- House of the Dragon is just one of many Game of Thrones prequels and spinoffs that HBO has in the works.
- The first prequel pilot was scrapped after HBO spent $30 million on it.
- But the scrapped prequel helped form what is now House of the Dragon.
House of the Dragon will jump back two hundred years before the events of the original series, Game of Thrones. It will tell the story of the Dance of the Dragons, a brutal Targaryen civil war at the height of the family’s royal reign.
Due to the massive success of Game of Thrones during its eight-season run, HBO decided to expand the series’ on-screen universe with a number of different projects. House of the Dragon was not the first Game of Thrones prequel that HBO had planned. But, it’s the first one that fans will get to see.
‘House of the Dragon’ was one of many ‘successor show’ ideas HBO considered
Two years before Game of Thrones ended in May 2019, reports emerged claiming HBO had at least five prequel pilot scripts in the works. Author George R. R. Martin pointed out at the time that those five scripts didn’t mean fans would see five new shows. Instead, they were just ideas that were in development.
Martin also noted that he didn’t like to use the term “prequel” when describing the various project ideas. Instead, he thought a better term was “successor show.”
“What we’re talking about are new stories set in the ‘secondary universe’ (to borrow Tolkien’s term) of Westeros and the world beyond, the world I created for A Song of Ice and Fire,” Martin wrote, per Gizmodo. “It is a world, and a pretty big one, and if there were eight million stories in the naked city back in the ‘50s, just think how many more there are in an entire world, and one with thousands of years of recorded history.”
One ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel idea rose to the top
It’s true that HBO execs were considering a number of follow-up ideas before Game of Thrones ended, and one eventually rose to the top. A script was written and the series was cast, then they filmed the pilot.
But in the new book Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers from journalist James Andrew Miller, it was revealed that HBO was not happy with the difference in tone of the new pilot compared to the original series. What’s more, they were alarmed by the massive cost of just one episode.
‘House of the Dragon’ was not the first prequel planned
HBO’s initial attempt at a Game of Thrones prequel never received an official title, but it operated under the name The Long Night. The concept was to explore the origins of the White Walkers and tell the story of how the Stark family came to rule the North for thousands of years.
The pilot came from writer and producer Jane Goldman, with Oscar-winner Naomi Watts in a leading role and S.J. Clarkson as director. But one of the few people who actually saw this pilot — former WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt — said in Miller’s book that it just didn’t work.
“They had spent over $30 million on a Game of Thrones prequel pilot that was in production when I got there,” Greenblatt revealed. “And when I saw a cut of it a few months after I arrived, I said to Casey [HBO chief content officer Casey Bloys], ‘This just doesn’t work and I don’t think it delivers on the promise of the original series.’ And he didn’t disagree, which actually was a relief.”
The first ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel was just too ambitious
The project was set in the ancient Age of Heroes, around 8,000 years before the original series. It was a story that’s already part of Westerosi legend — the origin of the Children of the Forest and the member of the First Men who would become the Night King. This unleashes the white walkers and an undead army of wights during the Long Night, a period of perennial darkness.
But the insanely ambitious project with the $30 million per episode price tag just didn’t work. With the story set so many years before Game of Thrones, there was a lack of meaningful connections to the original series and Westeros was unrecognizable. There’s also the fact that it was a pre-Targaryen story, which meant it was pre-dragon.
“We talk about the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros; there were Seven Kingdoms at the time of Aegon’s Conquest,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly during the failed prequel’s production. “But if you go back further then there are nine kingdoms, and 12 kingdoms, and eventually you get back to where there are a hundred kingdoms — petty kingdoms — and that’s the era we’re talking about here.”
‘House of the Dragon’ emerged after the costly mistake
Even though HBO ultimately decided to pull the plug on The Long Night, it allowed the premium cable network to move on to House of the Dragon. Even though it takes place two centuries prior to Game of Thrones, there are still Starks, Targaryens, and Lannisters in familiar settings with drama relevant to the main series. And there are lots of dragons.
“I’m the one who encouraged Casey to greenlight it to series,” Greenblatt said. “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.’”
House of the Dragon is expected to premiere on HBO Max in early 2022.