20 Epic Facts About Game of Thrones
Those who have been missing Game of Thrones’s unique blend of sex, blood, and dragons will have to wait until next summer for the show's return. To help the time pass, here are 20 facts about the bona fide cultural phenomenon. Valar morghulis.
*Spoiler alert for all aired episodes.*
1. THERE’S AN UNAIRED PILOT.
The first pilot, directed by Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, was so terrible that it had to be shelved and reshot. “We got everything wrong on a very basic level with the writing of it,” show co-creator David Benioff told Variety. One of the biggest problems? None of the friends he and Weiss invited to watch the pilot “realized that Jaime and Cersei were brother and sister, which is a major, major plot point that we had somehow failed to establish.”
2. CATELYN STARK AND DAENERYS TARGARYEN WERE ORIGINALLY PLAYED BY OTHER ACTORS.
In the original pilot, Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen were played by Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively; by the time the show aired, they had been replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke. George R.R. Martin, who wrote the book series on which Game of Thrones is based, also had a cameo in the original pilot as a guest at Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding.
3. THERE WERE A BUNCH OF OTHER CASTING CLOSE CALLS.
Ehle and Merchant weren’t Game of Thrones’s only could-have-beens. Gillian Anderson turned down an unspecified role on the show, as did The Wire's Dominic West. (Judging by the fact that, per West, the role would have involved shooting “in Reykjavik for six months,” it was probably Mance Rayder, a role that eventually went to Ciarán Hinds.) The Hunger Games franchise’s Sam Claflin auditioned for Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen, and Outlander star Sam Heughan auditioned for a variety of roles, including Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell, seven times.
4. PETER DINKLAGE THOUGHT THE SHOW HAD BEEN CANCELED.
After the pilot was picked up, David Benioff pranked Peter Dinklage by calling him and telling him the show had been canceled. It was six hours before Dinklage learned the truth.
5. SANSA STARK ADOPTED HER DIREWOLF IN REAL LIFE.
Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, adopted Zunni, the Northern Inuit dog that played her pet direwolf on the series’ first season. “Growing up I always wanted a dog, but my parents never wanted one,” Turner told Coventry Telegraph in 2013. “We kind of fell in love with my character’s direwolf, Lady, on set. We knew Lady died and they wanted to re-home her. My mum persuaded them to let us adopt her.”
6. DOTHRAKI IS A REAL LANGUAGE.
In 2014, Living Language released a conversational language course that will have you speaking like Khal Drogo in no time. The course was crafted by linguist David J. Peterson, who worked with HBO to create the Dothraki heard on the show.
7. SEVERAL CHARACTERS HAVE CHANGED ACTORS.
A handful of characters have been played by more than one actor over the course of the show, notably Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein in season three, Michiel Huisman in seasons four, five, and six), Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry in seasons one and two, Dean-Charles Chapman in seasons three through six), and his sister Myrcella (Aimee Richardson in seasons one and two, Nell Tiger Free in season five), and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Conan Stevens in season one, Ian Whyte in season two, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in seasons four, five, and six.)
8. DAENERYS TARGARYEN ORIGINALLY HAD VIOLET EYES.
In the books, the Targaryen family members are notable for their silver hair and violet eyes. During shooting, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Viserys (Harry Lloyd) Targaryen originally wore violet contact lenses, but Benioff and Weiss decided they negatively impacted the actors’ ability to portray emotion.
9. A LOT OF DEAD CHARACTERS ARE ALIVE IN THE BOOKS.
More than a handful of characters are alive in Martin’s books, but dead on the show. These include: Shireen and Stannis Baratheon, Night’s Watchmen Pyp and Grenn, Barristan Selmy, Myrcella Baratheon, and Mance Rayder.
10. SHOOTING THE HORSE HEART SCENE WAS AN UNPLEASANT EXPERIENCE.
The horse heart Daenerys had to eat in season one was essentially a giant gummy candy—one that, per Clarke, tasted a little bit like bleach. To make the proceedings even grosser, all the fake blood made Clarke so sticky that she got stuck to a toilet.
