Why the First Game of Thrones Spinoff Was Almost Like The Mandalorian

House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal’s first prequel idea was a Dunk & Egg adaptation that could have resembled the Star Wars Disney+ series.

Ser Harrold Westerling (Graham McTavish) on House of the Dragon
Photo: HBO

When House of the Dragon first premieres on Aug. 21 on HBO, Game of Thrones fans should find a lot of it quite familiar. Just like the flagship series upon which it’s spun off from, House of the Dragon is a big endeavor. The show features a sprawling cast of King’s Landing schemers, tons of twists and turns, and more dragons than the side of a 1970s panel van

If anything, House of the Dragon could end up feeling as epic or more so than Game of Thrones despite adapting a smaller section of George R.R. Martin’s source material. Interestingly enough, however, the showrunner behind it originally had a much smaller, more intimate vision of Martin’s Westeros. 

House of the Dragon showrunner Ryan Condal (formerly of Colony and Rampage) has a lengthy history with George R.R. Martin’s epic novels

“I found George’s books back in 2001,” Condal tells Den of Geek. “I had just graduated college and I was sort of adrift, trying to figure out what I was going to do next. I found the books at a really transitional, pivotal time in my young life, and I was beginning to write screenplays of my own.”

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Condal eventually broke into the entertainment industry and was able to meet with Martin himself while shooting his first television pilot near Santa Fe, which is where Martin has lived for most of his life. The two struck up a friendship over the years and that’s why when HBO decided to seek out pitches for Game of Thrones spinoffs, Condal was invited to share his idea. The idea he had, however, wasn’t quite to HBO’s liking at the time. 

“I talked a lot about [Tales of] Dunk and Egg and how I was really inspired by it,” Condal says. “I thought it was a great change of pace, because it’s this much smaller story in this huge canvas. I mean, it’d be like doing The Mandalorian versus a giant $250 million Star Wars film. I think they were more interested in doing something much, much different at that point and really far afield.”

Tales of Dunk and Egg is a series of A Song of Ice and Fire prequel stories written by Martin in-between main volumes of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” upon which Game of Thrones is based. The Tales consist of three novellas called The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword, and The Mystery Knight, with at least four other novellas planned. The stories follow the adventures of a young squire named “Egg” and his trusty hedge knight companion Ser Duncan The Tall (Dunk) as they travel around Westeros some 90 years before the events of the main novels. 

Condal’s comparison to The Mandalorian is apt as the novellas’ focus is limited to Dunk and Egg themselves rather than Thrones’ enormous pool of characters, just like The Mandalorian follows the titular Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal, also of Game of Thrones) rather than the rest of the Star Wars galaxy’s movers and shakers. While both Tales of Dunk and Egg and The Mandalorian are concerned with the day-to-day reality of their world’s “street level” characters, both do also incorporate some major players. 

Alas, HBO was not taken by Condal’s Dunk and Egg pitch back in the mid-2010s, probably in no small part due to the fact that, at the time Condal delivered it, The Mandalorian had not premiered on Disney+ yet and had therefore not yet proven the “smaller franchise story on TV” path to be viable. Ultimately, Bloodmoon a.k.a. “The Long Night” was announced as the first Game of Thrones prequel. Once that ambitious undertaking was canceled, HBO announced a bevy of new projects, including the one that would eventually become the first to make it to series in House of the Dragon.

Ironically, HBO eventually saw the light of Condal’s Dunk and Egg vision. On Jan. 21, 2021, Variety reported that HBO was developing a TV adaptation of Martin’s three Tales of Dunk and Egg novellas. In March of 2022, Martin confirmed the show was in development with Steve Conrad (Patriot) writing and the first season set to cover the events of The Hedge Knight

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House of the Dragon episode 1 premieres Sunday, Aug. 21 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Max.