Game of Thrones: 6 insider secrets from the ‘disaster’ $10m pilot that never aired

Annabel Nugent
·4-min read
 (HBO)
(HBO)

A new book about HBO’s Game of Thrones reveals why the series’ original pilot never made it to air.

Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon is a forthcoming oral history book by Entertainment Weekly’s editor-at-large James Hibberd. A new excerpt published ahead of the book’s release date divulges what made the original pilot episode a ‘disaster’ and all the changes that were made as a result.

Fans may already know that the original Game of Thrones pilot never aired because it was deemed a failure. The $10m (£7.8m) episode was reshot with a new director and two new stars Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen) and Michelle Fairley (Catyln Stark).

These are the six biggest revelations about the mystery pilot that were revealed in Hibberd’s excerpt.

1) Daenerys’s wedding night to Khal Drogo was very different

Daenerys and Khal Drogo take the Iron Throne - in the show's alternate timeline, at leastHBO
Daenerys and Khal Drogo take the Iron Throne - in the show's alternate timeline, at leastHBO

One of the most contentious scenes in the HBO series is of Khal Drogo brutally raping Daenerys on their wedding night. In the book and the original pilot, the scene – played by Jason Mamoa and Tamzin Merchant originally – is instead a “seduction”.

Author George RR Martin told Hibberd, “In the Emilia Clarke version, it’s rape. It’s not rape in my book and it’s not in the scene we filmed with Tamzin Merchant. It’s a seduction.” However, it must be noted that Daenerys’s character is still underage.

2) Clarke was recast as Daenerys because there was no chemistry between Merchant and Jason Momoa

HBO / Rex
HBO / Rex

Merchant (Carnival Row, Pride & Prejudice) played the Queen of Dragons in the pilot only to be replaced with Clarke immediately after.

Michael Lombardo, the former HBO president, told Hibbard, “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 [Momoa] didn’t work.”

Momoa echoed a similar sentiment, claiming, “[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.”

3) Rickon Stark’s character was nearly axed

HBO
HBO

Hibbard revealed that following the disastrous pilot, writers David Benioff and DB Weiss wanted to cut the part of Rickon, the youngest Stark sibling. However, Martin ensured the decision did not go ahead.

Martin said, “The biggest thing was Dan and David called me up and had the idea of eliminating Rickon [...] because he didn’t do much in the first book. I said I had important plans so they kept him.”

Fans of the series will know that Rickon ended up playing a small, but pivotal role.

4) Every character in the original underwent a full makeover for the next pilot

The Cersei Lannister actress uploaded a photo captioned 'my stone heart'
The Cersei Lannister actress uploaded a photo captioned 'my stone heart'

The aesthetic of the Seven Kingdoms is undoubtedly one of the most impressive things about the series, with many fans praising the seeming authenticity and detail of the costumes. The original pilot, however, was not as successful in their wardrobe choices

“I looked like a Vegas showgirl in the [original] pilot – furs and massive hair, like a medieval Dolly Parton,” said Leana Heady (Cersei Lannister). “Not that I’m complaining, I loved it. My hair devolved.”

Hair and wardrobe for the actors was altered significantly to ensure it didn’t look like cosplay.

Jack Gleeson, who famously portrayed Joffrey Baratheon, originally donned a bowl cut. And Viserys’s (Daenarys’s brother) wig was entirely different: a titanium, silver “bob”. The actor told Hibbard, “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?”

5) Michelle Fairley replaced Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark because Ehle did not want to relocate to Northern Ireland

HBO
HBO

It’s hard to imagine anyone else as the level-headed Catelyn Stark but in reality, the actor was extremely close to not playing the beloved Stark matriarch.

Pride and Prejudice star Jennifer Ehle was initially cast in the role after Benioff saw the actor portray Iago’s wife, Emilia, in a production of Othello.

Hibberd reports the Bafta award-winning actor was replaced because she did not want to move her family to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Lombardo revealed, “The actress who played Catelyn decided she didn’t want to move to Northern Ireland. I’m like, ‘What?’ Then you have a conversation with yourself about whether to force her to uphold her contract. In retrospect, it was one of the best things that could have happened. Michelle Fairley took over the role and was fantastic.”

6) George RR Martin is “under penalty” of death if he shows anyone the original pilot

Hibberd reports that the famed author owns a copy of the discarded Game of Thrones pilot. “I’m told I’m under penalty of death if I ever show it to anyone,” joked Martin.

While other people involved have slated the pilot, Martin was a fan. “I liked the pilot,” he said. “I realised later I was a poor person to judge because I was too close to it.”

Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon by James Hibberd will be released on 6 October.

Watch: 'Game of Thrones' castmates lead tributes to Dame Diana Rigg