October 2019: A screening of ‘Bloodmoon‘ has just ended for the top brass at Home Box Office. A decision had to be made: To go to series, or not go to series? ‘Bloodmoon’ was touted by professional media outlets and social media forums to be the next epic for HBO. The series certainly checked all the boxes for the qualities that would make a sound hour of premium cable programming; including a cast led by Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts, George RR Martin returning as Executive Producer, and a director/Co-Executive Producer, Miguel Sapochnik whose credits include Dexter and Succession.
With the aforementioned talent, coupled with HBO’s deep pockets and strategic vision, ‘Bloodmoon’ seemingly was a certified hit. Alas, the pilot episode met the same fate as the original GAME OF THRONES pilot: ‘Bloodmoon’ Episode One, was locked in the infamous HBO vault. Not even A Song Of Ice And Fire author George RR Martin is allowed to see a single frame of the axed $30 million pilot.
HBO’s road to continue Game of Thrones is chronicled in an exceptional article in The Hollywood Reporter and affectionately called “The War of the Five Pitches”. As with the War of the Five Kings, most did not survive the process, although one pitch survived: Tales of the Targaryen dynasty ultimately called HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. Conversely, this article attempts to answer our fearless editor-in-chief’s question: “Is HOUSE OF THE DRAGON HBO’s next epic”? HBO’s storied history of a careful selection of programming and the $200m budget, are indicators that the premium cable network is confident in the continuation of the A Song Of Ice And Fire Series.
GoT alum Miguel Sapochnik, screenwriter Ryan Condal, and series creator George RR Martin helm HOUSE OF THE DRAGON. The trifecta has a daunting task ahead, for they must give the audience familiarity and continuity, but also must present new characters and story arcs. How to be familiar but not redundant? HOUSE OF THE DRAGON must deepen the central ideas of its parent show, while also challenging the central ideas. HBO and the cast/crew of the new series seemingly have the answer to making the series distinct and a logical extension of GoT. Start with House Targaryen at King’s Landing.
King’s Landing was the epicenter of the original series, it is fitting to have the new series begin 200 years earlier with the Targaryens. To understand the lore behind the desire to murder entire settlements to sit on an uncomfortable mound of melted swords, a few key facts about King’s Landing must be presented:
- King’s Landing is the royal capital of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms
- King’s Landing is described as extremely populous but unsightly and dirty. The stench of the city’s waste can be smelled far beyond its walls and there is a vast divide between the city’s poor and the wealthy elite. (sounds like a real get-away for the weekend)
- King’s Landing was ruled by the only surviving dragon lords known as the Targaryens.
The grander budget and the motivation to captivate viewers are evident in the series premiere (HOTD E1 review is here). The Iron Throne, an iconic set piece in the books and the 2011-2019 series, is more intricately detailed here. A thoroughfare with melted swords of the armies defeated by Aegon I Targaryen, leads up to the throne. The swords on the throne are contorted, a stark contrast to the more streamlined remodel that Robert Baratheon possessed in the original series. The idea here is a double entendre: 1. The throne will cut anyone not worthy. 2. The one who sits on the throne must never become too comfortable. Fans of GAME OF THRONES know about the fall of the Targaryens through anecdotes of characters from the original series and exposition in Fire And Blood. This series presents the opportunity to directly experience the story arcs of the Targaryens. Perhaps other secrets can be unveiled, secrets that were lost after Robert’s rebellion that preceded GoT by a few years.
King’s Landing is the setting. But what will the plot present? This season of HOUSE OF DRAGON is said to explore the miracle and torment of giving birth, as GAME OF THRONES presented weddings as a wonderful event that could go south at any second. HOUSE OF THE DRAGON will show the catastrophic consequences of incest, for it is the Targaryens who destroy themselves from within due to the madness that comes along with inbreeding. This is familiar territory but has the opportunity to make the Lannister siblings’ affair look tame and less consequential in comparison.
The potential of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON cannot be analyzed without mentioning its namesake: Dragons. The source material FIRE AND BLOOD and interviews with the showrunners reveal that dragons are more prevalent in the new series. Prevalent not just in number, but the degree of the relationships with these terrifying and marvelous creatures. Dragonriders and dragon keepers will have personal relationships with the dragons. Perhaps seeing the fall of the reign of dragons will be as mesmerizing as watching the hatching and growth of Daenerys Targaryen’s three dragons.
But is it the next HBO epic? Well, we can’t argue the statistics for the premiere episode, “The Heirs of the Dragon”, now can we? This press release sums it up:
The premiere of “House of the Dragon” drew 9.986 million viewers across linear and HBO Max platforms in the U.S. Sunday night, the largest audience for any new original series in the history of HBO. The premiere also marked the largest series launch on HBO Max across the U.S., LatAm, and EMEA, driving an unprecedented level of concurrent streams on the platform. Typically, Sunday night viewership for a HBO series will represent just 20%-40% of the show’s total gross audience.
The series was also a hit on social media, where fans showed up in droves to celebrate the return to Westeros. On premiere day, House of the Dragon was the longest trending topic on Twitter, ranking #1 for 14 hours straight, and trended #1 on Google Trends.
“It was wonderful to see millions of ‘Game of Thrones’ fans return with us to Westeros last night. ‘House of the Dragon’ features an incredibly talented cast and crew who poured their heart and soul into the production, and we’re ecstatic with viewers’ positive response,” said Casey Bloys, Chief Content Officer, HBO & HBO Max. “We look forward to sharing with audiences what else George, Ryan, and Miguel have in store for them this season.”
Additionally, the original “Game of Thrones” series just wrapped its strongest week on HBO Max to date, capping off a seven-week stretch of week-over-week growth in engagement leading up to the premiere of “House of the Dragon.” The weekly average for “Game of Thrones” in August is nearly 90% above June and nearly 50% above July.
“House of the Dragon” garnered strong critical praise for the “flat-out stunning” show (Entertainment Weekly), with The Guardian saying “House of the Dragon is designed to reward diehard fantasy fans in full measure without alienating the masses that will propel it to the top of the ratings.” IGN declared “It’s good to be back in backstabbing Westeros,” with Chicago Sun-Times declaring the series “a spectacularly entertaining adventure” and adding it has “the gravitas and visceral gut-punch effectiveness of a series that could be with us for a very long time.” The Los Angeles Times hailed it “a new, engrossing chapter in HBO’s epic,” and The Wall Street Journal noted it’s “as captivating as any season of Game of Thrones.”
So, we ask our fellow fans, is this an epic series or not? Now that the show is underway, for a total of 10 episodes in its inaugural season, the numbers indicate it is pretty epic. Big enough to crash HBO Max for some. We’d love to hear your feedback too this post and all the posts being generated regarding the series. Enjoy!
New episodes of HOUSE OF THE DRAGON will debut each week at 9:00pm ET/PT on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max, leading up to the finale on October 23.