There’s no doubt that Game of Thrones is by far one of the most popular shows to ever grace a television screen, and rightfully so. The production value on the series rivals some of Hollywood’s best blockbusters, while the storytelling and attention to detail on the show has had audiences hooked since day one. With a production that elaborate and creativity so finely channeled, there are bound to be secrets, workarounds, and facts from behind-the-scenes that are worth talking about. How do the White Walkers get their sound? What does a horse heart taste like? How did the show runners convince George R.R. Martin that they could turn his novels into a TV series?
Here are fifteen behind-the-scenes secrets from the deepest corners of Westeros: the stuff that brews below the surface of fan theories and storyline hunches. These are the weird, interesting, and sometimes funny stories that take place behind the curtains of the biggest TV show airing today.
15. The Unaired Pilot
Game of Thrones wasn’t always the surefire hit TV show that it is today. In fact, there was a time when the show almost never happened due to a horribly-produced pilot that everyone, including HBO, hated! The original pilot was directed by Tom McCarthy, who also wrote and directed the Academy Award-winning film, Spotlight. The episode was so bad that the show runners had to shelve it, scrap it, and reshoot everything from scratch! In an interview with Variety, show co-creator David Benioff said, “We got everything wrong on a very basic level with the writing of it.” The biggest issue they had was that by the time the pilot was done, the test audience that had been invited to see it didn’t realize that Cersei and Jaime Lannister were actually brother and sister, which is a massive plot point in the series that leads to the closing scene’s shock value.
The original series would have also had different actors. Catelyn Stark was played by Jennifer Ehle, while Daenerys Targaryen was originally played by Tamzin Merchant of Tudors fame. As icing on the messy cake, Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin also had a cameo on the pilot, standing in the background during the wedding of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen.
14. That’s Not The Same Night King!
While Game of Thrones is no stranger to recasting its actors and characters, one of the most prominent examples of this is also one that might have gone completely unnoticed for most fans. If you suspected that the big bad guy of the series, the Night King, started looking a little different in more recent seasons, well, you suspected right! The ruthless commander of the White Walkers has actually been played by two different actors on the show. Back in seasons four and five, the terrifying Night King was played by Richard Brake. You may remember Brake from Batman Begins as Joe Chill, the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. But then when season six rolled around, eagle-eyed fans noticed that the alpha White Walker looked a little different, and that’s because actor Vladimir Furdik had taken over the role.
Other notable actor swaps on the show include Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein in season three, Michiel Huisman in seasons four, five, and six) and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Conan Stevens in season one, Ian Whyte in season two, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in seasons four, five, and six).
13. Emilia Clarke Got Stuck To A Toilet
No one can argue that the production value on Game of Thrones rivals even major Hollywood feature-length blockbusters. From the elaborate set pieces to the intricate costumes, everything on Game of Thrones is done with attention paid to every meticulous detail. One prop in particular happened to be very distressing for Emilia Clarke, and that was the horse’s heart that she consumed all the way back in season one to prove her place in the Dothraki kingdom.
The heart was essentially made of sugar and gum and felt like a giant gummy candy. According to Clarke, it tasted a bit like bleach. Ugh! But to make matters infinitely worse, the fake blood was extremely sticky and got all over Clarke’s body… which was why she got stuck to a toilet during a bathroom break! That’s right, the Mother of Dragons got stuck to a toilet because the horse heart that she ate was way too sticky.
12. HBO Needed To Pass George R.R. Martin’s Test To Make The TV Show
One does not simply make a Game of Thrones TV show. At least, not before passing a perplexing test created by series author George R.R. Martin. Before giving current show runners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff his blessing to turn his acclaimed novels into a live-action series on HBO, George R.R. Martin asked them one of the toughest questions relating to the books: Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?
Although we know the answer now thanks to the show, back then it was the biggest mystery in the world of Ice and Fire. And it was a question that required intelligent thought and a thorough understanding of all the books, which is why George R.R. Martin picked it. I guess Weiss and Benioff must have answered correctly, because here they are all these years later, gearing up for the final season of arguably the greatest show ever made for television.
