Book details the end of Game of Thrones and rise of House of the Dragon

There’s no getting away from the fact that the end of Game of Thrones was highly controversial. Many felt that the events depicted in the finale were not adequately built toward. Just who at HBO was responsible for these decisions has often been a point of contention, and there are some answers out there.

Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers by James Andrew Miller “tells the exclusive, explosive, uninhibited true story of HBO and how it burst onto the American scene and screen to detonate a revolution and transform our relationship with television forever.” The book covers everything from The Sopranos to The Wire, with an extensive look at Game of Thrones.

The book features comments from both A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin and HBO President Richard Plepler. It reveals that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss had long planned to end the show around season 7 or 8, and wanted the number of episodes reduced. The two argued that George RR Martin’s material was, by that point, finished, and they were personally exhausted.

LOS ANGELES, CA – SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) D. B. Weiss, George R. R. Martin, and David Benioff accept the Outstanding Drama Series award for ‘Game of Thrones ‘ onstage during the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

“Obviously, there were talks about the ending,” says Plepler in the book. “Casey Bloys (Lombardo’s replacement as HBO’s current chief content officer) and I felt strongly that the ultimate decision rested with Dan and Dave, who had created this magic in the first place. It was up to them to determine exactly how they wanted to land the plane.”

Benioff and Weiss wanted to take the final season into theaters with a run of Game of Thrones movies. President of HBO programming Michael Lombardo argued for the series to remain confined to TV, feeling movies would be an insult to HBO subscribers who’d invested in the show for so long. Benioff and Weiss agreed, but they didn’t commit to making any more episodes than they were going to while they were still planning to make movies. As the book puts it:

The formula that had worked so well for HBO for decades, putting trust and power in the hands of creators, backfired on them. Benioff and Weiss agreed to abandon their fanciful dreams of making a theatrical finale, but they didn’t budge on anything else.

For his part, George R.R. Martin agrees that the show should have gone on longer. “It has changed my life, mostly for the better, but in some ways for the worse,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for it. Of course, he wanted it. I have learned that nothing should be taken for granted. I think Plepler was right at one point when he said that the series could have lasted 10 years. He wished it had lasted 10 years. I think he would have given us a little more time in the later seasons to finish it.”

The birth of House of the Dragon

Tinderbox doesn’t just talk about the end of Game of Thrones, but also the beginning of House of the Dragon, as well as what happened to several other spinoff projects. George R.R. Martin talks about when he first sat down with HBO to discuss what would come next:

I had a meeting with HBO, it was in August, maybe 2017 or something, in which I said: ‘Look, if you are going to continue with the project, I have two possible successor series to propose. One of them is a series of short novels about two characters named Dunk and Egg. I have written three stories about it, and I plan to do a dozen more. And that takes place a hundred years before Game of Thrones.’ And I also had the idea to tell part of the past history from the Targaryen civil war: the Dance with the Dragons, which is mentioned in the main saga. And that takes place 150 years earlier, about 50 years before Dunk and Egg. It’s huge. He has like 17 dragons.

The Tales of Dunk and Egg has long been suggested as a possible Game of Thrones spinoff series; the novellas have an enthusiastic following, despite feeling very different from the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire. It was this different tone which soured HBO on the idea. Martin said that “it seemed too soft” to execs who had already read the stories.

“But they responded to the idea about the Dance with Dragons,” Martin continued. “We needed a new showrunner; I couldn’t do it. I am writing the novels. Then suddenly, I found out that they had four prequels in development. The Dance of the Dragons was just one of them. The others were ideas that came from people who I guess had read my books or maybe an HBO document.”

They had hired four writers, and suddenly there were four series in development, but that was 10 years after my initial Game of Thrones meeting with David and Dan (Benioff and Weiss). I was surprised, I admit it. I had never heard anything like it before. I thought that we would advance with just one into development, the one that I had proposed to them, the idea of ​​the Dance of the Dragons. I met with the four writers. They came to Santa Fe, where I live, and I had meetings with them; we discussed their idea, we held workshops, and I tried to answer any questions and all that. And then a fifth series was added. They became five at one point.

