Creators of one of the greatest shows in television history, David Benioff and Dan Weiss took a complicated yet brilliant series of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy novels and under HBO’s supervision, crafted a cultural phenomenon that is second to none. The way they incorporated dense & compelling characters and a huge scope into an amazing single package called Game of Thrones is brilliant, to say the least.
However, making something as ambitious as Game of Thrones is never easy. Creating each season of the show is a huge ordeal with filming on multiple locations going on simultaneously. And it wasn’t very easy early on either- we all now know that original pilot was almost completely reshot and D&D seem quite comfortable when it comes to talking about their awful first attempt. It is one of those weird behind-the-scenes scoop which is equally terrifying and inspiring.
Weiss and Benioff recently appeared on a Scriptnotes podcast by screenwriters Craig Mazin and John August, where they recall screening the horrible original pilot for a group of writer friends, including Mazin. Weiss says:
“Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life. As soon as it finished, Craig [Mazin] said, ‘You guys have a massive problem’.”
“I was taking notes and I had this yellow legal pad, and I just remembered writing in all caps, ‘MASSIVE PROBLEM,’ and it’s all I could think about the rest of the night. Craig [Mazin] didn’t really have any great ideas except that he said ‘change everything’.”
And boy, they did actually change everything. Oscar nominee Tom McCarthy was replaced by TV Veteran Tim Van Patten. The roles of Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen were recast. And it is reported that 90% of the pilot was reshot. Flashback scene which involved the death of Ned Stark’s brother & father and the onscreen ‘lunatic’ death of Jon Arryn were cut. The original pilot also didn’t make it clear that Cersei and Jaime are siblings which made the shocking final scene (Jaime pushing Bran off the tower), totally weightless.
Only a few moments from the original pilot like the scene when Robert Baratheon visits Lyanna Stark’s tomb beneath Winterfell, made the cut.
Mazin shares his experience:
“I will never forget being invited to the premiere of the first season. I went in just thinking, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just see how this goes.’ I sat there and this show unfolds and I am stunned. Stunned. And I very specifically remember walking out and I said to [Weiss and Benioff], ‘That is the biggest rescue in Hollywood history.’ Because it wasn’t just that they had saved something bad and turned it really good. You had saved a complete piece of sh*t and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens!”