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Macall B. Polay/HBO

20 Epic Facts About Game of Thrones

Macall B. Polay/HBO
Macall B. Polay/HBO

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Daenerys Targaryen were played by Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively; by the time the show aired, they had been replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke.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.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

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.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

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.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

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.

Helen Sloan/HBO

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.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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.”

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Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
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10 Facts About Charlotte Brontë
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bronte: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock

Charlotte Brontë was born in England to an Irish father and Cornish mother on April 21, 1816. And though much of her life was marked by tragedy, she wrote novels and poems that found great success in her lifetime and are still popular nearly 200 years later. But there’s a lot more to Brontë than Jane Eyre.

1. BRONTË WAS JUST 5 YEARS OLD WHEN SHE LOST HER MOTHER.

Maria Branwell Brontë was 38 when she died in 1821 of ovarian cancer (or, it's been suggested, of a post-natal infection), leaving her husband, Patrick Brontë, and their six young children behind. In the years after Maria died, Patrick sent four of his daughters, including Charlotte, to a boarding school for the daughters of clergy members. Brontë later used her bad experiences at this school—it was a harsh, abusive environment—as inspiration for Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre. As an adult, Bronte mentioned her mother (who was also fond of writing) in a letter, saying: "I wish she had lived and that I had known her."

2. BRONTË HAD BEEN WRITING POETRY AND STORIES SINCE HER YOUTH.

Though one of her boarding school report cards described her abilities as "altogether clever for her age, but knows nothing systematically," Brontë was a voracious reader during her childhood and teen years, and she wrote stories and staged plays at home with her siblings. With her brother Branwell, especially, she wrote manuscripts, plays, and stories, drawing on literature, magazines, and the Bible for inspiration. For fun, they created magazines that contained everything a real magazine would have—from the essays, letters, and poems to the ads and notes from the editor.

3. SHE WORKED AS A TEACHER AND GOVERNESS BUT DISLIKED IT.

portrait of Charlotte Bronte
Charlotte Bronte circa 1840.
Portrait by Thompson. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In her late teens and early twenties, Brontë worked on and off as a teacher and governess. In between writing, she taught at a schoolhouse but didn't like the long hours. She also didn't love working as a governess in a family home. Once, in a letter to a friend, she wrote, "I will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me, thrown at once into the midst of a large family … having the charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, and turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse as well as instruct." She quickly realized she wasn't a good fit for these caretaking jobs, but she later used her early work experiences as inspiration for passages in Jane Eyre.

4. BRONTË DEALT WITH A LOT OF LITERARY REJECTION.

When she was 20 years old, Brontë sent the English Poet Laureate Robert Southey some of her best poems. He wrote back in 1837, telling her that she obviously had a good deal of talent and a gift with words but that she should give up writing. "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it, even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement," Southey responded to her. The Professor, Brontë’s first novel, was rejected nine times before it was finally published after her death.

5. SHE USED THE MALE PSEUDONYM CURRER BELL.

English writers Anne, Emily and Charlotte Bronte.
English writers Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte circa 1834, as painted by their brother.
Painting by Patrick Branwell Bronte. Photo by Rischgitz, Getty Images.

In 1846, Brontë paid to publish a book of poetry containing poems she and her sisters Emily and Anne had written. The three sisters used male pseudonyms—Charlotte was Currer Bell, Emily was Ellis Bell, and Anne was Acton Bell. (The book sold two copies.) Brontë also used the Currer Bell pseudonym when she published Jane Eyre—her publishers didn't know Bell was really a woman until 1848, a year after the book was published!

6. JANE EYRE WAS AN INSTANT SUCCESS.

The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
The first page of the manuscript 'Jane Eyre.'
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In 1847, British publishing firm Smith, Elder & Co published Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. From the start, the book was a success—one critic called it "the best novel of the season"—and people began to speculate about who Currer Bell was. But some reviewers were less impressed, criticizing it for being coarse in content, including one who called it "anti-Christian." Brontë was writing in the Victorian period, after all.

7. BRONTË WAS LUCKY TO AVOID TUBERCULOSIS …

Tuberculosis prematurely killed at least four of Brontë's five siblings, starting with her two oldest sisters, Maria and Elizabeth (who weren't even teenagers yet), in 1825. In 1848, Brontë’s only brother, Branwell, died of chronic bronchitis, officially, though tuberculosis has also been a rumored cause, probably aggravated by alcohol and opium. Her sister Emily came down with a severe illness during Branwell's funeral and died of tuberculosis three months later. Then, five months later in May 1849, Charlotte’s final surviving sibling, Anne, also died of tuberculosis after a lengthy battle.

8. … BUT SHE DIED AT 38 YEARS OLD—WHILE PREGNANT.

