Game Of Thrones was nearly a disaster, admit bosses

‘The pilot was a piece of shit.’ Game Of Thrones producers open up in candid interview.

Emilia Clarke Game Of Thrones
Not the first Daenerys Emilia Clarke was a late replacement for original mother of dragons Tamzin Merchant. Image Picture HBO/Sky Atlantic

Game Of Thrones might be the biggest phenomenon on television, but the show was nearly an unmitigated disaster.

Producers DB Weiss and David Benioff have revealed that the original Game Of Thrones pilot episode was so bad that they had to reshoot most of it and recast two major roles.

Speaking on the Scriptnotes podcast, Weiss admitted that the first time they screened the pilot to HBO was one of the lowest points of his career.

“Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” said Weiss.

Craig Mazin, writer of The Hangover 2 and a friend of the producers, was also present at the screening and told the pair they had “a massive problem”.

Benioff added: “I was taking notes, and I had this yellow legal pad. I remember just writing in all caps, ‘MASSIVE PROBLEM,’ underlining, and all I saw from then on that night was just ‘MASSIVE PROBLEM.’”

Game Of Thrones
Incest Test audiences originally didn't realise Cersei and Jaime Lannister were brother and sister. Image Picture HBO/Sky Atlantic

Weiss and Benioff had spent four years working on their TV adaptation of Geroge RR Martin’s novel A Song Of Fire And Ice. After the poor reaction to the pilot they had to go back to the drawing board.

“We ended up reshooting the pilot. 90% of the pilot was reshot,” Weiss recalled. “Literally so much of it was reshot that a different director got the on-screen credit.”

During the upheaval, Pride And Prejudice star Jennifer Ehle was fired as Catelyn Stark and replaced by Michelle Fairley. The role of Daenerys Targaryen was also recast, with Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant.

The reshoots and changes fixed numerous problems, including audience confusion over whether brother and sister Cersei and Jaime Lannister were related and if their affair was therefore incestuous.

Mazin shared his reaction to seeing the rejigged first episode, saying: “I sat there and this show unfolds and I am stunned. Because it wasn’t just that they had saved something bad and turned it really good.

“You had saved a complete piece of shit and turned it into something brilliant.”

And the rest is TV history.

Game Of Thrones will return to HBO on April 24 and air on Sky Atlantic the next day.

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Loaded digital media manager Simon Reynolds has written about film and entertainment for various leading websites since 2008. Follow Simon at @simonreyn

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