After the Iron Throne: How HBO will move forward without ‘Game of Thrones’

HBO has been the envy of the TV world for the better part of two decades, with a seemingly unbroken chain of critical and ratings hits featuring A-list talent that has nabbed the network a ton of Emmys, and healthy profits.

And by far, HBO’s biggest-ever success has been “Game of Thrones,” a show which over eight seasons has been an unmatched pop culture juggernaut that continues to set ratings records. But as the curtain finally closes on the Seven Kingdoms with this weekend’s series finale, HBO is at a fork in the road. The show ends one week after the series finale of another major success, “Veep,” and there’s no clear successor in the wings.

That’s why it’s understandable that earlier this year, in his first few weeks as WarnerMedia entertainment chairman, Bob Greenblatt had to field the same question over and over: “What happens to HBO after ‘Game of Thrones?'”

“[HBO is] thrilled to have had something like ‘Game of Thrones,” Greenblatt told TheWrap just before the show’s eighth season premiere last month. “But, there’s a lot of things on the horizon that I think are going to make this network very compelling for the next couple of years.”

22 PHOTOS
Game of Thrones cast evolution from season 1 to season 8
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Game of Thrones cast evolution from season 1 to season 8
Emilia Clarke, 2011
Emilia Clarke, 2019
Kit Harington, 2011
Kit Harington, 2019
Isaac Hempstead Wright, 2011
Isaac Hempstead Wright, 2019
Sophie Turner, 2012
Sophie Turner, 2019
Maisie Williams, 2012
Maisie Williams, 2019
Lena Headey, 2011
Lena Headey, 2019
Peter Dinklage, 2011
Peter Dinklage, 2019
Gwendoline Christie, 2012
Gwendoline Christie, 2019
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, 2011
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, 2019
Jason Momoa, 2011
Jason Momoa, 2019
Alfie Allen, 2011
Alfie Allen, 2019
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Casey Bloys, HBO’s programming president, is quick to point out that this is not the first time HBO has had to move on after a hugely successful show ends without a clear successor. A 15-year veteran of the network, Bloys remembers when HBO was facing the same questions after “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos” went off the air.

“Great shows go away, other great shows come. You never know where they’re going to come from,” Bloys told TheWrap in April. “If you stay in business with people you believe in, you see what happens.”

But there is one major difference this time around: HBO will have to reinvent itself without its long-time steward Richard Plepler, who was instrumental in getting several landmark HBO hit shows on the air — including “Veep” and “Game of Thrones.” He stepped down as HBO’s president and CEO in February, shortly after WarnerMedia began talking with Greenblatt about coming aboard, as part of a company-wide shakeup under new owners AT&T. Greenblatt would officially join the company a few days later.

After AT&T took over HBO last year, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey turned heads when he suggested HBO needs to be more like Netflix, even telling Plepler during an employee town hall meeting that while HBO made money, it was “just not enough.” After substantial pushback from critics and analysts, Stankey and Bloys walked that back a bit, saying just weeks later that “We want to invest more in original content while still retaining the high quality and unique brand positioning of HBO.”

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Game of Thrones gifts for Father's Day
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Game of Thrones gifts for Father's Day
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Whatever happens down the line, the network won’t feel Plepler’s loss immediately. Greenblatt has inherited a roster of shows that includes the upcoming second seasons of “Big Little Lies” and “Succession,” and new entrants “Euphoria,” “The Righteous Gemstones” and Damon Lindelof’s adaption of Alan Moore’s “Watchmen.”

There’s also an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” fantasy novel series that stars James McAvoy and Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Helen Mirren’s biopic about Russian empress Catherine the Great. 

In 2020, HBO will have the returns of “Westworld,” “The Young Pope” — dubbed “The New Pope” for Season 2 — and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” David Simon’s next HBO project, a miniseries based on Philip Roth’s alternate history novel “The Plot Against America,” is also scheduled for a 2020 debut.

Also on the horizon are Joss Whedon’s “The Nevers,” Robert Downey Jr.-produced “Perry Mason,” Jordan Peele’s “Lovecraft Country” and “Avenue 5,” the next comedy from “Veep” creator Armando Iannucci. One of Greenblatt’s first moves was to bring “The Gilded Age,” Julian Fellowes’ follow-up to “Downton Abbey,” over from NBC; he had initially developed it when he was the entertainment chairman for the broadcast network.

