Making a Hit – IndieWire
Welcome to It’s a Hit! In this series, IndieWire talks to the creators and showrunners behind some of our favorite television shows about the moment they realized their show was going to make it big.
“The Dragon’s House” it’s now a record HBO hit, but there was a time when that wasn’t a given. Back in 2015, when “Game of Thrones” was still going strong, HBO knew it had to prepare a sequel to the franchise. Here’s how Ryan Condal went from creator of the failed Pedro Pascal pilot to showrunner for “House of the Dragon,” creating a series full of gory action, sexy royal intrigue, and an engaging cast of characters.
In 2013, when “Game of Thrones” was two seasons, Ryan Condal had nothing to do with it. He was in Santa Fe with Pascal on the upcoming NBC pilot “The Sixth Gun,” based on his own comic book. (It became a TV movie instead.) Condal asked WME agents to see if local writer George RR Martin would meet him for dinner. He was an unabashed Martin fan.
“It was very early,” Condal said on Zoom three years ago from his home in London, where “House of the Dragon” Season 2 was about to begin production. “At that point he was certainly known in the science fiction and fantasy book community, but not the icon he is today.”
A friendship began and the writers stayed in touch. While Game of Thrones became a ratings juggernaut, Condal helmed the American sci-fi series Colony for three seasons (USA). In 2016, it was Martin who asked Condal to pitch a Game of Thrones spin-off for HBO.
Condal’s first instinct was to adapt Martin’s “Dunk and Egg” – the colloquial term for the three A Song of Ice and Fire prequels, also known as “Knights of the Seven Kingdoms”. They offer an unusual, lighter view of the world of “Game of Thrones”, but at the time it did not arouse interest.
“I thought it would fly because it was a great counterpoint to Game of Thrones,” Condal said. “He was like ‘The Mandalorian’ in the big ‘Star Wars’ movies. This was a completely different taste. HBO wanted something big and muscular in the battle for the throne. They wanted something like the Dragon’s house.
In 2018, as Colony drew to a close, Martin called again. “He was unhappy with the progress,” Condal said. “They tried to figure everything out. But there was one thing that George really wanted to do, and that was to tell the story of “The Dance of Dragons,” the great Targaryen civil war, the bloodiest civil war ever fought, as the Targaryen family fights family in the war for the throne. This is where dragons fight and kill each other. And as a result, they die later. It’s all horrible.”
It was then that he told Martin Condal that he had written a “fire and blood” story about the first half of the 300-year Targaryen dynasty. “It was the most important spinoff for him and he was unhappy with the development,” Condal said. “HBO wanted to take it down and didn’t want them to do that. He wanted me to give him another shot.”
Condal’s take on “Fire and Blood” was a violent royal succession saga; that it can fall behind HBO. A week later, he was hired to write the pilot.
The question was where to start. After much discussion, they decided to start with younger actors like teenage best friends Alicent (Emily Carey) and Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock). In part 6, age them by 10 years. Condal and HBO made a bet that the audience would be with them, and after almost a year of writing, HBO was “very into it,” Condal said. When production began, HBO ordered a full season.
Condal pulled no punches in Episode 1, introducing King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) who is sick when his beloved wife Emma dies in a gruesome, bloody C-section that also takes the life of their child. A grieving Viserys must choose an heir or his brother Daemon (Matt Smith), an unpopular, volatile and ruthless warrior, will take the throne. Viserys names his only surviving child, his teenage daughter Rhaenyra, as his successor.
“I definitely felt like it was the right place to start the series, and then for 10 episodes set all the characters up like chess pieces on the board,” Condal said. “The expectation for the show is to create a great escapist fantasy. George’s books captivate you in this captivating romantic tale, but turn all the Arthurian or Lord of the Rings tropes on their head. The general rule is, if we’re going to throw these people into the war and start killing them, we’d better take care of them first.”
