Game of Thrones' original pilot episode never aired and was reportedly such a disaster that it would've ruined the series. Now, an unearthed script shows just what was wrong. HBO's critically acclaimed TV series is wrapping up its story with season 8 in April, but long before Game of Thrones even debuted on the network, a pilot episode was written, filmed, and edited.
The Game of Thrones pilot (directed by Oscar-winning director Tom McCarthy) had a lot of the makings of the show that became a phenomenon, but the results weren't well received internally. As a result, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss reshot a bulk of the episode for what would become the season 1 premiere, restructuring the script, recasting two of the main stars, and prioritizing clarity over exposition. Since HBO never released the pilot, the extent of the changes is unclear.
However, now new details of Game of Thrones' famously bad unaired pilot have emerged (uncovered by The Huffington Post from a script found at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library). We can now reassess the original Game of Thrones pilot to pinpoint what works the best, and what unnecessary details could’ve killed HBO's show before it began. Here’s what you need to know about the key differences, why changes were made, and how they improved Game of Thrones' first episode.
- This Page: How The Game of Thrones Pilot Was Different
- Page 2: Why The Final Game of Thrones Premiere Is Better
The White Walkers Talked (Sort Of) In Game Of Thrones' Unaired Pilot
In HBO's Game of Thrones premiere, “Winter Is Coming”, three members of the Night's Watch discover dead wildlings; otherwise known as Free Folk. The corpses' heads are severed, thus underlining a sense of danger for the viewer. A blue-eyed White Walker appears, and one of the dead wildlings transforms into one of the blue-eyed “Others.” The White Walker kills one of the Night’s Watch rangers and beheads another. The lone survivor, Will, flees, and he’s ultimately executed by Ned for desertion.
However, the original script and unaired pilot removes some of the White Walker mystery by including a native language that's described as a “crackling.” In the unaired pilot script, Will crawls up a tree and observes from above. So, the primary focus then becomes the White Walkers' language, rather than the simple fact that they exist - which is the major shock for Will. The emphasis on the White Walkers' language of ice aligns with Martin’s books, and its inclusion in the unaired pilot script suggests that Benioff and Weiss hoped to immediately establish an extra layer of mythology during Game of Thrones’ opening scene.
Daenerys Was Recast After The Game Of Thrones Pilot (& Wasn't Originally Abused)
By now, Game of Thrones fans are more than familiar with Emilia Clarke. The English actress has portrayed Daenerys Targaryen (the Mother of Dragons), one of the series' central characters, since 2011. In the released Game of Thrones premiere, Daenerys doesn’t appear on screen until the 33-minute mark. She’s fondled by her brother, and then forced into a marriage. After a violent wedding ceremony, Daenerys is essentially raped by her new husband Khal Drogo, and she cries as a result. For the viewer, the implications are clear: Daenerys is repeatedly taken advantage of by men, and thus becomes a sympathetic figure.
The unaired Game of Thrones pilot tells another story. In the unaired pilot script, Daenerys appears to be happy at her wedding ceremony. During the pivotal consummation moment with new husband Khal, Daenerys enjoys the fact that he only knows how to say “no" in her language, and she ultimately responds to her new husband with a “yes”; in the pilot script, Daenerys isn’t raped. Additionally, the unaired pilot features a different actress, Tamzin Merchant, who later became a main cast member of WGN's Salem. After receiving critical feedback about the unaired pilot, Benioff and Weiss replaced Merchant with Clarke, and they also shifted her backstory to inform the audience about her motivations.
Catelyn Stark Was Recast (And Had Different Motivations)
Game of Thrones' premiere establishes a strong bond between Ned Stark and his wife, Catelyn. An early exposition scene introduces their children - Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Rickon - and Catelyn ultimately reveals some troubling news from her sister: Ned’s long-time friend, Jon Arryn, died. What's more, he was allegedly murdered by the Lannisters. Shortly before, the pilot features a bedroom scene between the Stark couple, in which Catelyn shows her support for Ned, and lovingly states that she won’t let Robert Baratheon send him to the south. “I’ll say, listen, fat man: you are not taking my husband anywhere. He belongs to me now.”
The unaired Game of Thrones pilot features a completely different woman, literally and figuratively. Before Fairley was cast, Jennifer Ehle portrayed Catelyn Stark, and her pillow talk with Ned is much different, according to the unaired pilot script. During the aforementioned bedroom sequence, Catelyn urges Ned to head to King's Landing, so that their daughter, Sansa, could be paired with the heir-to-be, Joffrey. It's also been rumored that the original unaired script doesn’t have Catelyn brushing Sansa’s hair while the young girl contemplates a possible future with Joffrey, as depicted in "Winter Is Coming". This brief bit of exposition informs the audience about Sansa's naivety, and sets the tone for her character arc.
The Game of Thrones Pilot Didn't Make Clear Cersei and Jaime Were Brother And Sister
It's made abundantly clear that Cersei and Jaime Lannister are brother and sister early on in Game of Thrones. This is crucial, because they have a sexual relationship and are ultimately caught in the act by Bran Stark at the end of the first episode. When Cersei and Jaime make their first appearance together, the latter’s first words are, "As your brother, I feel it’s my duty to warn you - you worry too much." They speak about Tyrion’s drinking (among other things), and Tyrion's subsequent first appearance also underlines the Lannister's familial bonds. When Jaime finds “the imp” in bed with the prostitute Ros, Tyrion’s first line is, “Brother?,” and Jaime replies with, “Our sister craves your attention." Tyrion then retorts with, “She has our cravings, our sister.”
There’s a good reason for the blatant exposition; the original unaired pilot offered little clarity about Jamie and Cersei’s relationship, meaning their sex scene loses its impact. Even more, the unaired pilot script confirms that an expositional scene was added to the HBO version to make sure viewers understand the importance of Cersei and Jaimie’s first moment together; they're siblings.
Furthermore, the unaired pilot script also reveals that Cersei tells Jaime to "stop" during their infamous sex scene. As a result, the power dynamics shift, with Jaime having more character agency and control. The proper Game of Thrones premiere ends with Jaime pushing Bran from a ledge, but Cersei is very much complicit. In the unaired pilot, the script is flipped: Cersei is raped instead of Daenerys. Curiously, the unaired pilot script also shows that Cersei notices a feather on Lyanna Stark’s statue in the Crypts of Winterfell, and asks a handmaiden to burn it. In the new Game of Thrones season 8 teaser, the feather plays an important role.