A number of years ago, Miguel Sapochnik thought he was done with “Game of Thrones.”
“I’m unfortunately caught on tape on the very last day of shooting,” he recalled recently, “surrounded by burning Westeros and lots of of individuals covered in blood, saying, ‘This was great; I hope I never come back again.’”
And yet, here we’re and here he’s. On Sunday, the franchise returns to HBO with “House of the Dragon,” a prequel series set nearly 200 years before the unique. Westeros isn’t burning, but there’s loads of blood, amongst other clear reminders that viewers are back within the deeply TV-MA world of HBO’s biggest-ever hit.
So is Sapochnik. A director of a lot of probably the most spectacular “Thrones” installments, he’s a showrunner on “Dragon” and directed several episodes, including Sunday’s series premiere. The opposite showrunner is Ryan Condal (“Colony”), who created the series with George R.R. Martin, the literary mastermind of the “Thrones” universe.
Of the varied proposals for “Thrones” spinoffs discussed and developed, “Dragon,” based on Martin’s prequel novel, “Fire & Blood,” was in some ways the safest alternative, with obvious parallels with the unique. (A pilot was shot for an earlier spinoff that was ultimately spiked by HBO and WarnerMedia, then the network’s corporate owner.)
The series involves an earlier war for the Iron Throne waged largely amongst members of the ruling Targaryen dynasty, the ancestors of the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke in “Thrones.” The core solid includes Paddy Considine as King Viserys, the ruler of Westeros; Matt Smith as his tempestuous brother; Emma D’Arcy because the king’s headstrong daughter; and Olivia Cooke as a courtier at the middle of things.
The stakes are undeniable: As a test of viewers’ appetite for more Westeros stories, “Dragon” will perhaps determine whether “Thrones” can emerge as one other lucrative pop-culture universe à la Marvel. (Several other “Thrones” shows are in development.)
A number of weeks ago, in a video interview shortly before the series’s world premiere in Los Angeles, Condal and Sapochnik broke down the brand new series, brothel scenes and domesticated dragons. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Why was this a part of the “Game of Thrones” history the most effective basis for the primary follow-up series?
MIGUEL SAPOCHNIK The choice was form of made for us: George really desired to tell this story. Of all of the stories that were form of bandied around, it’s the closest one to the unique show in tone. It deals with the Targaryens and their dynasty, so it’s accessible in that respect. It has more dragons in it. People will say they don’t like dragons and so they’re not watching it for the dragons, but they do just like the dragons, they assist.
RYAN CONDAL This one had probably the most resonance with the unique series, after we see Daenerys after the autumn of the empire. She’s running across the East counting on the kindness of strangers, or perhaps the greed of strangers who wish to put her on the throne to complement themselves. Her memory, the stories that she’s been told of the Targaryen height, the shining city on the hill — that’s this story.
In what specific ways did you would like to reflect the unique series?
SAPOCHNIK We wanted to duplicate its success. That was first.
SAPOCHNIK No, I mean, we should be so lucky. We specifically set out to begin the show as “Game of Thrones” and never to attempt to deviate. It seems very vital that when you’re going to evolve beyond “Game of Thrones,” first you could have to pay respect to it. Also it worked, so why attempt to reinvent it? But to simply replicate the unique show can be a giant disservice to the story because we now have what’s effectively a soap-opera form of quality to it. The angle is the thing that’s different, in that it’s a female perspective.
CONDAL There’s 172 years of history that happened between these two series. Much needed to be the identical since it’s still “Game of Thrones,” it’s still the identical universe. But things also should be different to speak this massive passage of time. So those were the opposing forces that we were at all times weighing.
What were a number of the things that you just didn’t want to duplicate?
SAPOCHNIK It’s a radically different world from what it was 10 years ago. Actually our industry has modified and shifted substantially: The #MeToo movement got here in, after which there was cancel culture, there was Black Lives Matter. Then Covid just slapped every little thing down.
We have now to reflect the changes on the earth before us — not because someone told us to, but because we actually feel like there’s a degree. We’ve done that in front of and behind the camera. It’s actually really hard. Like, trying to search out experienced female B camera operators — it’s a really specific thing you’re in search of, and so they don’t get the chance, in order that they don’t get the experience. So you could have to tackle less-experienced people. Because otherwise we’re never going to interrupt through this glass ceiling that we now have.
What about onscreen? For instance, there’s a giant brothel scene within the premiere, which is synonymous with “Thrones,” but that show also received loads of criticism for its handling and overuse of sex and nudity. Was that a tough balance to strike?
SAPOCHNIK The issue in doing a brothel scene like they used to in “Game of Thrones” is what we might do is hire adult entertainment actors. Because that was one of the best ways of getting individuals who understood what they were doing and there was no issue surrounding nudity and intimacy with other people, and you then would pair them up and film it. With the arrival of intimacy coordinators and Covid, that’s now not possible. So suddenly that easy brothel scene is much more complicated, and consequently, sooner or later you begin going, “Well, why are we doing this?”
Why did you choose to do it?
CONDAL I mean, that scene is true out of the book. I don’t think we ever got that granular concerning the original show. It was more caring for the tone, the voice, the appear and feel. We took the approach of it is a far more decadent period in time — it’s after an extended period of peace, so persons are wearing their wealth, they’re dressing of their house colours. That was more of the spirit we brought.
This series is more immediately fantastical, with soaring dragons from the earliest moments. Do you are concerned about alienating the fantasy-ambivalent individuals who watched “Thrones” for its grittier points?
SAPOCHNIK I’d argue that we’re standing on the shoulders of the previous show, which got people to see dragons as being a part of this world. We had White Walkers, direwolves, giants, ice spiders, all that stuff. As this show progresses, the one little bit of fantasy are the dragons and prophecy — and the dragons are form of domesticated, they’ve got saddles. If anything, it’s probably more grounded.
CONDAL For those who can accept the dragons.
SAPOCHNIK Yeah, exactly. Making those dragons feel real, especially in those opening scenes, is paramount. For those who can’t crack that you then’re in trouble, because what you would like people to do is say, “Oh, cool, they will do dragons,” after which move on.
Are you nervous concerning the shadow that the conflicted reception to the tip of “Thrones” will solid over your show?
SAPOCHNIK Why would we be?
CONDAL I don’t think so. It was such a generational event — people had a whole lot of expectation for where that series was going to finish and what it was going to be. I believe it was a grieving process for a whole lot of fans who had spent a decade with that exact story line. I believe a whole lot of them struggled with having to say goodbye, and the response indicated how wide and powerful that fan base is.
Frankly, I believe that grieving process probably led them to wish to re-enter Westeros, even in the event that they’re coming in kind of unsure: “Am I going to fall in love again only to get hurt when everybody’s dead and has to go away?” But we now have a rare gift because we now have a pre-existing fan base, which didn’t exist when the show originally launched in 2011. That’s actually a responsibility, but I’d fairly have it than not have it.
SAPOCHNIK I went back and rewatched the entire show from start to complete, and you’ll be able to see the setup for Dany’s turn early on. In order that wasn’t surprising. I discovered it quite hard, after we were making it, that we had this weird epilogue pleased ending.
It wasn’t just the fans that were combating ending it. The people making it were struggling. It was their livelihood for a very long time, after which suddenly they were coming to an end. Everyone hates endings.