‘House of the Dragon’ Co-Showrunner Ryan Condal on the Pressure of Following ‘Game of Thrones’

The series debuts Sunday night on HBO

Matt Smith in HBO's "House of the Dragon" (HBO)
Matt Smith in HBO's "House of the Dragon" (HBO)

HBO launches its first “Game of Thrones” spinoff this Sunday, and the “House of the Dragon” prequel series showrunners know there’s a lot at stake.

The new fantasy drama, which takes place about 200 years before the world of “Thrones,” and the birth of Daenerys Targaryen, boasts “GoT” universe author George R.R. Martin as co-creator with Ryan Condal (“Colony”). Both serve as executive producers alongside “GoT” alum Miguel Sapochnik, who directs and serves as a co-showrunner with Condal. 

Based on Martin’s bestseller “Fire & Blood,” the show will look back to a time when the Targaryens ruled Westeros.

There’s an impressive team behind the show, and they are aware that expectations are higher than for other freshman shows. In fact, “House of the Dragon” wasn’t the first “GoT” spinoff that HBO tried to kick-start. 

“They developed ‘Bloodmoon’ before us, so … they were trying to … find the secret sauce again, which I think is difficult,” Condal told TheWrap, mentioning the first potential “GoT” spinoff, which shot a pilot starring Naomi Watts, but later was killed.

Five “GoT” themed projects were originally put into development several years ago, but only “House of the Dragon” is getting a berth. And Condal knows that there is a great weight on his and Sapochnik’s shoulders.

“The original ‘Game of Thrones’ was a generational event, if not rarer,” Condal said of the eight-season spanning juggernaut. “It was the biggest television show of all-time, both in audience, in size, and scope, and cost. And how do you follow that? I think it’s a massive challenge.”

But it’s one Condal and Sapochnik have confidence in taking on.

“I mean, we think we’ve done a pretty good job here. But I think everybody was – both on the creative side: on our side of the fence, on the HBO side of the fence – keenly aware that whatever the next thing is, it has to be the right thing in order to honor the legacy created by that great first show,” he added.

Kicking off at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday, “GoT’s” traditional time slot, the new show boasts a cast that includes Matt Smith, a former “Doctor Who,” who was nominated for an Emmy in 2018 for his role as Prince Philip in “The Crown.” He plays Prince Daemon Targaryen to Paddy Considine’s (“Peaky Blinders”) elder brother character, King Viserys Targaryen. Two actors share the role of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen at different ages – Milly Alcock as the younger Rhaenyra and Emma D’Arcy as the older version – daughter of King Viserys. Welsh actor Rhys Ifans plays Otto Hightower, the Hand of the King who sees Daemon as a threat to the realm.

While “Game of Thrones” caught up and blew past Martin’s source material, this show does have text to base things on, and the mind of the author who created the world (and who recently said he “was pretty much out of the loop” on “GoT” from Season 5 onward). Fans were deeply devoted to Martin’s source material for “Thrones” and Sapochnik explained their job is to do their job – and do it well.

“Folks are always going to be calling us out, no matter what we do. So the best [thing] you can do is don’t make these things defensively, just try and make the best show, the best story, hope that people like it; be respectful of the old show; be respectful of the source material,” Sapochnik said. “And, you know, if an idea is a good idea, then it’s a good idea, no matter where it comes from.”

“House of the Dragon” premieres Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. It will also stream on HBO Max.