. Martin explains the saga of HBO’s Game of Thrones prequels

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Game of Thrones was the biggest hit HBO ever had, so it was always expected that they would try and make some kind of spinoff. Things are on track now, with House of the Dragon scheduled to debut next year. But for a while things got pretty chaotic, with the network developing several shows and even making a pilot for one that ended up getting cancelled.

Journalist James Andrew Miller shed some light on that process in his new book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, getting quotes from A Song of Ice and Fire George R.R. Martin himself. As Martin tells it, the first thing he did when he met with HBO about potential spinoffs was suggest an adaptation of his Dunk and Egg novellas, a series of lower-stakes stories set about 100 years before the events of Game of Thrones. HBO didn’t like that idea, maybe because Martin has written three of the novellas and has “a dozen more” to go, and they didn’t want another situation where the show lapped the source material.

Martin’s other suggestion was a show about the Dance of the Dragons, a brutal Targaryen civil war that tore Westeros apart around 200 years before Game of Thrones. That’s what House of the Dragon is about, so HBO did eventually go for this idea, with A Song of Ice and Fire superfan Ryan Condal as showrunner. (“We needed a new showrunner, I couldn’t do it. I am writing the novels.”) But Martin was surprised to hear the network was also entertaining pitches from other writers who weren’t as familiar with his work.

“Then I suddenly learned that they had four prequels in development. The Dance of the Dragons was just one of them,” Martin recalled. “The others were ideas that came from people who I suppose would have read my books or maybe some HBO document . They had hired four writers and suddenly there were four series in development, but that took place 10 years after my initial meeting on Game of Thrones with David and Dan (Benioff and Weiss).

"I was surprised, I admit it. He hadn’t heard anything like it before. I thought that we would advance with only one, with a development, the one that I had proposed to them, the idea of ​​the Dance of the Dragons. I met with the four screenwriters. They came to Santa Fe, where I live, and I had meetings with them, we debated their idea, we did workshops, I tried to answer any questions and all that. And then a fifth series was added. They got to be five at one point."

As I mentioned, HBO even made a pilot for one of these series; it may or may have been called Blood Moon, and would have been set during the Age of Legends when the White Walkers invaded Westeros for the first time. According to former WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt, who was also interviewed for the book, the pilot cost $30 million, which is a lot of money to spend on a show that goes nowhere.

How Blood Moon gave way to House of the Dragon

“HBO was making a ton of money,” Greenblatt remembered. “They were making so much profit that they didn’t look enough at the cost of the series as relevant. They thought you had to spend whatever it was. And of course, Game of Thrones was on fire and it was a colossal success story. But I think HBO lost a lot of discipline at that point, because they did several very expensive series that either flopped or were canceled during production…I was never able to keep costs under control, because the order was not to bother them too much.”

"More than $30 million had been spent on a pilot for a Game of Thrones prequel that was in production when I arrived. And when I saw part of it a few months after landing, I said to  [HBO programming president Casey Bloys]: “This doesn’t work and I don’t think it keeps the style of the original series.” And he didn’t disagree, which was actually a relief. So unfortunately we had to cancel it. There was enormous pressure to get it right and I don’t think it would have worked."

Happily, House of the Dragon was having more luck, and Greenblatt proposed just making it as a series rather than throwing money at a pilot that may not happen.

But that first pilot remains a wild story. Greenblatt thinks it happened because HBO was “guarding against something negative and protecting the brand, which is something I understand, but it was critical that we somehow continue the franchise and move quickly, which involved getting the series into production as quickly as possible. That always makes you bite your nails, but I think the next series is going to be amazing. And I know they are making even more content from that world at high speed.”

"I was very motivated to get more Game of Thrones in the ecosystem. Everyone on HBO was very nervous about replicating the Game of Thrones brand and failing. I think you can do it, like Marvel has done. And Star Wars and other companies have shown it. So there was a real fear about how to do it. That is why they developed multiple projects and wanted to protect themselves from their negative aspects."

It’s true that HBO now has more Game of Thrones shows in development, including one based on Dunk and Egg. Right now, House of the Dragon is the only one we know is going forward, and personally I hope it stays that way for a while. I get why executives would want to follow “the Marvel model,” but I hope they can give us more Game of Thrones without losing its magic and soul.

It’s also worth noting that Greenblatt is no longer with the company.

House of the Dragon premieres in 2022.

Next. Outlander author: Game of Thrones “distorted” George R.R. Martin’s ending. dark

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