TV News

HBO’s Game of Thrones Conundrum

HBO had at least a three-year head start on finalizing its post-Game of Thrones strategy. It was early 2016 when Benioff & Weiss confirmed their intention to end the show after 13 more episodes split across two abbreviated seasons. By mid-2017, HBO head of programming Casey Bloys told EW that four potential spin-off projects were in their “embryonic” stage. A year after that, AT&T completed its purchase of Time Warner and immediately revamped the entertainment conglomerate to be a content farm for a new streaming service, eventually named HBO Max, HBO CEO Richard Pepler eventually called it a day on his career. Benioff & Weiss high tailed it for Netflix. Bloys is left making sure the HBO ships get in on time.

Still, even with all of that executive turmoil, HBO was on track for a timely Game of Thrones spin-off. Of the potential projects in contention, Jane Goldman’s Bloodmoon matured beyond its embryonic stage the fasted. Set 10,000 years before the events of the series and thus at a time when Westeros saw its first White Walkers, Bloodmoon went before cameras in Northern Ireland in May of this year, one week before the Game of Thrones series finale had aired. Naomi Watts played the lead, and S.J. Clarkson womanned the camera.

To recap, Bloodmoon had an incredibly accomplished female showrunner, internationally known female lead, and industry-respected female director, and a full year of lead time to iron out issues and have enough episodes filmed in time for HBO Max’s launch target, May 2020. That’s why it sent a minor shockwave throughout the industry when AT&T’s big roadshow unveiling HBO Max to the press included the news that Bloodmoon had been scrapped entirely and a competing prequel from George R.R. Martin and Ryan Condal ordered in its place.

The reports are that Bloodmoon was a “troubled production” that ran too far afoul of the brand and couldn’t be saved by extensive post-production tinkering. According to Deadline, it “weaved in issues of race, power, intrigue and White Walkers.” The actual pilot script can be found and read online if you are Google savvy.

Similar to Star Wars, there is an optics issue at play – a franchise run almost exclusively by men at its highest levels from the start to the end just gave up on a diversity-oriented spin-off. However, there’s also the “none of us have actually seen the pilot” issue at well. TV pilots burn out sometimes. Most of the time, actually. Maybe this one just didn’t work. Or maybe the old HBO management would have worked harder and shown more patience to get it right – the Pepler era, after all, let Benioff & Weiss re-film their Game of Thrones pilot – and the new content, content, content version of the AT&T era has a different operational mindset.

Either way, Bloodmoon is dead, and HBO is now going with a different prequel set 300 years before the events of the series and focused on House Targaryen. According to Martin’s own blog post about this series, the project is more or less just a pitch at this point. Now begins the hard work of hiring a writer’s room, casting, scouting, recruiting department heads, etc. It took Bloodmoon around a full year to get from that early stage to actually being on set and filming. If Martin and Condal really book it, maybe they can be on set by around the time HBO Max launches.

(To be clear, HBO Max will NOT replace HBO, but the streamer will have all of HBO’s programming, plus thousands of hours of its own programming, and it will cost the same as HBO Now making it a value-added service, a “you’d be stupid not to cancel your HBO and switch over to this” proposition.)

Since the more obvious tactic here would be to prioritize the series which can be finished sooner, it’s perhaps a sign of surprising quality control that Bloodmoon was shelved. Sacrificing a potential launch program for HBO Max in favor of a far more nebulous project with an uncertain timeline must mean Bloodmoon really, really didn’t work.

However, there’s a definite sense of fear at play – fear of not fucking up, fear of appeasing a fanbase burned by GoT’s final season, fear of moving on without Benioff & Weiss, fear of not taking any chances. Bloodmoon looks like a project designed delve even further into the political and social world of GoT; a House Targaryen series seems to be countering, “That’s all fine and good, but you know what people really want? Dragons!”

Fair. But what people really, really wanted was a satisfying Game of Thrones ending. That didn’t happen. Now, HBO is left handling a brand that feels tarnished despite being mere months removed from its most-watched season and a Best Drama win at the Emmys. HBO hopes time will heal all wounds. There will eventually be a new GoT series to help sell HBO Max subscriptions. No, it won’t be a re-filmed version of the final season, regardless of how many petitions you start. Instead, it will be a prequel, which is a word geeks have learned to dread (see: The Hobbit, Phantom Menace). Will you be watching?

Let me know in the comments.

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