The cast, producers and author of Game of Thrones have revealed how bad the original pilot was and how close the mammoth global hit series came to be being cancelled before it really began.
George R. R. Martin, who wrote the fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire which became the Game of Thrones series says he’s “under penalty of death” if he ever shows anyone the pilot.
According to EW, Martin, the stars and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss have all contributed to a new book, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series (published 6th October), which details behind-the-scenes story of the show from the start to the finish
Benioff said: “At first it seemed to us like it was going well, but that was because we didn’t know any better.”
Weiss: “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.”
Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister): “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.”
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister): “Nobody knew what they were doing or what the hell this was. During King Robert’s arrival I remember finding the whole thing ridiculous. The absurdity of doing this parallel universe with these very noble men. 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 (Robert Baratheon): “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.”
After the original pilot was edited, Benioff and Weiss showed a rough cut to their families. They then got very worried.
Benioff: “I showed it to my brother‑in‑law and sister‑in‑law and just watched their reactions. You could tell watching their faces that they were bored. It wasn’t anything they said. They were trying to be nice.”
Weiss: “You listen to how sharply the pitch of somebody’s voice turns up when they tell you it’s good — “It’s good!” How much higher than their average register is the word “good”? That’s a gauge of how f—ed you are. Our “good” was in dog-whistle territory. There were others who weren’t trying to be nice but were actually trying to be helpful. [Veteran television producer] Craig Mazin told us: “You guys have a massive problem.””
Michael Lombardo (former HBO programming president): “There were some concerns about whether we were getting enough wide shots. Are we getting the coverage we need? We hired the best costume designer and the best art director and shot this in Northern Ireland and Morocco, yet there was very little scope. I remember the quote was, “We could have shot this in Burbank.”
Iain Glen (Ser Jorah Mormont): Some bigwig at HBO said, ‘Why the f**k did we go to Morocco? You can’t see f**king diddly squat, we could have shot it in a car park!'”
Gina Balian (former HBO programming chief): “Somebody said, “It looked like it was shot in my backyard.'”
HBO could have simply cut its losses and cancelled the programme, depriving the world of what became one of the biggest TV programmes of the 21st Century. Obviously they didn’t.
Richard Pleppler (former co‑president and CEO of HBO): “You could see that some of the casting and the narrative was off. It needed to be fixed; it needed to be reshot. But the overall emotional response was that you could feel how engaging it could be. So just as you could feel there were a range of problems that needed to be addressed, you could equally feel that there was magic in there.”
Weiss: “To his credit, Richard saw through the mistakes to what this could be if the mistakes were fixed.”
One of the biggest decisions was to recast the original Daenerys Targaryen, played by Tamzin Merchant.
Michael Lombardo: “There was a piece of casting we had to rethink, [a role] that was compromised. We all knew Daenerys’s journey was critical. Her scenes with Jason just didn’t work.”
Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo): “[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 (co-executive producer): “Everybody involved in making the original pilot scored such a bulls-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.”
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