Fire And Ice

I’ll admit, I’m not the authority on anything related to GAME OF THRONES.  My roommate has implored, urged, cajoled and even chided me to watch the original series.  And as someone who loves compelling, epic television, I know I should.  But, honestly, the idea of devoting more than 100 hours to anything other than physical activity and earning income these days strikes me as counterproductive, and I’m more than a little embarassed that tens of millions of other people have long ago discovered the joys of the world of Westeros.

But I will be giving a shot to HOUSE OF THE DRAGON when it premieres this weekend on HBO and its sibling of the moment HBO Max, if for no other reason to see what the big deal is all about.  And it’s a BIG deal.  Any time any service drops more than a quarter billion dollats on production and marketing these days is news.  The fact that it’s still being allowed to go off for a company that in the last month has eliminated dozens of executive jobs (including yet another round at OWN and CNN this week), written off hundreds of millions of dollars in content it now believes is doomed and has taken down dozens of series from its platform that it believes are compromising the value proposition–even though that platform will be a completely different site by next year–is, well, as epic as the story it will tell.

No doubt you know more about the plot than I do, but I’ll let the HBO press release set it up in case you’ve been under a rock since the Obama election:

The reign of House Targaryen begins. House of the Dragon, the prequel to Game of Thrones, is coming to HBO and HBO Max on August 21. Based on George R.R. Martin’s “Fire & Blood,” the series, which is set 200 years before the events of Game of Thrones, tells the story of House Targaryen.

Paddy Considine (HBO’s The Third Day and The Outsider), Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Olivia Cooke, Emma D’Arcy, Steve Toussaint (It’s a SinDoctor Who), Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Fabien Frankel and Rhys Ifans to star. Additional cast members include Milly Alcock, Bethany Antonia, Phoebe Campbell, Emily Carey, Harry Collett, Ryan Corr, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jefferson Hall, David Horovitch, Wil Johnson, John Macmillan, Graham McTavish, Ewan Mitchell, Theo Nate, Matthew Needham, Bill Paterson, Phia Saban, Gavin Spokes, and Savannah Steyn. See the cast and who they will play here.

Martin and Ryan Condal serve as co-creators on the series. Miguel Sapochnik and Condal are showrunners, and the pair also serve as executive producers along with Martin, Sara Hess, Jocelyn Diaz, Vince Gerardis and Ron Schmidt. Clare Kilner and Geeta Vasant Patel also direct the series. Greg Yaitanes is director and co-executive producer. Game of Thrones and Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi scored the series.

Sure, the House Targaryen will be taking on demons, rogue nations and perhaps a few hunky warriors over the next few weeks.  But HOUSE OF DRAGONS faces three even more compelling threats to its existence.  One is to maintain momentum and relevance with the imminent release of Amazon Prime Video’s LORD OF THE RINGS: RINGS OF POWER, an even more expensive prequel gambit that is scheduled to start Labor Day weekend.  Based on IP from decades earlier, it has been anticipated and promoted for several years, and indeed Prime is putting out even more promotion and marketing than is HOUSE–and that’s despite the fact that at more than $100M it is the largest-ever push for HBO in its five-decade history.

Two is to overcome the bad taste that GAME OF THRONES’ final season left in the throats of its ardent fans, who believed that it was rushed relative to the earlier seasons of the series and the end results of who were GAME’s biggest battles were somewhat anticlimactic.  Reviews are generally positive, but hardly universally.  While CNET crowed:

But after watching the first six episodes, it’s clear House of the Dragon at least has a shot. It’s excellent TV, a fantasy drama that doesn’t require Game of Thrones fandom to enjoy. 

USA TODAY, on the other hand, was nowhere near as upbeat:

Unfortunately, phenomena are singular, and extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Trying to recreate one leads to dull, cookie-cutter series like “Dragon” – something that smells and sounds and looks like “Thrones,” but lacks the substance of the original. For fans who love the world author George R.R. Martin created with his “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of novels, it’s a deep disappointment. 

And the third, by far the most imposing foe on the horizon, is the ice–the imposing Warner Discovery chairman David Zaslav.  While he gushed over the show’s creative accomplishments and the hard work of his just-endorsed entertainment head Casey Bloys and his team, for a studio that has already put the kibosh on previously announced spin-offs even that sort of support has to no be taken with more than a grain of salt.  Last month IGN reported that FLEA BOTTOM, a live-action spin-off, was not moving forward, while plans for three animated spin-offs, including one set in The Golden Empire of Yi Ti, were going forward.

But Zaslav still has to make up a $3B shortfall, and has been merciless in his dedication toward achieving that goal.  Make no mistake, had HOUSE OF THE DRAGON been a few more months off in the distance it too may have been a victim of Yosemite Zas’ trigger finger.  It will launch globally on almost a day-and-date basis, and metrics both public and parochial will be quickly available.  The last HBO season averaged a 5.2 HH Rating on U.S. linear TV alone.  HOD won’t equal that, but it had better be an overachiever that the media landscape hasn’t seen since the pandemic for its to satisfy the fiscal needs of Warner Discovery.

There’s certainly the potential for something positive enough to occur.  There’s virtually nothing in the theatres, it’s friggin’ hot as hell in most of the world and no doubt you’ll be unable to avoid marketing pushes.  And even with RINGS OF POWER firing its own cannons, there’s a world where both can succeed.  Dueling theatrical blockbusters have co-existed in the past; release schedule notwithstanding this is no different.

I’m at least going to give this a chance, which makes me an unexpected convert from a zero awareness base.  Perhaps there’s millions more like me out there.  There’d better be.  Forget “winter is coming”, summer is HERE.  And it’s gonna be a summer of hell for the Targaryens if they can’t satisfy Zaslav’s expectations.

Until next time…


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