I like to think I am not often prone to hyperbole. When you do what I do, it can be dangerous to declare absolutes or extremes, because then you really don’t give yourself a lot of room to maneuver. That said, there are times when those absolutes and extremes are completely called for because that’s what the situation dictates.
I’ve been lit up on Twitter for declaring that Christopher Nolan was the most overrated filmmaker in Hollywood, and I’ve been declared a disgrace to my profession for my belief that the love triangle in The Dark Knight holds no drama since you never once believe that Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is going to choose Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) over Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart). So I know that people have strong feelings about these things, and I take that seriously. I have strong feelings about things, too, and if someone diminishes them without proper consideration, I take issue with it.
Here’s why I’m talking about all this today: HBO is looking at greenlighting yet another Game of Thrones spinoff, this one another prequel that reportedly takes place 300 years prior to the events of GoT and explores how dynasty daddy Aegon I Targaryen — oh yeah, that guy — and his sister-wives Visenya and Rhaenys used their army and three dragons to conquer Westeros, or at least six of its seven kingdoms, with the exception of Dorne. This untitled and writerless prequel would follow eight seasons and 73 episodes of Game of Thrones, and one season of the prequel series House of the Dragon, which will return next summer for an abbreviated second season that’s currently in production.
And now, the hyperbole: I happen to believe that Game of Thrones is the single most overrated show in the history of television. Just as I stand by my feelings about Nolan — even more so than before since the release of Tenet — there is nothing you can do or say that would justify to me the abject and unquestioned love people seem to have for the HBO series based on George R.R. Martin‘s novels. I watched every episode, and while I certainly found it an entertaining diversion for the first few seasons, the fact that it won more Emmy awards than any other show during that time baffles me. So does its ongoing popularity, especially considering that the series really began faltering around Season 5, and ended with as big a thud as any quality show ever has.
My opinion is, once again, clearly in the minority, and though that doesn’t make it lack validity, it’s less important than the fact that HBO and Warner Bros. Discovery seem to believe that there’s still more money to be minted from the show and its endless web of characters.
Prequel shows and movies usually don’t make a lot of sense to me, since it’s hard to manufacture drama when you know how things are going to work out (Andor is a notable exception to this rule). That was certainly true of House of the Dragon, which I tried to watch just out of morbid curiosity, though I tapped out halfway through Episode 2. I just rolled my eyes and wondered aloud who could possibly care about this, and why.
The universe gave me no answer, but clearly, WBD is under the impression that many, many, many people care about it, and “why” doesn’t matter. True, the first episode scored roughly 10 million viewers and the Season 1 finale slightly more than that, so there is reason to believe that the GoT fever has somehow yet to break…
…but how long until that happens?
With each new production, the central property gets watered down a bit more. The appeal of Game of Thrones was, as far as I could tell, strong central characters, plenty of intrigue, no small amount of sex and nudity, and a fantasy genre that included the use of cool-looking CGI dragons. Interestingly, the first few seasons of the show, when it adhered closely to Martin’s original text, were the best ones. When the show caught up to and then passed Martin’s published work, it all fell apart. (And good lord, that ending.)
Which was my problem with Dragon, and why I won’t be watching this new show. There is a built-in fascination with GoT properties because people have now been hardwired to tune in and enjoy. But that level of quality is almost impossible to sustain, and the more tempered the property becomes, the more that fan devotion dissipates over time.
Doubt it? Look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It had a cohesive story that it told over the course of 23 movies and 11 years. Yes, there was a misstep or two in there, but on the whole, it was monumentally successful. I will say once more that I believe it to be the single greatest storytelling achievement in the history of movies.
But let’s face it, the MCU has felt adrift since that story ended, with sinking box office numbers and declining fan enthusiasm. Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania looks like it will be one of the MCU’s lowest grossers, and while some people are looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the enthusiasm feels far more muted than in the past. There is hope that the introduction of the Fantastic Four and the X-Men will help reignite the MCU, but those heroes aren’t coming to the rescue for a while, and I am nowhere near as optimistic about the concept as I have been in the past.
Marvel clearly understands this, judging by a report I saw this week that the studio is reducing its yearly output. Smart.
I understand WBD’s desire to wring every cent it can from the GoT empire, and if they want to release a Targaryen movie and follow it up with a TV show, that’s their prerogative. But the notion that this is some kind of bottomless well is silly, at best, and spectacularly hubristic, at worst. As impressive as House of Dragon’s viewing numbers were, it’s important to note they were roughly half of GoT’s, a trend that WBD definitely does not want to see continue. With that in mind, an announcement like this should engender an uproar of excitement rather than a nod and a smile or, lacking that, a shrug of indifference.
From what I’ve been able to discern online, the shrug seems to be the prevalent reaction. That’s not good news for WBD, and leads me to think that the property’s role as HBO’s golden goose is coming to an end sooner rather than later. The question is, will the company make this decision on its own, or will the audience make the decision for it? The former might leave money on the table, but better than the latter one, which gets very expensive, very quickly.
For a company paying ever more attention to the bottom line, that’s a scary proposition. Losing a boatload of money because it doesn’t know when to stop is even scarier. Warner Bros. Discovery would be well served to keep that in mind… before it beats the GoT horse to death, once and for all.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for more than 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.