Recent days saw the fantasy series making and breaking news left and right, from a controversial panel featuring creators D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, to the pair stepping away from their deal to make a “Star Wars” trilogy, to HBO cancelling a “Game of Thrones” prequel series, only to announce a series order for a different prequel series hours later.
But for as easy (and edifying) as it is to tee off on Benioff and Weiss, it was HBO’s maneuvering regarding the future of the franchise that was ultimately the cause for the most concern.
On the surface, trading one prequel series for the next seems like a straightforward move for the premium cable network. After all, HBO’s president of programming Casey Bloys announced in 2018 that the company had several prequel concepts percolating, so it’s not as though there’s a shortage of “Game of Thrones” content to choose from.
What’s concerning are the early differences between the project that was and the project that will be. On October 29, it was reported that the untitled prequel series starring Naomi Watts and penned by screenwriter Jane Goldman — who was also set to serve as showrunner — had been canceled, despite having already wrapped a pilot — directed by S.J. Clarkson — that Bloys described in July as “amazing” (despite not having seen it). Though little was known about the potential series, HBO had previously stated that it was set 5,000 years before the events of “Game of Thrones” and described it as an examination of Westeros’ “descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour.”
Assuming that HBO was ultimately unhappy with the pilot as filmed, it’s unclear whether or not attempts were made to rework the material into something acceptable, a concerning development given the well-recorded shortcomings of Benioff and Weiss when filming the original “Game of Thrones” pilot; the unaired version of which Craig Mazin called “a complete piece of shit.“
Mere hours later, HBO announced that it had given a straight-to-series order to “Game of Thrones” prequel series “House of the Dragon,” with Emmy-winning director and GOT alum Miguel Sapochnik directing the pilot and co-showrunning the series with Ryan Condal. With George R.R. Martin and Vince Gerardis serving as executive producers, the new prequel series is based on Martin’s “Fire and Blood” novel, takes place 300 years before the original series, and focuses on the rise of the House of Targaryen, far before the mother of dragons was even a twinkle in her vile father’s eye.
“The ‘Game of Thrones’ universe is so rich with stories,” Bloys said in a statement announcing the news. “We look forward to exploring the origins of House Targaryen and the earlier days of Westeros along with Miguel, Ryan, and George.”
That means that on the same day that news broke about the cancellation of a female-led, female-written, female-directed “Game of Thrones” prequel pilot, HBO announced that it had not only ordered a pilot, but sent a new show directly to series; a prequel which, given the source material, will focus primarily on the Targaryen men, with a creative team consisting entirely of men.
There’s no way that HBO is blind to the horrible optics regarding diversity on every level of the original “Game of Thrones” series. Only one woman, Michelle MacLaren, ever directed on the series, helming four episodes, meaning that six percent of the show’s 73 episodes were directed by women. Only three women ever wrote on the series — Jane Espenson, Vanessa Taylor, and Gursimran Sandhu — adding their contributions to a total of nine episodes.
It makes sense that HBO would be desperate to recapture the magic of a franchise that took the entire world by storm. But forging ahead into the future without making an earnest commitment to make the world of Westeros more inclusive, both behind the scenes and on the page, is an exercise in folly. The magic of “Game of Thrones” didn’t come from men, and to operate in such a fashion suggests that “House of the Dragon” isn’t the only thing at HBO stuck 300 years in the past.