And HBO may not even be done with Westeros just yet.

Ordered to pilot last year, a new project from “Game of Thrones” author George RR Martin and “Kingsman” screenwriter Jane Goldman is set thousands of years before the events of the current series, in the era known as the “Age of Heroes.” Like “Game of Thrones,” the untitled prequel has an expansive cast filled with unknowns, led by one marquee name in Naomi Watts.

Although the project looks to be a sure thing to get ordered to series — it won’t start production until the summer — Greenblatt warned that nothing is set in stone. “We don’t even know if there’s a prequel series to be had yet,” he said, adding they have to ensure the project “will be on the level” of the original series. “I applaud these guys for walking before they run.”

HBO would know. The original pilot for “Game of Thrones” is the stuff of legend… for apparently how awful it was.

“There is such an inclination these days to just order everything right to series and go to full production,” Greenblatt said. “I don’t know if [“Game of Thrones”] would’ve become the phenomenal show that it did if it had gone straight to series.”

One thing is certain: HBO’s next hit is just as likely to come from out of nowhere as it is to be the one they thought would be the big success.

“One never knows when the next mega-hit is going to come along,” Greenblatt said. “Because they usually are the ones you last expect.”

14 PHOTOS
Visit the real life cities where "Game of Thrones" was filmed
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Visit the real life cities where "Game of Thrones" was filmed

GOT location: King's Landing

Real life location: Dubrovnik, Croatia

Walk in the footsteps of your favorite characters (and your favorite characters to hate) in the stunning town of Dubrovnik.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Braavos

Real life location: Sibenik, Croatia

Visit the city that brought Arya Stark to the Faceless Man (and is just north of King's Landing in real life).

Book your trip.

GOT location: North of the Wall

Real life location: Vatnajokull, Iceland

Take a chilly trip to the home of the Wildlings and Jon Snow's first love Ygritte.

Book your trip.

GOT location: House of Greyjoy

Real life location: Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Visit Northern Ireland and you'll be in reach of several GOT filming locations -- like the House of Greyjoy.

Book your trip.

GOT location: The road from King's Landing

Real life location: Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

Feel like you're riding with Brienne of Tarth and Podrick as you stroll along the Dark Hedges. 

Book your trip.

GOT location: Dragonstone

Real life location: San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Spain

Get on a boat and channel your inner Daenerys Targaryen by visiting the stairs of San Juan de Gaztelugatx -- otherwise known as Dragonstone.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Volantis

Real life location: Cordoba, Spain

Imagine the bustling markets that Tyrion Lannister and Varys walked through in Volantis as you visit Cordoba and the Roman Bridge.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Casterly Rock

Real life location: Trujillo Castle, Extremadura, Spain

Stop by the home city of the Lannisters by trekking to Trujillo Castle in Extremadura Spain.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Yunkai and Pentos

Real life location: Ait Benhaddou, Morocco

The Breaker of Chains freed the city of Yunkai in season three, which is really located in Morocco. This location also served as a filming spot for Pentos.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Royal Palace Of Dorne

Real life location: Real Alcázar Palace, Seville, Spain

Feel like you're at the southern most point of Westeros by visiting Real Alcázar Palace in Spain AKA Dorne.

Book your trip.

GOT location: Winterfell

Real life location: Doune Castle, Scotland

The home of the Starks, Winterfell is actually a composite of both Doune Castle in Scotland and Castle Ward in North Ireland.

Book your trip.

GOT Location: The arena in Mereen

Real life location: Bullring of Osuna, Spain

Visit the Bullring in Osuna and imagine what it would be like to be surrounded by your enemies just like Daenerys. 

Book your trip.

GOT Location: Iron Islands

Real life location: Ballintoy Harbour, Northern Ireland

If you're visiting the real life version of the Iron Islands, might as well shout "what is dead may never die," right?

Book your trip.

GOT location: Highgarden

Real life location: Almodóvar Castle, Andalusia, Spain 

Take a trip to the home of the Tyrells by visiting Highgarden -- which is really Almodóvar Castle in Spain.

Book your trip.

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