Prior to the release of the final season of “Game of Thrones,” HBO was apparently knee-deep in developing a number of projects that would keep the franchise going. But as we now know, that process would extend years and lead to a failed pilot, multiple ditched prequel ideas, and finally, only one new series, “House of the Dragon.” And according to those working on the projects, HBO was a little scared to venture too far off the ‘Thrones’ path with its follow-up series.
In a new profile from THR, the folks involved with “Game of Thrones” and its various prequel pitches spoke about the long, treacherous road of developing a new spinoff series to one of the most popular shows to ever grace TV. And according to Miguel Sapochnik, a former ‘Thrones’ director and one of the co-creators/directors of the forthcoming “House of the Dragon,” everything finally clicked when HBO decided to essentially play it safe.
Back before ‘Dragon’ was picked up to series, before “Game of Thrones” entered its final season, author George R.R. Martin pitched the idea of telling the history of the Targaryen family in a new prequel series. HBO didn’t want to replicate the style of ‘Thrones’ and developed the idea but was really in favor of trying something new. Apparently, that resulted in a long research session and 15 possible prequel concepts.
“We tried everything,” HBO boss Casey Bloys said. “There were no ideas too weird.”
That initial brainstorm resulted in five strong pitches that were developed further. That included a series by Max Borenstein (“Kong: Skull Island”) about the destruction of the ancient Targaryen empire of Valyria, another series about warrior Nymeria from Brian Helgeland (“L.A. Confidential”), a potential series about Aegon’s conquest of Westeros from Rand Ravich and Far Shariat (“The Astronaut’s Wife”). Of course, those joined Martin’s Targaryen pitch, as well as the one that was eventually sent to the pilot stage, “Bloodmoon,” by writer Jane Goldman.
“‘Bloodmoon’ was a very difficult assignment,” Martin said. “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.”
Eventually, a pilot was filmed (costing a reported $35 million), but it was quickly passed on. The episode was sent to the vault and not even Martin was given the chance to view the finished product. This led HBO to realize that maybe playing it safe was the way to go.
“At first HBO was like, ‘How can we subvert [‘Thrones’]?’” Sapochnik said. “[‘House of the Dragon’] felt like an obvious straight-down-the-line prequel. So I think they were less hot on it because it was like, “Well, who wants to see more “Game of Thrones?”’ And then the irony, of course, is: lots of people.”
‘Dragon’ co-creator Ryan Condal added, “The desire at HBO was to not just offer up a sequel that’s about the war for the throne. They wanted to do something so totally different that it would blow everybody’s minds. I think that’s why they went with [‘Bloodmoon’] instead.”
After the failure of “Bloodmoon,” George R.R. Martin suggested Ryan Condal take on “House of the Dragon” and HBO agreed. Condal then suggested Sapochnik as a co-creator (and possible director) due to his experience helming ‘Thrones’ episodes. The filmmaker eventually met with HBO’s Bloys and was asked, “What would you do directorially?”
Sapochnik replied, “‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.’ And Casey said, ‘Good.’ I think season eight had been divisive, ‘Bloodmoon’ hadn’t worked out for them, and they wanted to retain their fans. They wanted to come back to what they knew.”
Thus, we have “House of the Dragon,” which arrives on HBO next month. The long-awaited series looks to be a bit of a safer bet than “Bloodmoon” and the various other pitches that were developed, but maybe after a divisive final season of ‘Thrones,’ safety isn’t such a bad thing. Plus, there is plenty of time (and space on HBO Max) for various other spinoffs that can get weird.
“House of the Drago” debuts on HBO on August 21.