Now Reading
What ‘House of the Dragon’ Boss Learned From Making the Show

What ‘House of the Dragon’ Boss Learned From Making the Show

When Ryan Condal decamped for the U.K. in 2020 to begin work on a Game of Thrones spinoff, it hadn’t occurred to the screenwriter that he, his wife and their two young children wouldn’t return to Los Angeles anytime soon. “It was about two years later, when the show came out and everybody watched it, that I finally thought, ‘Oh, OK, we’re going to be here for a while,’ ” he says.

The “everybody” in question was 29 million viewers, per episode, across platforms, a stat that minted House of the Dragon as HBO’s new flagship. It returns for a second season June 16, with at least a third and a fourth all but given. Fortunately for Condal, he brought a little of Hollywood to his home office in Central London. The showrunner — who got his start working on a slew of unproduced scripts before penning blockbusters (the Dwayne Johnson vehicles Hercules and Rampage) and a popular basic cable drama (Colony) — has amassed a significant collection of film and TV memorabilia. “Everything in here is basically from 1977 to 1989,” he says, gesturing to props from such franchises as Star Wars, The Muppets, Batman and Indiana Jones. “It’s in this very specific period, all genre, all the stuff that made me want to write and work in the movie business.”

The New Jersey native, who initially made a living shilling pharmaceuticals, is still a fan at heart. That helped him earn the approval of Game of Thrones source material author George R.R. Martin and the confidence from HBO to let him produce a second spinoff (A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms). But being the steward of one of TV’s biggest properties, as Condal’s the first to admit, is a hell of a lot of work.

You’ve worked over 5,000 miles from your corporate bosses for four years now. Is that space from Hollywood a good or bad thing?

It certainly has its benefits, being physically removed. But there’s this weird thing where I don’t feel like I work in Hollywood at times. It’s been five years since I’ve pitched something other than a season or an episode of this show. It’s like I’ve been sent off on an embassy assignment.

That’s got to be odd for someone who once had a reputation for being a pitch machine.

I was a self-starter, working on a studio assignment, an original pitch or a spec of my own, and always some TV thing. When one project eventually blows up, that helps keep down the disappointment. Being monogamous for this long is unheard of for me. By the end of this show, it’ll be eight years or nine years of my life. But there are benefits — solid ground beneath my feet when the industry’s in upheaval.

Was that early approach a byproduct of how you came to work in the industry? You first worked in marketing and advertising for big pharma. Quite a pivot!

I always wanted to be a screenwriter, but I was a safe and conservative person. I sold my first spec and didn’t tell anybody, just kept going to my day job and writing on nights and weekends. It wasn’t until I booked my third studio gig that I finally fessed up to this double life. I didn’t want to let anybody down, but I showed [my bosses] articles about the deals, and they were like, “Wait, what? This is amazing.”

Condal also has a film slate from
Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner

Photographed by Chris Floyd

How does that safe and conservative approach manifest in the way you work now?

Oh, lots of anxiety. (Laughs.) I’ve learned to channel it, make it useful for me, as a sort of reverse procrastination. Maybe we should call it “precrastination”? It’s a good skill set for a showrunner: looking far down the road, envisioning a possible note that might come and having three ways out of it. Having worked in corporate America, it was not an alien experience for me to be one creative cog in a collective that’s trying to make something for a corporate master. You pitch your ideas, defend them and sometimes watch them get crushed to death.

I’ve seen you refer to this as the “most stressful job” you’ve had. So, what makes you sign on to produce a second series of this scale?

How could I not? It’s such a rewarding sandbox to play in. I got this job by being a super nerd and a fan of George’s world and essentially stalking him. So, yes, sometimes it runs me into the ground, but I’m lucky to be here.

In your own self-assessment, what do you think you did well and not so well in the first season?

I’m very proud of season one, but there are things that I wish we had more time to work on in postproduction.

Props from James Cameron’s Aliens include body armor worn by the late Bill Paxton and a stunt rifle.

Photographed by Chris Floyd

One criticism was the lighting.

Oh, for sure. We went into season two very conscious of that feedback. Season two is much more in line with my particular aesthetic and what I think the show should look like. It’s not a massive difference, but I don’t anticipate getting the “it’s too dark” note again.

You co-ran the first season with the director Miguel Sapochnik. What’s your take on his exit, and were you ready to go it alone?

It was my suspicion that Miguel was going to do one season and probably be done. He’d done the original Game of Thrones. He climbed that mountain, and I don’t think he had anything left to prove. So while I was prepared for it, it was an adjustment. But it was something that I think I was ready to take on.

See Also

How does the pressure shift between seasons one and two?

I heard a This American Life interview where they talked to one of the comedy acts that followed The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. They bombed, because they were playing to an audience of 16-year-old girls who just wanted The Beatles to come back. I’m glad I didn’t hear that before our first season because I would’ve collapsed in on myself. We were following one of the most successful TV series of all time. I knew that we made a good show, so I was not surprised that there were good reviews. What surprised me was 29 million people showing up. But I’m not taking that for granted, thinking they’ll all come back.

You’ve been attached to a lot of big projects that never got made. If you could take the defibrillator paddles to one, which would it be?

Paradise Lost. I developed it with Alex Proyas, director of The Crow, for Legendary [which pulled the plug on it in 2012]. We were in Sydney for eight weeks of prep and preproduction, Bradley Cooper was going to star, and it just fell apart. It was too expensive, the VFX people filed Chapter 11 or whatever, all these business reasons. It was my most devastating moment as a writer because I thought the train had left the station. But it’s when I realized that I’m responsible for my own happiness and sense of worth.

A jacket worn by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Photographed by Chris Floyd

As a fan of many things, what IP do you most want to adapt?

I love Hellboy. Very simply, Hellboy is an X-File who investigates X-Files. He’s a paranormal detective. And I like the Guillermo del Toro movies, but it’s one of those properties that’s suited very well to episodic TV because there is a monster of the week in the best way. It would be a great change of pace from what I’m doing now.

We’ve talked a lot about pressure. What do you do to de-stress?

I’ve been studying Okinawan karate for a large part of my life. I have this wonderful teacher who’s based in L.A. He’s been doing Gojuru, which is the style, for 58 years. He works one-on-one with me over Zoom, very kindly, twice a week. It’s been a hard four years for a lot of reasons, but that’s a little oasis that I can go to. It’s like a Buddhist pursuit, so you never stop studying, never stop learning.

This story first appeared in the June 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Copyright © MetaMedia™ Capital Inc, All right reserved

Scroll To Top