George RR Martin saw the comments and read the emails.
Ever since Game of Thrones, HBO’s groundbreaking fantasy series, went off the air in May 2019, he’s been well aware of the backlash against the final season. Martin – the man who has painstakingly created the Thrones universe over the past three decades through his many books and who has sat on the sidelines of the TV series’ final seasons – wonders if some viewers will forgo House of the Dragon, the first spin-off. off of Thrones. The series will make its long-awaited debut on HBO and HBO Max on August 21.
Actress Emma D’Arcy plays Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen in ‘House of the Dragon’.
“People say, ‘I’m done with Game of Thrones, I’m not even going to watch this new show — I’m not going to watch any of the new stories,’” Martin said recently.
The question, he said, is how much of the audience do these people represent?
“I mean, are we talking about a million people?” he asked. “Or are we talking about a thousand? People who have nothing to do but tweet all day? I don’t know”.
Martin and HBO are about to find out.
Three years after the end of the most popular series in HBO history, the search for a successor is finally over. It took a lot of effort to get here. Several Thrones prequels were put into development, and a pilot episode for another spinoff was filmed, but was later cancelled. Tens of millions of dollars were invested in the winner, House of the Dragon.
The stakes are high. The success of House of the Dragon would assure HBO executives that viewers want more Thrones stories and that many more shows set in Westeros are worth spawning. In addition to this series, HBO has at least five other Thrones projects in development.
“The trick here is that you can’t just remake the original series,” said Casey Bloys, HBO’s chief content officer. “You need to make a show that matches and honors the original, but is also standalone. It is a very important franchise for us.”
But if the first out fails to find an audience, that could raise questions about the Thrones Cinematic Universe: is it really the intellectual property gold mine that HBO executives hope it will be?
Airing between 2011 and 2019, Thrones was the most-watched series in HBO history. The controversial finale drew nearly 20 million viewers the night it premiered — a staggering number in the fragmented era of streaming. Thrones was also a delight for critics and won more Emmys than any other series in TV history, including four awards for best drama.
The series has changed television in so many ways – generous budgets, technical wizardry, a cinematic scope that was once rare for the small screen – that it’s perhaps easy to overlook the incredibly strong foundation it has built for the spin-offs.
“I think it’s more of an internet narrative than a real-life thing,” Bloys said of the reaction to the final season. “We have data on who is watching, and Game of Thrones is consistently in the top ten people watch on HBO Max worldwide. As we get closer to the premiere, we are seeing people coming back and seeing an increase in HBO Max viewership for the main series.”
House of the Dragon takes place nearly two hundred years before the events of Game of Thrones. The series follows the Targaryen family – the silver-haired dragon gang, the one Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) made famous in the original series – as it is about to break apart, with dire consequences for the kingdom.
And, in the premiere episode, there are elements that will feel familiar to Thrones viewers, with lots of blood, multiple dragons and an Iron Throne, as well as nudity. And an orgy.
It took more than five years to get to this point. In May 2017, with the penultimate season of Game of Thrones about to premiere, the network announced that it had four potential spinoffs in the works. A year later, a candidate was chosen: a prequel that would take place about a thousand years before the events of the original series.
It didn’t last long. In 2019, after filming the pilot, the network canceled the project.
“As soon as I saw the first pilot, I knew it wasn’t the series to come out,” Bob Greenblatt, former president of WarnerMedia Entertainment, where he oversaw HBO, wrote in an email. Greenblatt said the pilot wasn’t “expansive or epic enough”.
Fortunately, the network had another project in the works, one that Martin had been promoting for some time: the story of the rise and fall of the Targaryens, which he had written about extensively in his books. House of the Dragon is adapted from Martin’s Fire & Blood, the first of two planned volumes of a chronicle of the family’s exploits and conflicts.
“He was very passionate about this particular story,” said Miguel Sapochnik, original series veteran and showrunner for House of the Dragon.
The network reached out to two writers before Martin turned to an old friend for help: writer Ryan Condal, creator of the sci-fi series Colony.
Condal would periodically chat with Martin during dinners and events and they would have fun talking about the works of other fantasists like Robert E. Howard, JRR Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin. “When we met, we talked like two fanboys,” Martin said. Martin asked Condal to start writing a prequel about the Targaryens.
HBO executives liked what they saw in Condal, who signed on as creator (along with Martin) and showrunner. After Sapochnik, who directed some of the original’s biggest episodes, also agreed to be showrunner, HBO moved on with the House of the Dragon series project.
“What attracted me was that it’s a family drama,” Bloys said. “Anyone who has step-parents or siblings or half-siblings, or has fights between sides of the family – I think every American family has dealt with some version of that.”