Things You Probably Didn’t Know About ‘Game of Thrones’

15 minute read

By Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Despite stumbling in the final season, Game of Thrones is still a pop culture phenomenon. While some enjoy it for its violent fantasy setting, others are still drawn to the show for its political intrigue or to the dense world author George R.R. Martin has created.

With prequel series House of the Dragon sending out a casting call, now is as good a time as any to dig a little into some behind-the-scenes trivia and maybe learn something about the show that started it all.

Here are 22 Game of Thrones facts you may not have been aware of!

22. There’s an Unaired Pilot

Unlike a fair number of other television series, Game of Thrones started strong. It delivered a memorable pilot episode that did a great job of introducing viewers to Westeros and its many deeply-flawed denizens. As it turns out, the pilot came together so well partly because the first one was such a trainwreck.

Directed by Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, the original pilot was reportedly so terrible that the whole thing was scrapped and reshot. “We got everything wrong on a very basic level with the writing of it,” co-creator David Benioff told Variety.

Changes were made not only to the plot and pacing but to personnel as well. Both Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen were played by different actresses — Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively — in the pilot and were replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke for the reshoot.

An interesting bit of trivia: George R. R. Martin himself had a cameo in the original pilot as a nobleman attending Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding.

Source: Screenshot via HelloGiggles

21. The Almost Stars

In addition to Ehle and Merchant, there were many other actors who almost landed prominent roles in the series. Some of them are pretty big names.

Both Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall) and Dominic West (The Wire, The Affair) turned down unspecified roles on the show. It’s believed that West’s role — which involved shooting “in Reykjavik for six months” — was that of Mance Rayder, which eventually went to Ciarán Hinds.

A few other notable actors who came close to landing roles on the show include Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) and Outlander star Sam Heughan. Claflin auditioned for both Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen, while Heughan tried for a number of roles, including Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell.

There are also a few cases where actors who landed a role on the show had originally auditioned for a different character. Most notable among them being Iwan Rheon. Rheon auditioned for Jon Snow before landing the part of his sadistic nemesis, Ramsay Bolton.

Source: Screenshot via ABC News

20. The Tommen Switcheroo

Quite a few minor Game of Thrones characters have changed actors over the years.

One of the most prominent ones is Tommen Baratheon, who was played by two different actors up until the character’s death in season six. However, there’s a unique twist.

In seasons one and two, Tommen was played by Callum Wharry. In season three, a young actor by the name of Dean-Charles Chapman played Tommen’s cousin Martyn Lannister, who was only present for a few scenes before being stabbed to death by Lord Karstark at Riverrun. However, this would not be Chapman’s last appearance on the show. In fact, he would replace Wharry as Tommen from season four until the end of season six.

Source: Screenshot via A Blog of Thrones

19. Sophie Turner Adopted Sansa’s Direwolf

Over the course of the show’s run, the Stark children’s dire wolves have been just as ill-fated as the family they belong to. Sansa’s pup, Lady, had the unfortunate fate of being killed off only two episodes into the first season. Fortunately, Sophie Turner, the actress who plays Sansa, got to spend a lot more time with Lady in real life. She adopted Zunni, the Northern Inuit dog who played her.

“We [my parents and I] kind of fell in love with my character’s dire wolf, Lady, on set,” Turner told the Coventry Telegraph in 2013. “We knew Lady died and they wanted to re-home her. My mum persuaded them to let us adopt her.”

Source: Picture via Coventry Telegraph

18. Direwolves Are Real

Dire wolf pups are one thing, but what if you want a full-grown Ghost or Nymeria? While actual dire wolves, Canis Dirus, died out about 10,000 years ago, you can get the next best thing with the American Alsatian breed.

The Dire Wolf Project has successfully bred a number of these wolf-like, 130-pound dogs. You can have your very own… for $3000!

Interestingly, these aren’t the same breed used to represent the Stark wolves on the show. If you want a dog that looks more like what you see on Game of Thrones, check out the Northern Inuit dog, a crossbreed that closely resembles the modern grey wolf.

Source: Picture via The Dire Wolf Project

17. The Monty Python Connections

Besides the medieval setting, Game of Thrones really has nothing in common with Monty Python and the Holy Grail. However, that didn’t stop the show’s writers from throwing in a few nods to the comedy classic.

In the season four episode “Breaker of Chains”, a random Meereenese warrior shouts a series of taunts at Daenerys in Low Valyrian. However, when translated the lines will be immediately familiar to Monty Python fans. “Your mother was a hamster”, “Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person”, and “I blow my nose at you” are a few of the insults thrown Daenerys’ way.

Surprisingly, these insults aren’t the only Holy Grail Easter eggs. In fact, part of the show’s pilot was shot in one of the castles used for the film.

Source: Screenshot via Python (Monty) Pictures

16. Death-Free Zone

Death comes fast and often for characters on Game of Thrones; so much so that there have only been a handful of episodes over the years that didn’t feature any death. Specifically, there are only three — “Lord Snow” from season one, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” from season three, “Blood of My Blood” from season six, and “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” from season eight — that contain no deaths at all. That’s pretty incredible when you consider that one episode features Brienne of Tarth fighting a bear and another contains a White Walker attack and Jaime Lannister leading an army through the streets of King’s Landing.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

15. That Was a Real Stag

Even though he was a despicable villain, Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister remains a fan-favorite. This is thanks to his steely reserve and a general disdain for everyone — especially his family.

