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Somehow, HBO’s First ‘Game of Thrones’ Prequel Won’t Make It to Air

The Naomi Watts–led series, the first of two ‘Thrones’ spinoffs to begin development, has been spiked after filming a pilot

HBO/Ringer illustration

In a shocking twist befitting the series that inspired it, HBO’s Naomi Watts–starring Game of Thrones prequel has been killed. As reported by Deadline on Tuesday afternoon, the pilot—created and showrun by Kingsman writer Jane Goldman, with a helping hand from George R.R. Martin himself—will not be given a full series order by HBO. And so, what was intended to be the network’s first dive into additional Thrones programming will forever be the subject of what-ifs—and hopefully in a few years, a tasty oral history from an entertainment outlet about what went wrong.

Obviously this is all speculative, but the pilot must’ve been really bad for HBO to cut the cord. For context: The pilot for Game of Thrones was considered so historically, iconically terrible that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had to practically remake it from scratch and recast several roles when the show was given a full series order. (The series was green-lit partly because of then–HBO chairman Richard Plepler’s faith that it could become something special, but also probably because HBO had already sunk a lot of money into making the thing happen.) This is not to say that this prequel’s pilot was worse than Weiss and Benioff’s initial misfire, just that it probably didn’t meet the standards set by HBO to follow up one of the most popular shows of all time.

Because of that, what normally isn’t big news—a pilot failing to get full series orders is just a normal part of the television ecosystem—matters here, and means HBO will have to look somewhere else for its next hyped Thrones project. The network had already green-lit another Thrones prequel in September, to be set during the Targaryen civil war around 200 years before the events of the original series. Here, there should be dragons.

While the Goldman-led prequel didn’t have a name—Martin’s repeated pleas to call the series The Long Night were ignored—it would’ve been set thousands of years before Thrones proper, likely focusing on the initial rise of the White Walkers and the beginnings of storied houses, such as the Lannisters. (One read of this prequel’s failure could be that it was just too tonally different from the original show.) Alas, for now the Age of Heroes and the first Long Night will be covered only in Martin’s expansive text, and probably won’t be seen on screen anytime soon.

This is also a really unfortunate L for Naomi Watts; the two-time Oscar nominee was set to have one of the buzziest roles of her superlative career. She’s hardly fallen on hard times—the actress just played Gretchen Carlson in Showtime’s Roger Ailes miniseries, The Loudest Voice—but on the heels of terrible films like Allegiant, Shut In, and The Book of Henry, and the canceled Netflix series Gypsy, we’re no longer quite in the days when she shined bright in Mulholland Drive, The Ring, 21 Grams, and King Kong.

The prequel’s cancellation frees up Watts’s schedule a bit, so one can hope that the rampant, delicious rumors that David Lynch and Mark Frost are cooking up a fourth season of Twin Peaks aren’t so unfounded. In fact, it’s time for a segue. Forget the underwhelming late returns of Westeros: Remember how fucking dope Twin Peaks: The Return was? How Watts, as Janey-E Jones, was a stealth MVP of The Return with a humane, occasionally hilarious performance that beautifully captured Lynchian anguish? We should put all our good vibes and the occasional Transcendental Meditation session toward making Twin Peaks Season 4 happen. Drogon decimating King’s Landing has nothing on this:

In other words: This prequel might be dead, but HBO will be fine. The future of Thrones-related television will be fine. This prequel’s death is merely delaying the inevitable. In due time, we will get to check out more gnarly dragon-on-dragon combat—assuming the other prequel isn’t also a dumpster fire worthy of cancellation. Meanwhile, the endless slog of Peak TV marches on, inflated by the impending arrival of Apple TV+ and Disney+. And who knows? By the time more Thrones content actually hits our screens, perhaps the foul stench left by Bran the Broken, First of His Name, will have finally cleared.

Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.