This Show Was Hell: 4 Ways Making ‘Game Of Thrones’ Was A Royal Pain
While it remains to be seen if House of the Dragon will be warmly embraced by fans, or end up as the Joey to Game of Thrones’ Friends, let’s look back at the original series for a moment. In retrospect, it’s not only amazing that Game of Thrones became a ubiquitous piece of modern pop-culture, it’s amazing that it got made at all. It turns out that the production of this beloved/eventually-not-so-beloved fantasy drama often went about as smoothly as a wedding MC’d by Walder Frey, such as how …
The Showrunners Got The Pilot Made Through Deception And Trivia
The creators of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have taken a lot of crap from fans over the years – but you have to admire the way they Catch Me If You Can-ed their way into showrunning a multimillion dollar TV show. While Benioff had a few screenplay credits to his name (including Troy and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) the pair had no TV experience to speak of. Despite the fact that they were “pretty much unknowns” at the time, they still landed a meeting with George R.R. Martin and, remarkably, the legendary writer behind the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and also several episodes of that ‘80s TV show where Linda Hamilton routinely hooks up with a sewer-dwelling lion-man –
– granted them the rights to his books. Why? It wasn’t due to their pitch exactly, it was because Martin quizzed them about his stories, asking them to theorize the identity of Jon Snow’s mother (who had yet to be revealed). The team demonstrated an acceptable knowledge of the source material and were therefore granted the rights.
As for HBO, they greenlit the show thanks to good old fashioned lying. According to Benioff and Weiss “the show was exactly what we told them it wasn't”; they informed the cable titans that the story was “contained” and “about the characters” – banking that the executives hadn’t read enough of the books to know that there would one day be epic battles, giant fire-breathing dragons, and CGI legs.
The Original Pilot Was An Absolute Dumpster Fire
There’s a pilot for Game of Thrones that virtually no one has ever seen. That’s because most of it ended up being scrapped like a common Game of Thrones spin-off pilot. According to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who played Jamie Lannister: “Nobody knew what they were doing or what the hell this was” while shooting the first episode. Even though HBO shelled out the money to shoot overseas, including location work in Northern Ireland and Morocco, elaborate scenes were shot at night, which resulted in shockingly poor visibility.
Which is bad, but not horse boner bad. During an (originally consensual) outdoor sex scene between Drogo and Daenerys (originally played by an actress other than Emilia Clarke) a nearby horse apparently got “visibly excited by watching these two humans” prompting the crew to start laughing. Worse, the inexperienced showrunners opted to make their White Walker just a dude in a green suit, so they could “figure out what he looked like later with CGI” – not realizing that creating a digital design from scratch rather than simply create a costume “would have taken half the budget of the pilot.”
When all was said and done, the pilot … didn’t work. There were major story problems, and after the expense of traveling to distant locations, there were few wide shots resulting in “very little scope.” Reportedly one HBO exec remarked: "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!" Another said: "It looked like it was shot in my backyard." Astoundingly, Game of Thrones was given another chance and the pilot was mostly reshot. One actor referred to the pilot quagmire as a “$10 million-dollar rehearsal.”
A Production Screw-Up May Have Ruined The Ecosystem Of A Maltese Nature Preserve
A lot of people have interpreted Game of Thrones as an allegory for climate change (but with spooky ice zombies instead of extreme weather). Which perhaps makes it all the worse that the production was responsible for damaging a real-life ecological preserve. When shooting at a beach in Malta, the production committed what one “environment management expert” called an “environmental crime.”
Reportedly, the Game of Thrones crew covered a protected “fossil-rich” beach with “fake sand” – presumably because the existing sand didn’t look quite Westeros-y enough. Allegedly “irreversible damage might have been done to the ecosystem … both by the sand-dumping, and by the use of heavy machinery to clean it up.” While the Malta Environment & Planning Authority disputed those criticisms, it became a political controversy, with the Maltese prime minister even “having to answer questions about it in Parliament.” Thankfully no one was beheaded as a result.
The Nude Scenes Weren’t Always Handled Well (Allegedly Because Of A Pervy Producer)
Famously, Game of Thrones features more exposed flesh than an ‘80s teen comedy, but the production sometimes handled those sensitive scenes with all the sensitivity of … well an ‘80s teen sex comedy. Emilia Clarke has been particularly vocal on the issue, claiming that she was often uncomfortable with the required nudity, but went along with it because she was “so desperate to be the most professional actor,” adding that she would think to herself: “I’ll just cry about it in the bathroom later.”
The inexperienced showrunners seemingly crossed some lines; as recounted to Jason Momoa, who played Khal Drogo, while filming a sex scene with Clarke, David Benioff pressured him to remove his “intimacy pouch” (the fabric covering that obscured his junk) by yelling: “Sacrifice! Do it for your art!” Similarly violating was the fact that superfluous crew members would sneak onto closed sets during nude scenes; Esmé Bianco, who played Ros, said that during one nude scene three guys were holding one flag over a light before she shouted: “They need to leave!”
And according to Gemma Whelan, who played Yara Greyjoy, shooting the sex scenes was a “frenzied mess” with directors just saying: “When we shout action, go for it!” Good lord, even Burt Reynolds’ grizzled pornographer from Boogie Nights gave more considerate stage direction than that. Part of the problem was that the show didn’t have an intimacy coordinator, someone whose job is to be “an advocate, a liaison between actors and production … in regard to nudity and simulated sex” – that is until HBO mandated that they hire one in 2018.
Another potential problem: allegedly one of the producers was a total skeezebag. According to Neil Marshall, who directed the classic episodes “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall,” the “weirdest part” of working on the show was dealing with an unnamed executive producer who would lean over his shoulder saying: “You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it!” The same guy later pulled the director aside and told him: “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side, I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene.” And if the show’s gratuitous nudity really was about pleasing one specific self-described pervert, that could explain the staggering counterbalance of female-to-male nudity …
You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter!