Game of Thrones: HBO Reportedly Spent $30 Million+ on Scrapped Spinoff

You'd think as proven commodity as Game of Thrones was that HBO had complete faith in the brand, right? Apparently, it didn't work out as imagined with the infamous spinoff that was to star Naomi Watts the network decided to pass on, according to James Andrew Miller, author of the behind-the-scenes book Tinderbox: HBO's Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers (via Entertainment Weekly). The WarnerMedia-owned entity ended up blowing over $30 million on the pilot of the Game of Thrones prequel that would have featured the two-time Oscar nominee.

Game of Thrones Season 8 (Image: HBO)
Game of Thrones Season 8 (Image: HBO)

The series was dropped before it could have an official title. Joining Watts on the pilot were director S. J. Clarkson and showrunner Jane Goldman. The prequel was to be set thousands of years before Game of Thrones and involved the distant ancestors of noble families like the Starks and Lannisters. It would have omitted dragons since the series would have predated the Targaryens' arrival in Westeros. Author George R. R. Martin, who wrote plenty of lore to supplement the main novels of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, suggested The Long Night as a possible title before it was decided to be the episode title of the climactic final Winterfell battle during GOT's final season.

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Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell in Game of Thrones. Image Courtesy of WarnerMedia

Along with HBO announcing it had passed up the Watts-starred series, they greenlit House of the Dragon, another prequel that's closer to the high fantasy's original timeline and focuses on the dragon-filled civil war in House Targaryen. HOTD also could be directly adapted from Martin's 2018 book Fire & Blood. "They had spent over $30 million on a Game of Thrones prequel pilot when I got there," former WarnerMedia chairman Bob Greenblatt said in Miller's 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."

Game of Thrones, HBO
Game of Thrones, HBO

When Game of Thrones shot its original pilot, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss made considerable changes (including recasting) given the already ambitious nature of the project, testing HBO's faith in the duo early during its run. Knowing what had happened in their failed investment, Greenblatt convinced HBO (who declined to comment to EW) on putting faith into the next series. "I'm the one who encouraged Casey to green-light it to series. 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," Greenblatt explained. "That's always a nail-biter, but I think the new show that is coming will be incredible."

For more on House of the Dragon, you can go to EW. The series premieres on HBO Max in 2022.

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About Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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