The original, unaired Game of Thrones pilot has something of a reputation for being an absolute trainwreck, especially among those involved. The debut episode that aired on HBO was mostly comprised of new material directed by Tim Van Patten during reshoots, rather than original director Thomas McCarthy. Not much else is known about the episode, but details from James Hibberd’s new book on the production of GoT, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, have given fans more of an indication of just how awful it really was.
In interviews with the cast and crew, and Song of Fire and Ice author George R.R. Martin, Hibberd painted a picture of an unmitigated disaster. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, for instance, said that “Nobody knew what they were doing or what the hell this was,” Entertainment Weekly reports. “There was certainly not a sense that this was going to be some game changer for anyone. But we had a lot of fun.”
While the series did go on to achieve considerable success during its time on the air, many felt it was doomed to fail during production of the unaired pilot. “I looked like a Vegas showgirl in the pilot,” joked Lena Headey, who portrayed Cersei Lannister. “Furs and massive hair, like a medieval Dolly Parton. Not that I’m complaining, I loved it. My hair devolved.”
Christopher Newman, who worked as a producer on the series, said that series villain Joffrey had more of a “pudding bowl-ish” haircut in the pilot, which he said “softened the edge” even though it still suited him “being a little shit.”
Showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff didn’t hold back on what they thought of that pilot, either. “As we went on, the cracks turned into bigger cracks, which turned into fissues,” Weiss added. “You started to feel the wheels coming off.” One particuarly bizarre story from its production came from a sex scene between Daenerys, who was played by actress Tamzin Merchant at the time rather than Emilia Clarke, and Khal Drogo.
As Merchant and Jason Momoa started filming the scene, the camerman noticed a horse paying interest to what was happening. “It was getting visibly excited by watching these two humans,” noted George R.R. Martin. “There’s this horse in the background with this enormous horse schlong. So that didn’t go well either.”
Despite all the issues with the original pilot, HBO still ordered the project to series. “You could see that some of the casting and the narrative was off. It needed to be fixed; it needed to be reshot,” remarked former co-president and CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler. “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.”
Judging from how badly everyone involved spoke of it, it’s unlikely fans will ever see the unaired pilot.