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SYFY WIRE House of the Dragon

Why HBO resisted 'House of the Dragon' and passed on that first 'Game of Thrones' prequel series

The first Game of Thrones spinoff series took a long road to get to the screen.

By Matthew Jackson
House of the Dragon Trailer Still Daemon and Rhaenyra Targaryen

Next month, House of the Dragon arrives on HBO Max, marking the beginning of what HBO hopes is a fruitful new era for its Game of Thrones franchise more than three years after the original series wrapped up its run. That HBO has been working hard behind the scenes to craft just the right approach to following up the megahit has been well-reported, but what you might not know is that the network was hesitant to give House of the Dragon a chance at all... at least, at first.

In a lengthy new piece at The Hollywood Reporter, various HBO insiders laid out the long journey that culminates August 21 with House of the Dragon's premiere, something many Thrones fans have been following with interest since the network first announced plans to continue the Thrones saga through other series. It's a journey that began way back in 2016, as HBO revealed that the eighth season of Game of Thrones would be its last. Around the time of that announcement, A Song of Ice and Fire creator George R.R. Martin met with HBO executives to pitch his own ideas for prequel shows, including one based on his Dunk and Egg novellas, and The Dance of the Dragons, a series about a Targaryen civil war roughly two centuries before the events of Game of Thrones

Meanwhile, HBO executives dug through Martin's body of writing on Westeros and devised more than a dozen prequel concepts of their own, including one far-out concept that told the original story of Westeros' Seven Gods. 

 “I wanted to give ourselves every chance of success,” Casey Bloys, HBO's chief content officer, recalled. “You don’t want to say, ‘We’re going to replace the biggest show of all time and it’s all going to rest on one script.’”

This brainstorming process ultimately delivered what HBO dubbed the "War of the Five Pitches," in which five major prequel concepts were put into development, including The Dance of the Dragons and a show that would have depicted the fall of the ancient Targaryen homeland of Valyria, among others. Of those, the standout was ultimately Bloodmoon, a show developed by writer Jane Goldman (StardustKick-Ass) that would have focused on the "Long Night" period of Westeros' Age of Heroes, centuries before the events of Thrones. Of course, we now know that HBO produced a pilot for that show, starring Naomi Watts among others, and then passed on it in favor of developing The Dance of the Dragons instead. 

So, why did Dragons get shoved aside in the first place? Because, according to several people involved, the initial instinct was that a story about a group of family members battling for control of the Iron Throne was just... well, too much like Game of Thrones

“At first HBO was like, ‘How can we subvert [Thrones]?’” Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon director Miguel Sapochnik said. “The Dance of Dragons 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.”

Bloodmoon won the initial battle in the War of the Five Pitches because it was, according to executives, a very different idea that went in an original direction, but from the beginning there were doubts, particularly from Martin. Because The Long Night and The Age of Heroes are only passingly described in his fiction, the author was worried where the show might go, and expressed those worries to executives. In the end, HBO passed on the pilot

“It wasn’t unwatchable or horrible or anything," then-WarnerMedia chairman Robert Greenblatt recalled. "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.”

So, the Bloodmoon pilot went into HBO's vault with such immediacy that apparently even Martin hasn't seen it, and as soon as the network announced they weren't moving forward with that prequel, they revealed that Dance of The Dragons would be up next. Retitled House of the Dragon, the show scored a straight-to-series order at HBO Max. Now, we just have to see if it was worth it.

House of the Dragon premieres August 21 on HBO Max. 

Looking for more fantasy adventures in the meantime? Stream the entire eight-film Harry Potter saga on Peacock.