When Game of Thrones premiered in 2011, HBO’s programming included Boardwalk Empire, Treme, and Bored to Death. Those are all fine shows, but they lacked a certain something: dragons. To be fair, most of HBO’s current series also lack dragons — don’t let me down, The Deuce season two — but we didn’t know what we were missing seven years ago. Then Thrones came along, and radically reinvented the television landscape (there would be no Westworld and Amazon’s Lord of the Rings without Ned Stark losing his head).
HBO CEO and chairman Richard Plepler was a recent guest on the Strictly Business podcast, where he discussed why he took a chance on Game of Thrones, even though the network rarely dabbled in fantasy. (Does Tales from the Crypt count? No? Moving on.) “When [showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss] came in to pitch Thrones, that was a fantasy show,” he said (feel free to place air quotes around “fantasy”). “David’s comment to me was, ‘You’re nervous about this. There’s dragons in it. It’s fantasy. This isn’t typical HBO.'”
Plepler continued, “And the way he pitched it was he said, ‘Look, this is about power, and it’s about archetypes of power. And it’s Shakespearean, it’s Biblical. If you just forget where you are, you could be in 10th century France, it doesn’t really matter.’ And we believed their vision.” And that was the last time anyone heard of Game of Thrones, a show no one cares about. Big mistake, HBO.