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Sources say Sapochnik is exiting the show after pouring an exhausting three years of effort into the Game of Thrones prequel. Dragon co-creator Ryan Condal will now serve as the show’s sole showrunner and continue to work closely with co-creator George R.R. Martin. Sapochnik has also entered into a first-look deal with HBO to develop new projects and will remain an executive producer for the duration of the series.
The production has hired another acclaimed Thrones veteran, Alan Taylor, to serve as an executive producer and to direct multiple episodes in season two.
“Working within the Thrones universe for the past few years has been an honor and a privilege, especially spending the last two with the amazing cast and crew of House of the Dragon,” Sapochnik said in a statement. “I am so proud of what we accomplished with season one and overjoyed by the enthusiastic reaction of our viewers. It was incredibly tough to decide to move on, but I know that it is the right choice for me, personally and professionally. As I do so, though, I am deeply comforted to know that Alan will be joining the series. He’s someone I’ve known and respected for a long time, and I believe this precious series could not be in safer hands. I am so glad to remain a part of the HBO and House of the Dragon family and, of course, I wish Ryan and his team success and all the best with season two and beyond.”
Said Taylor: “It’s a pleasure and an honor to be back at HBO, immersing myself in the world of the Targaryens. I look forward to working closely with Ryan as House of the Dragon grows into its second season. Ryan, Miguel and George have launched an extraordinary story, in a rich and fascinating world. Returning to Westeros will be a huge undertaking and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Added HBO: “Miguel Sapochnik has done amazing work on the first season of House of the Dragon, establishing its signature look and feel. This series simply could not have come together the way it did without him. While we would have loved to have Miguel continue in the same role, we are thrilled to have his ongoing collaboration in this new creative capacity. Looking forward, we’ve had a decades-long relationship with Alan Taylor, and we are delighted to have him join Ryan and the rest of the talented team.”
The move comes on the heels of the Dragon series premiere — directed by Sapochnik — delivering 25 million viewers in its first week since release and helping score the Game of Thrones prequel a quick renewal. Sunday’s second episode made the rare move of gaining slightly more viewers instead of declining. Sapochnik also directed two more hours (episodes six and seven) in the debut season.
Taylor built his reputation for his work on HBO’s The Sopranos (for which he won an Emmy) and Rome and AMC’s Mad Men. On Thrones, he was instrumental in helping shape the show’s directorial style, helming the pivotal and stylish final two episodes of the show’s debut season (which included sequences depicting the death of Ned Stark and the birth of Daenerys’ dragons). Taylor eventually directed a total of seven Thrones episodes, including “The North Remembers,” “The Night Lands” and “Beyond the Wall.” Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss once described his style as “cinematic and precise.”
Taylor also recently helmed the Sopranos prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark, and the pilot for AMC’s Interview With the Vampire series, which debuts Oct. 2.
Sapochnik, who began his career as a storyboard artist on 1996’s Trainspotting, counts 2010 film Repo Men and episodes of Fox’s Fringe and House among his early directing credits. But it was on Thrones that Sapochnik’s career went stratospheric after the Englishman helmed fan-favorite episodes such as “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter.” After Thrones, he directed the Tom Hanks sci-fi movie Finch, which was released on Apple TV+.
Sapochnik worked for months helping develop Dragon with his friend Condal before coming on board. Sapochnik had been very reluctant to officially join the project, a stance that perhaps foreshadowed his current exit. “Miguel said, ‘I’m never doing Thrones again,’” Condal recalled in THR’s recent House of the Dragon cover story.
“I went through a lot of vacillating,” Sapochnik admitted. “Ryan and I had a long-standing relationship and we work well together and we really like each other — that was half the battle. As we got deeper into the discussions, I realized I had to shit or get off the pot.”
Sapochnik eventually decided to sign on while he was attending — of all things — a Game of Thrones Experience concert in Los Angeles with writer and fellow Thrones veteran Bryan Cogman. “There were 17,000 people going crazy for this show, and I didn’t realize how passionate people still were about it,” Sapochnik said. “[My wife] turned to me and said, ‘We’re fucking idiots. How can we not do this?'”
The Dragon team is currently focused on finishing VFX shots for season one and writing the scripts for season two, which does not yet have an announced start-of-filming date. As the first season took 10 months to shoot and another nine months-plus of VFX work, the series is most likely to return in 2024.
Taylor is repped by UTA and Circle of Confusion.
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