Why did HBO cancel Bloodmoon, its first Game of Thrones prequel series?

Before House of the Dragon, HBO was working on a Game of Thrones prequel show called Bloodmoon. With new images leaking out, you may be wondering: What happened with this show?

81st Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
81st Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals / Amy Sussman/GettyImages

Game of Thrones ended in 2019, going out as the most successful show in the history of HBO. The network went on to debut a prequel series called House of the Dragon, which will be airing its second season this summer. House of the Dragon, which is set over 100 years before the original show, has successfully revived some of the mania surrounding Game of Thrones, with fans like me eager to see what happens next as the Targaryen family turns against itself and pits dragon against dragon.

But House of the Dragon wasn't the first Game of Thrones prequel series HBO put into production. Before that, they made a pilot for a series which never got an official name, but which became known as Bloodmoon. Images from this never-aired series have been floating around the internet for a while, with a fresh crop coming out just this week courtesy of Flora Moody, who worked on the show as a hair and makeup designer. (Moody has since deleted the images from her Instagram, presumably at HBO's request, but they're out there to see if you're interested.)

The pictures show cast member and Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts decked out in a gold outfit, walking around a beautifully apportioned set. The show had an ensemble cast that also included Miranda Richardson, Denise Gough, Shiela Atim, Toby Regbo, and Jamie Campbell Bower, who went on to play the monstrous Vecna on Stranger Things. The pilot reportedly cost over $30 milltion to make, but HBO dumped it before it saw the light of day.

So what happened to this show? Let's go over what we know.

What was Bloodmoon about?

Details about Bloodmoon are a closely guarded secret, but we do know some things. While House of the Dragon is set over 100 years before Game of Thrones, Bloodmoon would have taken place thousands of years before that, as A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin explained to The Hollywood Reporter. “We’re dealing with a much more primitive people," he said. "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.”

The website Redanian Intelligence and the Youtuber Lucifer Means Lightbringer give us more details, although it's not as reliable as information straight from Martin, who created Game of Thrones in the first place. According to these accounts, the pilot would have involved a wedding between members of House Stark and House Casterly, the family that occupied Casterly Rock before the Lannisters took it over. (That's how far back this show went; the Lannisters didn't even exist yet.) We know from official sources that Watts would have played a "socialite hiding a dark secret." Some have speculated that she would play the matriarch of the Casterly family.

Anyway, the wedding would be spoiled by a "blood moon," which I assume is some kind of spooky eclipse. In that darkness, the White Walkers would have invaded Westeros for the first time, which roughly lines up with the mythology Martin established in his books. We would see the first war between humanity and the White Walkers, the one that inspired the people of the Seven Kingdoms to build the Wall. It's also said that the Children of the Forest, the original inhabitants of Westeros, would have played a large role in the series.

We've also heard that the show would have featured a "White Table," a kind of corollary to the Painted Table we see in Dragonstone on both Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. The White Table, which is made of weirwood, is in the shape of the North, and on it are marked the locations of Northern houses of the day.

It all sounds pretty interesting, so why didn't it come together?

House of the Dragon Episode 10 /

Why did Bloodmoon get canceled?

We know that HBO made a pilot for Bloodmoon. But apparently HBO executives didn't think it was up to snuff. “It wasn’t unwatchable or horrible or anything,” former WarnerMedia chairman Robert Greenblatt told The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

Casey Bloys, who was then the programming president of HBO and is now the president, said much the same thing in 2020. "I think [showrunner Jane Goldman] did a beautiful job, it was a big challenge but there was nothing that I would point to and say, 'oh, that one element did not work,' just overall it did not quite gel," Bloys explained. So the official line from HBO is that the cancelation wasn't anybody's fault, exactly; it just didn't work out, which is common enough in TV.

Other narratives do exist. TV Line journalist Michael Ausiello reported that the pilot of Bloodmoon was “troubled” from the start, with budget overruns, numerous personnel issues and lots of creative differences. We don't get much in the way of details, though. All we know is that they made a pilot, the executives didn't like it, and they decided not to move forward with the show.

Another thread that emerges is that HBO may have gone into production on a Bloodmoon pilot too quickly and too eagerly. As Game of Thrones was headed for the finish line, the network developed several spinoff ideas, and Greenblatt thinks they overreached.

"HBO was making a lot of money," Greenblatt told author James Andrew Miller for his book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers. "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."

"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."

There was also concern that, unlike House of the Dragon, which is based on the book Fire & Blood by George R.R. Martin, Bloodmoon didn't have any solid source material. Jane Goodman and her writers were making it up, which could have turned out great, but came with more risks. In the end, it was an idea that just didn't come together.

Jamie Campbell Bower
Saint Laurent : Front Row - Paris Fashion Week - Womenswear Spring/Summer 2023 / Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/GettyImages

What did the cast say about the cancelation of Bloodmoon?

Numerous cast members have weighed in on the cancelation of the Game of Thrones prequel that wasn't, and they feel about how you'd expect:

  • Naomi Watts enthusiastically praised showrunner Jane Goldman, and ultimately said she sympathized with fans upset they weren't going to get to see the show. “I feel your pain. I equally got into it. I wasn’t a huge fan and hadn’t seen the shows until I was hired and then completely binged everything within the space of a couple of months and it’s just wonderful. It’s a deep shame, it would have been great fun.
  • Josh Whitehouse: "It was mind blowing, just such an honor to even be considered for something like that,” Whitehouse said. “I got the audition, I got the job and then I spent a year and a half waiting for it to actually happen, pre-prod stuff. Then it ended up getting canceled and I was like, ‘Oh, alright.’ I was just honored to be involved, even to be able to say that is a huge thing for my career, it was such a big show... [Sometimes] things don’t happen for a reason. In a sense, like, Game of Thrones was such a huge thing already, it’s kind of nice to not have that pressure, the potential to not live up to expectations and bring something new to the world. But either way I would have been happy.”
  • Naomi Ackie: "This stuff happens…Things get put down. I’m just really excited about what is out there for me now. That was a great project, it didn’t work out. I’m ready to look for more stuff. [I’m] taking it in my stride. This industry will throw you about left, right and center so you’ve got to take it in your stride!"
  • Jamie Campbell Bower: “Everything happens for a reason. I don’t think anything happens by chance. At the time of that spin-off not working out, of course it’s sad. Of course it is.”

Unless HBO decides to release Bloodmoon on home video, which seems very unlikely, it will always be the one that got away for Game of Thrones fans. But with House of the Dragon coming back soon, they won't have to pine for what could've been for very long.

And beyond that, HBO is making another Game of Thrones prequel called A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: The Hedge Knight, based on the Dunk & Egg novellas by George R.R. Martin. Incidentally, House of the Dragon and Dunk & Egg were the spinoffs that Martin suggested to HBO when the network asked him for ideas, way back when they were first exploring the idea of making Game of Thrones spinoffs. So although it's a shame that no one will get to see the work that the cast and crew of Bloodmoon put into the show, it sounds like it was something HBO had to go through to end up where it should have gone in the first place.

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