One fell down and broke its crown: A Game of Thrones prequel project previously greenlit by HBO in 2018 and set to star Naomi Watts has reportedly been axed, leaving the fate of the franchise’s four other planned spinoffs uncertain.
Deadline is reporting that showrunner Jane Goldman, a producer and writer best known for writing Kingsman (2014) and The Woman in Black (2012), has announced to the show’s cast and crew that the series, which was rumored to have been called Bloodmoon or The Long Night, is dead.
Although HBO has not confirmed the series’ status, a page promoting the prequel on the HBO website, which was online until October 29, now returns a 404. Vox has reached out to HBO for details about the reported cancellation of the series and will update with more when we receive it.
The creative team had wrapped a pilot shoot in Northern Ireland earlier this year that had, according to rumor per Deadline, run into unspecified production issues:
Word of the Watts-led pilot, penned by Goldman and directed by S.J. Clarkson, not going forward comes after a lengthy post-production, which included re-editing of the initial cut after it was not well received, and rumors about issues during filming in Northern Ireland.
Still, in late July, HBO’s president of programming, Casey Bloys, called the prequel pilot “amazing” — while acknowledging he hadn’t seen it yet — and said that the infamous backlash to Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season wouldn’t affect the prequel’s chances of success.
So what happened? In addition to any pricey production hangups, the recent announcement that Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had signed a lucrative, five-year exclusive deal with Netflix might have cooled HBO’s enthusiasm for nurturing another Game of Thrones project so soon after season eight, as it seeks to compete in the much-vaunted streaming wars.
Fans were also among the first to point out that Benioff and Weiss, who had virtually no experience when they were hired for the project, shot a notoriously bad Game of Thrones pilot — but unlike Goldman’s pilot, HBO gave them the chance and the budget to complete a massive reshoot.
Little was known about Goldman’s prequel project. The idea for the untitled show came from Goldman and author George R.R. Martin, upon whose Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series Game of Thrones is based. Directed by S.J. Clarkson (Jessica Jones), the TV series was set 5,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones. HBO billed it as promising to show Westeros’ “descent from the golden Age of Heroes into its darkest hour.” Such a historical setting might have meant an up-close look at legendary Westerosi characters like Bran the Builder, and the war between humans and the Children of the Forest that led to the creation of the White Walkers. Now, it could be up to the other potential prequel series to fill in those gaps.
A number of other Game of Thrones spinoff projects are reportedly still in the works, though exactly how many isn’t quite clear. Originally, HBO was considering up to five spinoff projects. Bloys announced in 2018 that only one of the original five was actively moving forward — the purportedly canceled Goldman project — but that some of the other projects still had life in them.
HBO axed one of the original five pitched series, from longtime Thrones writer Bryan Cogman, in April. Another of the remaining series in development hails from longtime writer and director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale); another comes from Carly Wray (Mad Men). Details on both projects are very sketchy, and it’s unclear whether a series pilot is close for either show; in May of 2019, Martin wrote on his blog that two of the remaining series “remain in the script stage, but are edging closer” to production, however.
Four months later, in September, rumors surfaced that HBO was close to ordering a pilot for an additional prequel series about House Targaryen from Colony co-creator Ryan Condal and Martin. This project will undoubtedly hew closer to Martin’s considerable established world-building — he’s announced that it’s based on events chronicled in his historical Westeros companion book Fire & Blood — to explore the reign of the tempestuous Targaryen clan over Westeros and the events surrounding a civil war which split the country.
The Condal/Martin series was rumored to have been a recycled version of Cogman’s pitch — but it also sounds very close to another previously pitched prequel series, rumored to have been titled Empire of Ash. That series, developed by Max Borenstein (Kong: Skull Island), focused on the Westerosi historical period known as the Doom of Valyria. It’s unclear whether HBO is now developing two different prequels focused on the Targaryens, whether one has superseded the other, or whether these two projects have merged.
What does seem clear is that the future of a beloved universe which once seemed destined to continue churning out spinoffs indefinitely is nowhere near as secure as it appears. Hopefully for Game of Thrones fans, one of these pilots will finally take flight.