11. Gandalf’s Sword Is In The Iron Throne!
Anyone who’s a fan of Game of Thrones and author George R.R. Martin knows that the entire series of A Song of Fire and Ice novels was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels and subsequent movies. Heck, it was only after The Fellowship of the Ring was released back in 2001 and became a smash hit worldwide that George Martin was approached to license his novels into a series of films. But The Lord of the Rings didn’t just influence the books and the series in terms of vision and scale, there’s also a physical proof of homage hidden in the most important piece of the show: the Iron Throne. We all know that the Throne is forged out of dozens of legendary swords, but one of those swords happens to come from Middle-Earth, not Westeros. Gandalf’s famed blade, Glamdring, is one of the swords that can be seen forged into the Iron Throne!
10. Cersei And Bronn Hate Each Other… For Real!
Practically every character on Game of Thrones has shared a scene together at some point in the show, except for the foul-mouthed Bronn and the wretched Queen Cersei, and there’s a very good reason for that. You see, actors Jerome Flynn and Lena Headey were, at one point, in a very serious relationship! Unfortunately, that relationship ended on such messy terms that both Flynn and Heady hate each other’s guts. In fact, they despise each other so much that show runners were explicitly told to never have the two actors in the same room, let alone in the same scene!
Both Flynn and Heady were so serious about this one specific term that the clause had to be inserted into their contracts for everyone to abide by. So the next time you watch an episode of Game of Thrones, try to spot a scene where Bronn and Cersei have to logically be in the same place, but one of them takes off with a lamely plotted excuse. It happens every time.
9. Direwolves Are Way Too Expensive
We have dragons. We have White Walkers. We have elaborate set pieces set against sweeping landscapes. But we don’t have enough direwolves. But why is that? Well, according to the producers behind Game of Thrones, direwolves cost a lot of money to have on the show. Back in season one, the producers actually hired real Northern Inuit dogs, a species of dog specifically bred to look as close as possible to wolves, to stand in for the mythical Winterfell beasts on set. Of course, back then the size of the dogs was not an issue because the direwolves themselves were fairly young on the show. But as the wolves grew and had to be much larger in size, the filmmakers resorted to CGI instead, putting tremendous strain on the budget in the process.
8. How Much Does Each Episode Cost?
Game of Thrones is, by far, one of the most expensive shows in the history of television. It costs a reported $6 million to produce a single episode, with some prominent episodes costing even more than that! For instance, the action-packed “Blackwater” episode in season two had a price tag of a whopping $8 million, while episodes with elaborate scenes of war such as the “Battle of the Bastards” and the more recent “Spoils of War” with the fiery “loot crate attack” were rumored to be bordering on the $10 million mark. While actors’ salaries take up a considerable chunk of the budget, the bigger expense comes in the form of CGI and travel. So far, the cast and crew of Game of Thrones have filmed in the United States, Morocco, Malta, Croatia, Iceland, and Northern Ireland, with some scenes being shot simultaneously by two different crews in order to meet the production deadline.
7. The Secrets In The Costumes
When it comes to attention to detail, Game of Thrones spares no expense. Every costume on the show is not only “broken” to look authentic and used, but their intricate designs also tell a story exclusive to the character wearing the item. For example, in season four during Sansa’s wedding to Tyrion, you’ll notice that Sansa’s bridal costume carries designs of fish and wolves; symbols of Sansa’s Tully and Stark heritage. There’s also a prominent lion on the back of the dress to symbolize how the young Stark had fallen under the control of the Lannisters. But none of that would matter if the costumes ended up looking cheap and like they came out of a Renaissance Fair. That’s why costume designer Michelle Clapton painstakingly “breaks the wardrobe” before dressing any of the cast.
The Emmy Award-winning costumes on Game of Thrones are “aged” for a whole two weeks to give it that realistic, worn feel, instead of that low budget vibe that you get from most other period piece shows.
6. What Makes That Creepy White Walker Sound?
The latest season of Game of Thrones had some of the best sound design and score in any TV series. While every character on the show has their own distinct sound and theme music of sorts, one of the sounds that stands out more than others is the “creepy White Walker sound.” It sends shivers down our spines and is a signal of something sinister that’s about to happen… but fans haven’t been able to place exactly why it sounds as creepy as it does.
Turns out, series composer Ramin Djawadi used a very unorthodox tool to create those chilling tones: glass bowls! In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Djawadi explained that he sometimes preferred to use glass bowls for scenes north of the wall just to give audiences that cold, unsettling mood. The eerie glassy sound, he says, makes people uneasy and lets them know that they’re about to see some White Walkers.