That’s how the machinations of the plot unfold in the ruthless “Game of Thrones” universe, from two rival queens (Olivia Cooke and Emma D’Arcy) to estranged brothers Viserys and Daemon “breaking Viserys’ heart,” Condal said. . “It’s a tragic romance between two people who really love each other and can’t help but hurt each other. Daemon is heroic at times. He is the meanest villain and loves his family. He tries to destroy them from time to time. A devoted husband, except when he isn’t.
Because Martin sees the history he creates as a non-fictional narrative, he “doesn’t have access to the private pillow talks in the apartments of kings and queens where many of these plots were hatched,” Condal said. “We had to figure out a lot of things. The tricky balance of making this adaptation satisfies George and the lyrics of “Fire and Blood.” And that will hopefully satisfy the fans, but also deliver something that will work for this huge worldwide audience that probably won’t be reading, as George calls, “a fake history book.” It’s a constant tightrope walk.”
The advantage of the medieval saga is how mythical and violent it can be. “George based this period very much on the Anarchy, which was a very, very bloody period in English medieval history. I once picked up a great book about the “White Ship” era, this shipwreck that happens off the coast of England and kills the heir to the throne and hundreds of people, this terrible, terrible event that upsets the whole order of things. The horrific nature of the violence each inflicted on this extended family has you gasping at points, unable to believe these things actually happened and the cruelty involved.
“As brutal as Game of Thrones is, it’s definitely told and portrayed through a more modern emotional lens, in terms of how parents view their children and other people’s children,” Condal said. “But with period pieces, you can play with these larger elemental themes.”
The challenge was to take the audience on a dense and complicated journey without abandoning them. “It’s definitely a walk,” Condal said. “When it’s layered and deep and complex, people get things out of it. Our approach with this show is always to give as much as possible without getting lost in explanation and presentation.”
Condal said he’s not worried about how the series will be received, even before the premiere date. “I knew the actors were fantastic,” Condal said. “I knew the drama was working. And she looked gorgeous. I felt it was what the audience expected and hoped for: a high-quality, complex, well-executed follow-up to Game of Thrones. I didn’t buy an island in French Polynesia, but I was sure there was something very good.
An HBO screening for critics and tastemakers showed that “there was a buzz,” Condal said. “But we didn’t know that either.” Three years after the end of the original series. You follow the Beatles. It’s a brand new cast. It’s not about good and evil, the coming of the long winter, and white walkers, shapeshifters, and direwolves. We had the dragons.”
But when HBO told him the pilot had broken first-day records, he had no idea what that meant. “HBO called me and said 10 million people watched it live last night, which seemed like a big number to me. I knew that the audience for the last season of “Game of Thrones” was about 40 million people, but that was the total audience accumulated over time. They say, “No, this is great, our biggest premiere ever.”
He did his work on the co-show, along with Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik, who led the hiring of department heads and actors and set the look, feel and tone of the show. Condal said: “The partnerships when they work are great because it’s two people with a similar goal, to make a great television show, but it’s coming from different sides, the writer and then the visual artist.”
But by the time the show aired, Sapochnik was ready to move on. “It was on his mind throughout the production,” Condal said. “He had done ‘Game of Thrones’ before and felt like this was an opportunity to do something in the pilot’s seat as co-showrunner. I knew this was something he struggled with or debated all along. So it wasn’t a big surprise when he decided to step aside.”
Following: Season 2’s eight episodes will see solo showrunner Condal collaborate with Game of Thrones veteran Alan Taylor and other directors. “This second season is about the kids we only saw for a few episodes at the end of the series who are grown up and young adults who have dragons, who are of riding and fighting age, who have their own opinions. and the desire to get out and defend the family claim,” Condal said.
How many more seasons? “More than two,” Condal said. “This is part of our discussion. Where do you end the series appropriately so that it doesn’t feel cut off, but doesn’t feel dragged out?”
And now he’s helping HBO develop another Martin spinoff, “Dunk and Egg,” as an executive producer — the one he wanted to write in the first place.