There was a time when a high fantasy series about dragons and zombies seemed like a risky proposition. It’s hard for many in the industry to remember that though in the wake of Game of Thrones’ enormous success during the 2010s as a cultural phenomenon—and The Walking Dead too. But star Peter Dinklage recalls those early days, as he sees the television industry desperately competing to copy Game of Thrones’ success, including HBO which is about to premiere a prequel series set in Westeros later this year: House of the Dragon.
In a sit-down interview earlier this week on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, Dinklage commented on the new series while discussing his upcoming and buzzy reimagining of the Cyrano tale.
“I have an opinion,” Dinklage said (via THR) about House of the Dragon. And at Maron’s urging, he elaborated, “I think it is going to be a really good show. The director and producer of it worked on our show, and I think it’s going to be really fucking good. But they took a risk on our show, HBO did. They took a huge risk on our show. It was a slow start, but why don’t they do that again? This isn’t a risk. It’s a proven thing that works.”
It is true that Game of Thrones was a huge risk that almost didn’t happen—twice. In addition to convincing HBO to greenlight an ambitious and expensive project from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, two writers who had never worked in television before, much less as showrunners, the series’ first episode was reportedly so disastrous that it needed to be reshot from nearly top to bottom. And to make that happen, it needed to be approved by an entirely different set of HBO executives who inherited the troubled production.
In James Hibberd’s oral history about the making of the series, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, Benioff said, “HBO was very much on the fence” after seeing the pilot. “It’s a traditional thing at any studio that the last regime’s projects are going to be less appealing to the new regime. And this was a very expensive project.”
However, then-HBO programming president Michael Lombardo was ultimately impressed by the overall scope of what Benioff and Weiss were trying to build from author George R.R. Martin’s rich source material, and thus the network ordered Game of Thrones to series even without a usable pilot. The results of the gamble are of course self-evident with the series becoming one of the biggest television hits of the 21st century, and arguably the last “appointment viewing” TV series to attract tens of millions of viewers on the night it premieres each episode.
At the time, many were skeptical that a fantasy series—especially one as serious and adult-oriented as Game of Thrones—could work as prestige television or compete with the spectacle of Hollywood movies. Now Amazon is producing a Lord of the Rings television series with a $465 million budget, alongside their more amusingly “affordable” $80 million first season production of The Wheel of Time; Netflix has already greenlit a third season of The Witcher; and HBO’s House of the Dragon is just the first of several spinoffs from the Game of Thrones universe that WarnerMedia is developing for both the cable network and the streaming service HBO Max.
And yet, Dinklage, who won four Emmys for playing Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones, isn’t necessarily wrong to suggest that thinking outside the box is how you got something as groundbreaking and beloved as Thrones was in its heyday. It’s also what he and Maron attribute to the appeal of HBO’s current critical darling, Succession.
That said, Dinklage also notes he thinks a lot of the online disdain for the final season of Game of Thrones stems from people “not wanting to say goodbye to it.” Well, under HBO/WarnerMedia’s new strategy, nobody will be saying goodbye to Westeros for a very long time.