5. Game Of Thrones’ Complicated Opening Credits
While many popular TV shows have produced some pretty amazing, memorable opening sequences in the past, you can’t argue that the intricacy in Game of Thrones’ opening is probably up there as the best. For one, the opening is slightly different with each episode, showing viewers where the show will take us for the next 60minutes. It’s also different for each season. The iconic opening was created by Elastic, the same studio that created credits for Masters of S*x, True Detective, and The Americans. But the aptly named Angus Wall is the man tasked with renewing the opening credits each season. He says it takes a team of ten and almost three whole months to complete a new sequence, a process that starts with an artist drawing the new locations layer by layer before converting them into 3D objects on a computer. There’s even someone tasked with fine-tuning the shadows that are cast by each building and monument!
4. Someone Stole The Season One Scripts!
Imagine having your novels turned into a major television series on one of the most successful, prominent channels in existence… only to lose the first season’s scripts in the post! That’s right, in 2011, author George R.R. Martin lost two season one scripts in the mail. Actually, lost seems like the wrong term, because it was more like the scripts were stolen from him. After the incident, Martin took to his blog and wrote, “The envelope was torn open at one end, and both scripts were gone… I am convinced the scripts were stolen.” Understandably very distressed and angry at the whole debacle, Martin turned to his fans for assistance by writing, “Like Bloodraven, I have a thousand eyes and one. So let’s keep ’em all peeled, boys and girls.”
Although the scripts were never found, the perpetrator thankfully never leaked the scripts, and everything went on as planned. Today, Game of Thrones holds an iconic place in the history of television, and it’s hard to say if anything will be able to top it anytime soon.
3. Jason Momoa’s Cure For Awkward Scenes
Contrary to popular belief, shooting s*x scenes in movies and TV shows are hardly any fun for the actors involved. Sometimes, they have to act out scenes that are uneasy to watch, such as the infamous s*xual assault scene between Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen in season one. So to lighten the mood on a very tense, uncomfortable moment between the two actors, Jason Momoa, decided to ditch the “modesty sock” that male actors wear to cover their nether regions and opted for a fluffy pink sock instead!
During an interview on the Graham Norton Show, Emilia Clarke recalled the hilarity of the scene by saying, “There was the lovely, uh, the lovely […] scene… so obviously, there’s nudity and you kind of have to try to lighten the mood. So he decided to not use a modesty sock but use a beautiful pink, fluffy sock! So getting that close-up from me looking petrified, just like ‘I didn’t want it to happen’ drew lots of laughter— ‘It’s huge and it’s big and I don’t know what to do!” Jason Momoa also recalls the scene, and says that it was the only logical thing for him to do for such a scene. “I’m the only [one] in here naked! I don’t see anything more appropriate than me having a good time. I mean, this is awkward. Just let me make her laugh and I’ll try to get through this.”
2. Season 8 Will Have Multiple Endings To Prevent Spoilers
The night is dark and full of spoilers. In season seven alone, HBO had to endure a major cyber attack on their servers which allowed the hackers to steal a number of unaired episodes and then hold them at ransom in the process. And then in one of the biggest mess-ups by HBO’s international arm, the penultimate episode of season seven was accidentally aired a week in advance in Spain! Needless to say, the episode was uploaded onto every torrent and illegal site in the world and millions of people viewed the episode seven days ahead of everyone who waited patiently for its actual air date. In order to prevent disasters like this from happening again, the show runners of Game of Thrones have decided to film multiple endings to the show to prevent it from leaking to the public. This technique isn’t unheard of. Last year, the gang behind The Walking Dead shot multiple scenes to ensure that the real ending would not be leaked.
1. They People From Other Industries
Anyone who has ever watched Game of Thrones knows that the show isn’t shy about its grotesque display of violence and s*x, and in order to pull off some of the raunchier scenes on the show, producers hired film stars of the “adult” variety as extras to take on certain side roles on the show. In season four, they hired actress Jessica Jensen and Samantha Bentley to play pr*stitutes in an infamous brothel in King’s Landing. Bentley, who happens to be the winner of an Adult Video News award, is a pretty big deal in the “other industry.”
Aeryn Walker, an adult film star all the way from Australia, was later cast as one of Craster’s many wives, and Walker even went on record to say that she was “very excited” about having a role on a show like Game of Thrones.
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