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HBO has reportedly canceled its Naomi Watts-led Game of Thrones prequel

The first of HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoffs is DOA — and it’s hard to tell how many are left.

The Night King walking through flames in “Game of Thrones.” HBO
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

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 some of the franchise’s 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.

(Note that if you’re confused about what’s happening with regard to Game of Thrones prequel projects right now, your confusion is justified! HBO has multiple prequels in play. Mere hours after reports began to spread that HBO has canceled the Naomi Watts-led prequel discussed in this article, the network announced that it has ordered 10 episodes of a different prequel, House of the Dragon.)

Although HBO has not confirmed the cancellation, a page promoting the Naomi Watts prequel on the network’s website, which was online until October 29, now contains information about a different prequel project. Vox has reached out to HBO for details about the reported cancellation of the series and will update with more information if we receive any.

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 pilot “amazing” — while acknowledging he hadn’t seen it yet — and said that the infamous backlash to Game of Throneseighth and final season would not affect the series’ chances of success.

So what happened? We don’t know for sure, But 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 among the first to point out that Benioff and Weiss, who had virtually no experience when they were hired to work on Game of Thrones, shot a notoriously bad pilot — but unlike with Goldman’s pilot, HBO gave them the chance and the budget to complete a 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 has billed it as promising to reveal Westeros’s “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 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 Game of Thrones writer Bryan Cogman, in April 2019. Of the remaining series in development, one hails from longtime writer and director Brian Helgeland (A Knight’s Tale); another comes from Carly Wray (Mad Men). Details on both projects are sketchy, and it’s unclear whether a series pilot is close to being produced 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 2019, 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 canceled project — 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.

Here’s where things get tricky. The main rumors surrounding the Borenstein series were that it focused on the period leading up to the rise of the Targaryens and that Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik would be involved. These details have since turned out to apply to House of the Dragon, the newly announced Game of Thrones prequel series that wasn’t among the original five that were pitched. So now it’s unclear whether House of the Dragon is its own new thing, a new version of the nixed Cogman pitch, a new version of the Borenstein pitch, or some sort of amalgam. And even though not all of the remaining projects are officially tabled, it’s unclear whether any of them are still in active development.

But even though the status of HBO’s various Game of Thrones prequel endeavors is uncertain and messy, and even though many fans have expressed their sadness not to have Goldman’s vision reaching their screens, we’ll clearly be seeing more of Westeros. The network’s swift announcement that House of the Dragon is getting a full-season order conveys its commitment to continuing the franchise, despite any setbacks.

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