In the five years that HBO programming executives carefully considered a worthy successor to “Game of Thrones,” there was one idea that George RR Martin kept pushing: his tale of rise and fall. fall of the Targaryen family riding dragons, which took place almost 200 years before the events of “Game of Thrones”.
There was some reluctance within HBO’s ranks to create a series that, like the original, was about a battle for the Iron Throne. A pair of writers tasked with working on the Targaryen concept came and went, but Martin didn’t want to let him down. Then, after HBO filmed — and canceled — a separate “Thrones” prequel pilot, Martin’s persistence prevailed. “House of the Dragon” was ordered straight to series in late 2019. Martin is the show’s creator along with Ryan Condal.
“House of the Dragon,” the first spin-off series from “Thrones,” premieres Sunday night, and the stakes are high for HBO. A success could prove the viability of the Thrones cinematic universe. An average (or worse) performance will raise larger questions about whether millions of viewers are hungry for more “Thrones” series.
During a conversation late last month, Martin, the man who over the past three decades has meticulously built the “Thrones” universe into his various books, explained why he was so committed to the idea. ; its ambitions for future spin-offs; and how his books in the making will deviate from the controversial ending of “Game of Thrones,” the TV series.
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
Two writers worked on developing your Targaryen story and it came to nothing. What prompted you to continue?
I didn’t want to let him down. There was a lot of material already written on it, and it had everything I thought we needed for a successful successor. There was all the intrigue around the Iron Throne. He had the big houses clashing. There were dragons – lots of dragons – and battles and betrayals.
“House of the Dragon” has thematic overlaps with “Game of Thrones” – family rivalry, battle for the throne. How is it different?
“Game of Thrones” and my book version, “A Song of Ice and Fire”, is, in some ways, a classic high fantasy in the style of Tolkien and many writers who followed. Now, yeah, it’s true that in a sense, I’m deconstructing those tropes, those myths, the things that were characteristic. But I am also them to a certain extent. “House of the Dragon” is more like historical fiction with some added dragons. It’s like a Shakespearean tragedy.
It’s been just over three years since “Game of Thrones” ended in a way that left many fans disappointed. What did you think of the ending?
One of the things in the later seasons of the show was, How many seasons was this going to be? And [the “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss] for years said they wanted to wrap it up in seven seasons. Well, seven became eight because season eight is really the second half of season seven — it’s kind of a long season.
But I never thought that seven or eight seasons was enough. I campaigned for 10 seasons, and we could have gone to 12. There’s enough material – and there will certainly be enough material once I finish these last two books – to sustain 12 seasons.
But I lost that battle, and we went with eight. I think one of the big complaints about the last few seasons is not just what happened – although there are complaints about that – but also that it happened too suddenly and that it has not been set up. And if we had had 10 seasons or 12 seasons, I think it would have worked better.
Given the backlash, how worried are you, for the new show, that people will be too tired to return to the “Thrones” universe, or that they’ll love pulling out the knives no matter what?
I see comments online from people, and sometimes they email me directly. I’m also concerned about a similar thing with my book. As you know, “The Winds of Winter” is very, very late – the last book was 11 years ago, and people are very angry about it. But how many people?
‘House of the Dragon’ and all other spin-offs to come, and ‘The Winds of Winter’ when it does, are going to face immediate backlash and some resistance from people who won’t even give it a chance.
Let’s say “House of the Dragon” is a success. What would be your ideal ambition here? A whole fleet of “Thrones” TV series?
Well, we are developing a number of other spinoffs. There’s Jon Snow’s sequel show, and the rest are all prequels. There’s “Ten Thousand Ships” on Nymeria – it’s like a thousand years before and about how the Rhoynar came to Dorne. It is an epic à la “Odyssey”. There are the nine voyages of Corlys Velaryon, the sea serpent. It would take us to places in the world we have never seen.
We have anime shows going on, one of which is set in Yi Ti, which is basically the fantasy version of Imperial China or the Far East. We have a great script on that. Obviously, not all of these shows that we are developing will be released, but I hope that several of them will.
Is there a role model you look up to? Something like Marvel?
I love what Marvel does because I love the variety of shows. Another model that I thought was interesting was the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show”. This show generated a number of spin-offs: there was “Rhoda”, about her friend. Phyllis has her own show. And the one that really got me excited was “Lou Grant.” They took this character from a sitcom and made him the hero of a serious journalism show. It’s pretty amazing to take a character that’s a comedy movie and make them the focus of a serious show. I would like to see a range in our shows.
Before “House of the Dragon” was given the green light, HBO shot an entire pilot for a show set 1,000 years before the events of “Game of Thrones.” It was eventually cancelled. What went wrong?
Well, I haven’t seen the pilot. For some reason they won’t show it to me, so I don’t know. It was, in some ways, more difficult because on this one they’re really, really going back in time. The long night is mentioned in my books here and there, but it’s an ancient event that people tell stories about – it’s like the Garden of Eden or a biblical flood. I remember when we first developed it, I said, “You go back so far – if you decided to do a ‘Sopranos’ prequel, then you’d be talking about the Etruscans, the ancestors of Tony Soprano. You may be talking about cavemen.
Tell me about your level of involvement in “House of the Dragon” compared to your level of involvement in “Game of Thrones”, the original series.
I’m much more involved in “House of the Dragon” than I was in the last seasons of “Game of Thrones”. Now, beware, I was very involved in the first seasons of “Game of Thrones”. From seasons 1 to 4, I mean, not only was I writing a script, but mostly like seasons 1 or 2, I was giving a verdict on all the castings. I read the scripts. I was talking to Dan and David. I visited the set. But over the years, this involvement has become less and less important.
Will your next books diverge from “Thrones”, the television series?
Much of this story comes back to me as I write it. I always knew that once the show moved beyond my books – which I honestly hadn’t anticipated – they would start going in directions the books wouldn’t. Now, as I write the books and gain more and more progress and it gets longer, the ideas come to me and the characters take me in even further directions in the series.
So I think what you’re going to find is that when “Winds of Winter” and then hopefully “Dream of Spring” come out, my ending will be very different. And there will be similarities, great moments that I told David and Dan many years ago when they visited me in Santa Fe. But we only had two, three days there- low, so I didn’t tell them everything. And even some of the things I told them change as I write. So they will be different. And then it will be up to readers and viewers to decide which one they like best and discuss it.
When will the books be finished?
No comment. No comment. No comment. I get in trouble every time I do this. I mean, going back 10 years, I said, “Oh, I should be done next year.” And then it’s not done next year. And then: “George lied to us.” I’m not good at predicting these things. And it depends partly on the number of other interruptions and all that. I’m in a pretty good position now, so I’m optimistic. But I’m not going to make predictions.