In a shocking move to absolutely everyone, HBO has decided not to pick up the Game of Thrones prequel pilot that it shot this summer to series. Spearheaded by Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, Stardust) and starring Naomi Watts, the prequel took place 5,000 years before the events of Game of Thrones and was said to focus on the “Age of Heroes,” which saw humans battling the White Walkers for the first time.
It’s unclear why HBO decided not to pick the pilot up to series, but THR notes that the network “wasn’t thrilled” with the final cut of the pilot and asked for changes in edits before ultimately deciding to scrap the series entirely. The network began developing further Game of Thrones prequels and spinoffs as the flagship series neared the end of its run, putting together as many as five different ideas for shows with A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin consulting. Goldman’s idea was the only one of that batch to be ordered to pilot, but even then most figured the pickup to series as a foregone conclusion—after all, HBO needs a new Game of Thrones and what better way to capitalize on that audience than with a new Thrones-centric series ready to launch a year after the original show ended?
But perhaps the writing was on the wall. Last month, we learned that an additional Game of Thrones spinoff idea was nearing a pilot order—this one taking place only 300 years before the beginning of Game of Thrones and focusing on the beginning of the end of the reign of House Targaryen. That series idea is being spearheaded by Martin and Colony creator Ryan Condal and is reportedly based on Martin’s book Fire & Blood. While it hasn’t been ordered to pilot yet, one imagines that’ll happen sooner rather than later now. Of note: Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have declined to be involved in any further continuation of the series, and have since signed a deal to create new content for Netflix.
This isn’t the first time HBO has scrapped a high-profile series at the pilot stage. Director Noah Baumbach assembled an all-star cast for an adaptation of the Jonathan Franzen novel The Corrections years ago, only for HBO to pass on the pilot. While its streaming competitors are inclined to hand out straight-to-series orders based on ideas, HBO clearly still values the pilot process as a way to vet what should and should not make it to air.
The move also comes in the wake of HBO’s new parent company AT&T ordering the network to increase the volume of its output, so either this Game of Thrones prequel pilot was really bad, or something else is going on here. WarnerMedia is readying the launch of its own streaming service HBO Max in Spring 2020, which will also play host to a number of HBO series—including Game of Thrones. So more high-value content is wanted at the pay cable network now more than ever, which makes this news all the more shocking.