11. THERE’S MORE THAN ONE MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL CONNECTION.
Part of Game of Thrones’s pilot was shot in one of the castles used for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Three seasons later, in “Breaker of Chains,” an unnamed Meereenese warrior shouts a series of taunts at Daenerys that include “Your mother was a hamster,” “Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person,” and “I blow my nose at you” … in Low Valyrian, of course.
12. REAL PEOPLE ARE NAMING THEIR KIDS AFTER GAME OF THRONES CHARACTERS.
In the year 2014, per the Social Security Administration, “Khaleesi” was the United States’s 755th most popular baby name for girls, up from 1021th place in 2013. In England, Khaleesi, Arya, Tyrion, Brienne, Sansa, Bran, Sandor, and Theon also saw a rise in popularity after Game of Thrones began airing. (What, no Dagmer Cleftjaw?)
13. THE STARK KIDS ARE DIFFERENT AGES IN THE SHOW THAN IN THE BOOKS.
When A Game of Thrones-the-book starts off, the Stark children are much younger than their on-screen counterparts. Bran was supposed to be seven, while the actor who played him (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was 12; Arya (played by Maisie Williams) went from nine to 13, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) went from eleven to 15 and Rickon (Art Parkinson) from three to six. In perhaps the most, ahem, stark difference, if Game of Thrones had stayed completely true to its source material, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would have been only 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
14. GEORGE R.R. MARTIN MADE THE SHOWRUNNERS GUESS WHO JON SNOW’S MOTHER.
Before he’d bestow his blessing on Weiss and Benioff, Martin asked the two wannabe showrunners the question that has spurred thousands upon thousands of words of fan speculation: “Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?” “It was very much like a test question,” Benioff admitted. “Basically, it was like: ‘Guess. I want your guess to be intelligent and I want it to be based in the facts of the world,’” Weiss added. “We had already discussed it. We’d had like a two-hour conversation about it. It was pretty well-trammeled territory for us.”
15. ONE ACTOR HAS PLAYED FOUR CHARACTERS.
British actor and stunt performer Ian Whyte has played a grand total of four roles on Game of Thrones. In seasons one and two he was a White Walker; also in season two, he played Gregor Clegane (one of three actors to play the role); season three saw him as an unnamed giant; in season five he played the Wildling giant Wun Wun.
16. RAMSAY SNOW ALMOST PLAYED JON SNOW.
Iwan Rheon was the runner-up to play Jon Snow. The role went to Kit Harington, and Rheon went on to play Roose Bolton’s sadistic bastard son, Ramsay, instead.
17. IT’S BEEN THE MOST ILLEGALLY DOWNLOADED SHOW FOR FOUR YEARS RUNNING.
According to TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones was the most pirated show of 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. In 2015 it had more than twice the illegal downloads of the second most pirated show, The Walking Dead.
18. IT HAS AN OFFICIAL COMPANION RAP ALBUM.
In 2014, HBO put out an official Game of Thrones-themed rap album called “Catch the Throne,” which they released for free via SoundCloud. They did it again in 2015, before the show’s fifth season (though volume two contained some heavy metal tracks). Contributors include Method Man (“The Oath”), Snoop Dogg (“Lannister’s Anthem”), Big Boi (“Mother of Dragons”), Talib Kweli (“Lord of the Light”), and Anthrax (“Soror Irrumator”).
19. SEAN BEAN HAD SOME FUN WITH HIS OWN DECAPITATED HEAD.
In a Reddit AMA, Ned Stark actor Sean Bean recalled that, while on-set, he kicked the model of his character’s decapitated head around “like a football.”
20. THE SHOWRUNNERS KNOW HOW THE BOOKS WILL END.
Martin has told Weiss and Benioff the “broad strokes” of how the series will end. “Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be,” Benioff told Vanity Fair. “If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character.”