[This story contains spoilers from the series finale of Game of Thrones.]
As one era ends at HBO, a new one is beginning.
Two days after saying farewell to Game of Thrones — with a series finale that ranks as the cabler’s most-watched episode ever — HBO programming president Casey Bloys is ready to look to the future. Specifically, the multiple other Game of Thrones prequel series and his network’s impressive pipeline of originals that includes the buzzy third season of a rebooted Westworld and originals from the likes of J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, to name a few.
In a larger sense, Bloys’ HBO has new marching orders under new corporate parent WarnerMedia — to do more. That is reflected with the addition of former NBC Entertainment president Bob Greenblatt, who now oversees HBO, TNT, TBS and WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service. Bloys, however, already has HBO well-positioned for the future with a roster of high-profile originals that also includes 2019 releases Watchmen, Euphoria, His Dark Materials, The Righteous Gemstones and Mrs. Fletcher and the second seasons of breakouts Succession and Big Little Lies. Those join 2020 returns of Westworld, The New Pope, My Brilliant Friend and David Simon’s The Plot Against America, among several others.
Below, Bloys talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the criticism that came with the abbreviated final season of Thrones, if sequels (hello again, Arya Stark?) are being considered and when viewers can expect that Naomi Watts-led prequel.
The Game of Thrones series finale was divisive, to say the least, but now ranks as HBO’s most-watched episode of television ever. How are you feeling about it all?
I think that your TV critic, Tim Goodman, did a pretty good job of summing up the situation, which is there’s no way for the guys to have landed this plane in a way that would have made everybody happy and they’re not out to make everybody happy. I think they did a beautiful job. You just have to accept that not everybody is going to agree with the choices. I’m paraphrasing Tim, but basically for a show this big and this epic and this sprawling, they [creators/showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] have to make choices. What’s great about the show is it made people feel a lot of things — positive and negative. A lot of people had invested in characters and hoped for certain things and wanted to see certain twists. There’s probably a little bit of mourning going on that the show is over. I get it, I understand it: It’s a big show and people really invested a lot in it — and that says a lot about what the show did. People really cared about it.
Much of the criticism is that the final season moved too quickly and many of the big moments did not feel earned. Can you talk us through the decision to do a grand total of 15 more episodes over the past two seasons? Was there a conversation to do more? What do you think of those criticisms? Why end it with an abbreviated run?
No, I cannot talk you through that decision. The guys have known what they’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. They’ve had a plan in their mind. I’ve been on the record saying I’d take five more seasons. But they’ve had a plan that they wanted to do and this made sense to them. They made this decision a long time ago and they’re doing it exactly how they planned to do it.
Was there a conversation then that this might feel … a little compressed?
They made that decision a long time ago. But no, I’m not aware of any conversations that anybody thought it was crammed or anything like that.
Was there a way that Game of Thrones could have continued on without Benioff and Weiss in its current form?
No. I don’t think any of the actors would have done it. Shows have to come to an end. This was eight seasons, it’s a great epic and shows have to come to a close. It’s part of the TV life cycle.
When Benioff and Weiss pitched the series finale, what was their larger reasoning for Bran being awarded the six kingdoms?
I’m certainly not going to get into paraphrasing their thinking on something this big. If they want to talk about that, they can. But I’m not going to characterize their thinking about it.
Was there a conversation about the larger takeaways that Benioff and Weiss hoped to convey about power as part of the series finale?
I’m not going to throw more fire on the discussion by characterizing their thinking behind it. I think the final season, the show, the finale speaks for itself. It’s not fair for me to characterize their thinking.
George R.R. Martin has said there are three prequels still in the mix, two in the script stage and the third a pilot to be filmed this summer. Is that accurate? Can you clarify which are the two scripts that are still active? (Bryan Cogman has said his prequel script is dead.)
I am not clarifying anything other than yes, we shoot the first pilot in June. There are two more in development and beyond that, there’s nothing else to report.
