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Even failed ventures come with a price tag. Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers — a new book chronicling HBO's rise to prestige television dominance — sheds a bit more light on that ill-fated Game of Thrones spinoff from creators George R.R. Martin and Jane Goldman and director S.J. Clarkson. Naomi Watts had been tapped to headline the prequel project, which was said to take place thousands of years before the events of the main series.
According to Entertainment Weekly, which got its hands on a copy of Tinderbox, the premium cable network (a subsidiary of WarnerMedia) shelled out a whopping $30 million on the pilot episode for the untitled series, whose proof of concept was ultimately scrapped in favor of House of the Dragon (a different prequel centered around House Targaryen).
"They had spent over $30 million on a Game of Thrones prequel pilot when I got there," Bob Greenblatt, former chairman of Warner Media, reportedly says in the book. "And when I saw a cut of it in a few months after I arrived, I said to [HBO chief content officer] Casey [Bloys], 'this just doesn't work and I don't think it delivers on the premise of the original series.' And he didn't disagree, which actually was a relief. So we unfortunately decided to pull the plug on it. There was enormous pressure to get it right and I don't think it would have worked."
Miranda Richardson, Georgie Henley, Marquis Rodriguez, Jamie Campbell Bower, John Heffernan, and Naomi Ackie were also reported to be a part of the show's cast. Martin himself teased a "very different" approach just before the cameras started rolling on the pilot. "You're looking at a whole different era of Westeros," he said. "No dragons, no Iron Throne, no King's Landing. It will be interesting to see what the fans make of that."
In terms of plot, it was said that the prequel would take place during "The Long Night," the original battle between humans and White Walkers that culminated in the construction of the Wall and Night's Watch. In fact, Martin wanted the official title to be The Long Night before the monicker was used for an episode in the eighth and final season of Thrones not long after.
Sadly, the pilot — which we'll probably never get to see — was relegated to the dustbin of television history as Greenblatt allegedly encouraged Bloys to roll out the fiery red carpet for the Targaryens.
"I'm the one who encouraged Casey to green-light it to series," the former chairman adds in Tinderbox. "I said, 'let's not risk $30 million on a pilot.' You can't spend $30 million on a pilot and then not pick it up. So I said, 'Let's not make a pilot. Let's get a great series that we feel good about, and just make it. Or not.' They made the first pilot because they were protecting their own downside and protecting that brand, which I understand, but it was critical that we somehow continue that franchise and move quickly, which meant getting the series into production ASAP. That's always a nail-biter, but I think the new show that is coming will be incredible."
Developed by Martin and Ryan J.Condal (Colony), House of the Dragon is scheduled to premiere on HBO sometime next year. Condal serves as showrunner and executive producer alongside a veteran Thrones director, Miguel Sapochnik.