Martin pushed for House of the Dragon, and didn’t like that the people developing the other shows didn’t seem to know his novels well. In contrast, current House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal had read them 20 years ago.

Former WarnerMedia chairman Robert Greenblatt was also keen to press ahead with the show. “The development process was going well, the scripts were being written, and a very promising bible (the guide to the series) was being written,” he says in the book. “And I was the one who encouraged Casey to greenlight the series. I told him, ‘Let’s not risk $30 million on a pilot.’ You can’t spend $30 million on a pilot and then not cast it. So I told him, ‘Let’s not make a pilot. Let’s find a great series that we like, and make it. Or not.'”

The Death of Bloodmoon

Greenblatt’s eagerness to push ahead without spending “$30 million on a pilot” is a reference to the failed pilot for Bloodmoon, a Game of Thrones spinoff that never got off the ground, despite HBO’s best efforts.

In 2017, HBO was hugely worried about Game of Thrones falling out of the public consciousness once it finished. Amazon had become the front-runner to produce what eventually became The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. HBO knew that Amazon would capitalize on the market for high-quality fantasy Game of Thrones had created and try to dominate the space. They felt they had to move quickly with Bloodmoon, an original prequel set thousands of years before Game of Thrones.

“They did the first pilot because they were protecting themselves 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 launching the series into production as quickly as possible. That always makes you bite your nails,” Robert Greenblatt said.

Bloodmoon, which focused on the events of The Long Night, did not move forward after the pilot. The show, which starred Naomi Watts, was said to deviate too far from what was expected of a show in the same universe as Game of Thrones. In many respects, it appears HBO jumped the gun on the show, moving it through the system too quickly without much input from George R.R. Martin. Martin hadn’t even seen the finished product when the show was dumped, and still hasn’t to this day.

HOLLYWOOD, CA – MARCH 18: Co-Executive Producer George R.R. Martin arrives at the premiere of HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

“It wasn’t unwatchable or horrible or anything,” Greenblatt told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year. “It was very well produced and looked extraordinary. But it didn’t take me to the same place as the original series. It didn’t have that depth and richness that the original series’ pilot did.”

Bloodmoon was a very difficult assignment,” said Martin. “We’re dealing with a much more primitive people. There were no dragons yet. A lot of the pilot revolved around a wedding of a Southern house to a Northern house, and it got into the whole history of the White Walkers.”

Greenblatt knew pretty quickly this wasn’t going to go. “[W]hen I saw part of it a few months after I landed, I said to Casey, ‘This isn’t working, and I don’t think it’s going to keep up with the style of the original series.’ And he didn’t disagree, which was actually a relief. So, unfortunately, we had to cancel it,” he remembered. “There was enormous pressure to do well, and I think it would not have worked.”

HBO was making a lot of money. They were making so many profits that they didn’t look enough at the cost of the series as something relevant. They thought that they 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 flopped or were canceled during production. I think it needed to be supervised, not massively, but to go back to what it was before, to look at the costs. I was never able to keep costs under control because the order was not to bother them too much.

In many respects, what Disney was doing with Star Wars and Marvel was central to HBOs thinking. Both franchises have become cash cows, with multiple TV shows and movies generating billions of dollars for the House of Mouse. It’s understandable that when gifted a phenomenon like Game of Thrones, HBO wanted to capitalize:

Everyone at 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 real fear about how to do it. For this reason, they developed multiple projects and wanted to protect themselves from their negative aspects.

At the time of writing, at least five other Game of Thrones spinoff series’ remain in production, including a Jon Snow sequel series, The Sea Snake, and The Tales of Dunk and Egg, which has happily been brought back.

Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers by James Andrew Miller Is available now from Amazon and other booksellers. House of the Dragon continues with its sixth episode this Sunday on HBO and HBO Max.

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