In June 1854, Brontë married a clergyman named Arthur Bell Nicholls and got pregnant almost immediately. Her pregnancy was far from smooth sailing though—she had acute bouts of nausea and vomiting, leading to her becoming severely dehydrated and malnourished. She and her unborn child died on March 31, 1855. Although we don’t know for sure what killed her, theories include hyperemesis gravidarum, based on her symptoms, or possibly typhus. Her father, Patrick Brontë, survived his wife and all six children.

9. ZEALOUS BRONTË FANS TRAVEL TO HER HOME IN ENGLAND.

Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Charlotte Brontë's writing desk in Haworth.
Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

Emily and Anne Brontë wrote famous books, too—Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, respectively. The Brontë sisters's writing has inspired devoted fans from around the world to visit their home in Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. The Brontë Society’s Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth has a collection of early manuscripts and letters, and the museum invites bookworms to see where the Brontë family lived and wrote, and walk the Yorkshire moors that inspired many of the scenes each sister depicted.

10. SHE HELPED MAKE THE NAME 'SHIRLEY' MORE POPULAR FOR GIRLS.

Thanks to Brontë, the name Shirley is now considered more of a girl's name than a boy's one. In 1849, Brontë's second novel, Shirley, about an independent heiress named Shirley Keeldar, was released. Before then, the name Shirley was unusual, but was most commonly used for boys. (In the novel, the title character was named as such because her parents had wanted a boy.) But after 1849, the name Shirley reportedly started to become popular for women. Decades later in the 1930s, child star Shirley Temple's fame catapulted the name into more popular use.

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From A Game Of Thrones to War and Peace: These are America's 100 Favorite Books
Denis De Marney, Getty Images
Denis De Marney, Getty Images

Die-hard classic literature lovers might quibble over Fifty Shades of Grey being placed on the same list as Jane Eyre, but alas, the people have spoken. Both are among America’s 100 favorite novels, according to a national survey conducted by YouGov.

The list was compiled in support of The Great American Read, an upcoming PBS series about the joys of reading. Set to premiere on May 22, the eight-part series will introduce the "100 best-loved novels" and feature interviews with famous authors, comedians, actors, athletes, and more. A few of the featured guests will include George Lopez, Seth Meyers, Venus Williams, and James Patterson. Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, A Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao author Junot Díaz, all of whom have books on the list, will also make appearances.

On the day of the series premiere, PBS will launch a round of voting to determine "America’s Best-Loved Novel." Viewers across the country will have the chance to choose their favorite book from the list of 100 and place their vote online, or through Facebook or Twitter using the #GreatReadPBS hashtag. The winner will be announced this fall.

The oldest book on the list is Don Quixote, a classic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes (1603), while the newest is Ghost (2016), a young adult book by Jason Reynolds. The list includes authors from 15 different countries, and the books span several genres. Many of the novels are staples on high school summer reading lists, including 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

Scroll down for the full list of America's favorite books, arranged in alphabetical order.

1984
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Game of Thrones
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Separate Peace
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
The Alchemist
Alex Cross Mysteries (series)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Americanah
And Then There Were None
Anne of Green Gables
Another Country
Atlas Shrugged
Beloved
Bless Me, Ultima
The Book Thief
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Call of the Wild
Catch-22
The Catcher in the Rye
Charlotte's Web
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Coldest Winter Ever
The Color Purple
The Count of Monte Cristo
Crime and Punishment
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Da Vinci Code
Don Quixote
Doña Barbara
Dune
Fifty Shades of Grey
Flowers in the Attic
Foundation
Frankenstein
Ghost
Gilead
The Giver
The Godfather
Gone Girl
Gone with the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
Great Expectations
The Great Gatsby
Gulliver's Travels
The Handmaid's Tale
Harry Potter (series)
Hatchet
Heart of Darkness
The Help
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Hunger Games
The Hunt for Red October
The Intuitionist
Invisible Man
Jane Eyre
The Joy Luck Club
Jurassic Park
Left Behind
The Little Prince
Little Women
Lonesome Dove
Looking for Alaska
The Lord of the Rings (series)
The Lovely Bones
The Martian
Memoirs of a Geisha
Mind Invaders
Moby Dick
The Notebook
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Outlander
The Outsiders
The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Pilgrim's Progress
The Pillars of the Earth
Pride and Prejudice
Ready Player One
Rebecca
The Shack
Siddhartha
The Sirens of Titan
The Stand
The Sun Also Rises
Swan Song
Tales of the City
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Things Fall Apart
This Present Darkness
To Kill a Mockingbird
Twilight
War and Peace
Watchers
The Wheel of Time (series)
Where the Red Fern Grows
White Teeth
Wuthering Heights

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