You’ve got the pilot and two other scripts in the works. What plans do you have at the moment to put other projects into development? Or are you waiting to see what happens with the other two scripts?
There are no plans currently to put anything more in development. We’re not actively looking or going beyond what we’ve got in the current pilot.
If both of those scripts come in well and the pilot does, too, do you do three more Game of Thrones shows?
(Laughs) All theoretical and all high-class problems! Who knows?! I’m not ruling it in, and I’m not ruling it out! I’m trying my best not to give you definitive answers to fuel speculation.
Given the tremendous interest to do more — not just volume for WarnerMedia but of your crown jewel — what’s the current timeline for the next Game of Thrones original series?
We’re shooting the pilot in June, you can do the math and figure out when it would be on the air. What I’m not doing is working backwards by saying, “This has to be on the air by this date.” We want to do the best show possible. This is a pilot, so we’re doing it the old-fashioned way, which is shooting a pilot. My expectation is it will be great and we’ll move forward and it’ll move along on a regular TV timetable. I don’t want to speculate any dates.
What did you learn from the elements of this season that weren’t received well and how might those takeaways impact your approach to the spinoffs going forward?
There’s no scenario where [screenwriter] Jane [Goldman] saw the episode and said, “Oh, I better change this, that or the other thing.” We’re trying to have a show that feels like its own show within the universe but we’re not trying to replicate the same show. It’s not the same characters, it’s not the same dynamics. It’s not like we’re taking the existing show and saying, “X, Y and Z worked, so let’s do that.” It’s a different writer, creator and different feel and different world. There’s nothing we’re taking from this season and applying it to that by any means. … Some people felt that [it was rushed] and some people didn’t. There is nothing I’m going to take from this season and apply it to successor shows. That’s now how I look at it. The only thing, in terms of how this season was received, I think Tim had the right take — which is, this is a huge, sprawling, massively popular show and it ended in exactly the right way and probably the only way it could — which is some of the fans being unhappy and some of the fans being thrilled. You can’t end such a giant show pleasing everybody, and I don’t think that’s what Dan and David were trying to do.
The three successor shows are all prequels. In the finale, Arya goes on to explore what’s west of Westeros. Have you considered exploring sequels? Specifically, Arya Stark as she travels west of Westeros?
Nope, nope, nope. No. Part of it is, I do want this show — this Game of Thrones, Dan and David’s show — to be its own thing. I don’t want to take characters from this world that they did beautifully and put them off into another world with someone else creating it. I want to let it be the artistic piece they’ve got. That’s one of the reasons why I’m not trying to do the same show over. George has a massive, massive world; there are so many ways in. That’s why we’re trying to do things that feel distinct — and to not try and redo the same show. That’s probably one of the reasons why, right now, a sequel or picking up any of the other characters doesn’t make sense for us.
Benioff and Weiss are shopping an overall deal. They’ve got Star Wars next. How important is it to you — HBO and WarnerMedia as a whole — that they stay within the company?
They’re meeting everywhere, which I totally get. It’s a great time to be a creator. People are throwing open doors and throwing money around. So if you’re a creator with a proven track record, it’s a great time. I think they’re doing the right thing and seeing what’s out there. We obviously have a strong relationship with them; Warner Bros. has worked with them both individually in the past. We’ll see where they end up. Obviously, we think they’re great. They’re going through the process they should go through.
Are you confident they will come back?
I’m not going to characterize anything like that because the process has just started.
What’s the status of Martin’s overall deal there?
It’s status quo; they’re talking but there’s nothing major going on there.
You used the Game of Thrones series finale to preview Westworld‘s 2020 return. How much of the timing of that trailer is about reassuring viewers who may have quit the show after season two or who were mulling dropping HBO after Thrones?
Why wouldn’t we show that trailer?! It’s a big and exciting show. It wasn’t about reassuring, it was about exciting people.
Will it be as unrecognizable as the trailer suggests?
It’s still got robots in it, so there you go!
Does it still have James Marsden and Anthony Hopkins?
It’s still got robots — that’s all I’ll say!
Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage all season long.