The first attempt at making something new doesn’t always succeed. When it comes to crafting a world as mystical as Game of Thrones, you can expect a few mistakes. The truth about the scrapped pilot episode of the famed series was revealed in a book by Entertainment Weekly editor, and the legend behind some of the best Game of Thrones coverage, James Hibberd.
An excerpt from Hibberd’s upcoming book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, which delves into the making of the show, contains some interesting bits and pieces from the cast and crew. The way they describe the pilot episode is almost unbelievable. The crew filmed the original pilot in 2009. However, the show finally took after 4 years of hard work by the production team perfecting the rocky vision of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss.
“It was a frightening time because it was our first time running a production of any scale,” Weiss recalls. “And there are many, many moving parts, human and otherwise, that go into any production, especially one of this size.”
The shooting took place in Northern Ireland and Morocco. There was a feeling of uneasiness among the cast and the crew. According to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), no one had any idea what they were doing. He said, “During King Robert’s arrival I remember finding the whole thing ridiculous.”
He added, “It’s a very fine balance between being serious and believing it and just being cosplayers. There was certainly not a sense that this was going to be some game-changer for anyone. But we had a lot of fun”
Mark Addy, who played King Robert Baratheon, describes, “We were trying to establish the rules and order of this new world. In the Winterfell courtyard scene, nobody kneeled when the king arrived in the first pilot. You can’t play being the king. You can’t display “look at how powerful I am.” People have to give you that by showing subservience. It has to be afforded to you by others. In the reshoot, everybody kneeled. It made a huge difference in terms of establishing who’s in charge.”
Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) shared, “I looked like a Vegas showgirl in the [original] pilot — furs and massive hair, like a medieval Dolly Parton. Not that I’m complaining, I loved it. My hair devolved.”
Bryan Cogman (then Benioff’s assistant; later a co-executive producer) recalled, “When we first shot the scene where the Starks find the direwolves — this was the version you never saw — the wonder of what a direwolf was wasn’t coming across. It didn’t seem important enough to the characters. And I’m little assistant Bryan running around the set yelling to anyone who would listen: “These are direwolves! No one has seen these in a million years! This is like seeing dinosaurs! It’s not like finding puppies!” And everyone’s sort of chuckling.”
Christopher Newman (producer): “Joffrey had a different haircut. In the original pilot, it was more pageboy cut, slightly pudding bowl-ish, like Henry V. It wasn’t that it didn’t suit him being a little shit, but it softened the edge. The modern cut in the version that aired gave him more spitefulness.”
David Benioff (showrunner): “At first it seemed to us like it was going well, but that was because we didn’t know any better.”
Dan Weiss (showrunner): “As we went on, the cracks turned into bigger cracks, which turned into fissures. You started to feel the wheels coming off by the time we got to Morocco.”
It seems like the pair was clueless about what they were doing from the first day, the previous reveal of which has angered the fans.
George R.R. Martin definitely had fun on the set. He said, “I went to Morocco for Dany’s wedding in the first pilot. I played a Pentoshi nobleman with beard extensions and an enormous hat. I looked like an idiot, but it was fun.” You might remember this picture of GRRM’s Game of Thrones cameo:
Harry Llyod (Viserys Targaryen): “I had a different wig. It was titanium and silver, and it was shorter and a bob. Looking back, it was a mistake. There were consultations: “I’m not like Draco Malfoy, I’m not like Legolas … how do we do this?”
Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont): “It was a bit ragged and, in some ways, ill conceived, and no one had great conviction. Since the wedding was shot at night, quite a lot of money had been spent on seeing absolutely f—k-all.”
Bryan Cogman: “Is it fantasy with dramatic trappings? Is it a drama with fantasy trappings? There was a nervousness about the pilot leaning into the fantasy too much — ultimately to a fault. Key exposition was cut to make the dialogue sound more “real,” and as a result, the pilot didn’t make much sense. The impulse to not be over-the-top Shakespearian and Tolkien-esque was right — you’re trying to make it as grounded as possible — but this is still an epic fantasy, and if you ignore that, it’s to the detriment of your story.”
Originally, Tamzin Merchant played the role of Daenerys. Jason Momoa, who played the fierce Khal Drogo, recalls, “[Merchant] was great. I’m not sure why everything was done. But when Emilia got there that’s when everything clicked for me. I wasn’t really “there” until she arrived. ”
Bryan Cogman: “Everybody involved in making the original pilot scored such a bull’s‑eye with so many of our actors. I thought Tamzin did a really good job. It’s hard to say why things didn’t work out. Ultimately, it’s obvious Emilia Clarke was born to play that part.”
Cogman also noted that HBO somehow gave Game of Thrones a second chance, something which is rare in the industry. The pilot episode was a $10 million disaster for HBO. It is a relief for the fans that they didn’t cancel the show altogether. James Hibberd’s Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, which is bound to have a lot more behind-the-scenes bits from Game of Thrones, comes out Oct. 6 and is now available to pre-order.
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