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,” Benioff told Variety. One of the 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Daenerys Targaryen were played by Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively; by the time the show aired, they had been replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke.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’ only could-have-beens. Gillian Anderson turned down an unspecified role on the show, as did The Wire star 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 CANCELLED.
After the pilot was picked up, David Benioff pranked Peter Dinklage by calling him and telling him the show had been cancelled. It was six hours before Dinklage learned otherwise.
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.”