Fittingly, Tywin had arguably one of the best character introductions on the show. Viewers were introduced to the character skinning a stag whilst deep in conversation with his son Jaime. It turns out that not only was that a previously deceased deer, but Dance actually skinned it!

Speaking with The Daily Beast, Dance said that the showrunners first asked him if he was a vegetarian. When he said “No”, they “gave me a sharp knife, and showed me how to skin it and spill the guts into a bucket,” Dance recalled. “It was a bloody good time, but it took me two days to get the smell off my hands.”

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

14. Harry Potter Connection

With such a large ensemble cast — many of them British — it’s no surprise that quite a few actors who worked on the Harry Potter movies have also had roles on Game of Thrones.

To date, there are 14 actors who have appeared in both Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. They are:

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros. Pictures

13. The Throne Awakens

Harry Potter isn’t the only big franchise to share actors with Game of Thrones. Almost as many actors from Star Wars: The Force Awakens have appeared on the show. That is pretty impressive when you consider it’s only one movie against Harry Potter‘s eight installments.

Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) is the most prominent of the bunch. She plays Captain Phasma in The Force Awakens and later The Last Jedi. However, there are much more, including:

Source: Picture via Lucasfilm/Disney

12. Not the Only Star Wars Connections

While The Force Awakens has the most connections with Game of Thrones, it’s not the only Star Wars movie to share actors with the hit HBO show.  There are plenty of connections to Star Wars’ past and present, including:

Source: Picture via Lucasfilm/Disney

11. So Much Hodor

You would think that saying the same line over and over would get pretty repetitive. However, actor Kristian Nairn, who plays Hodor, found a way to make his character’s many “Hodors” interesting by coming up with 70 different ways to say his character’s name.

In an interview with Vulture, Nairn dove into the many different emotional complexities of Hodor. “There’s angry Hodor, happy Hodor, sad Hodor, frightened Hodor, curious Hodor, bashful Hodor, sheepish Hodor … and naked Hodor.” Apparently, Hodor says it differently when he’s in the nude.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

10. The Iron Throne Is Supposed to Be Much, Much Bigger

The Iron Throne as it exists on the show is a pretty imposing structure. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison to the one George R. R. Martin originally envisioned.

For the companion book The World of Ice & Fire, Martin teamed up with artist Marc Simonetti for an illustration of the Iron Throne — and it’s ridiculously big. “This Iron Throne is massive,” wrote Martin on his blog. “Ugly. Asymmetric. It’s a throne made by blacksmiths hammering together half-melted, broken, twisted swords, wrenched from the hands of dead men or yielded up by defeated foes … And there are thousands of swords in it, not just a few.”

Although it isn’t the monstrosity Martin envisioned, the show actually references the discrepancy between its version of the Iron Throne and Martin’s. Littlefinger declares that the idea of the throne being made up of 1000 swords is a myth.

It’s probably all for the best. Building the Iron Throne the way Martin intended likely would have been a logistical nightmare for the prop department.

Source: Picture via Bantam

9. The Purple and Red Weddings Are Based on a Historical Event

It’s hard to forget the Purple Wedding, the glorious event that saw infamous child tyrant Joffrey Baratheon die a painful death. As with many aspects of his story, George R.R. Martin looked to historical events for inspiration and based the Purple Wedding on a real ill-fated royal gathering. In 1153, Prince Eustace, the son of England’s King Stephen, died under mysterious circumstances at a feast. While some believe that Eustace simply choked to death, many others think it was poison that did him in.

The Red Wedding, which saw Robb and Catelyn Stark along with most of their allies massacred at a wedding held at Walder Frey’s castle, is reportedly based on two Scottish events: the 1691 Massacre of Glencoe and the 1440 Black Dinner. The former occasion saw Captain Robert Campbell and his troops murder the MacDonald clan — who were hosting them — while they slept. The Black Dinner was so-called because while attending a feast hosted by the 10-year-old King James II, a black bull’s head was brought in and placed before the visiting 16-year-old Earl of Douglas and his 10-year-old brother. The head symbolized death and soon after, the pair were dragged outside, given a mock trial, and brutally executed.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

8. Cersei’s Walk of Shame Is Based on a Historical Event

Continuing on the same theme, Cersei’s walk of shame featured at the end of season five was also based on a famous historical event.

During a 2011 interview, George R.R. Martin revealed that Cersei’s public shaming was inspired by a case from Medieval Britain. “Jane Shore, mistress of King Edward IV, was punished that way after Edward died,” he explained. “It wasn’t a punishment ever inflicted on men. It was a punishment directed at women to break their pride. And Cersei is defined by her pride.”

Jane — or more accurately Elizabeth — Shore was the mistress of several noblemen in addition to Edward. After Edward’s death, his brother Richard punished Shore by forcing her to carry out a walk of penance through the streets of London. Unlike Cersei, Shore was at least permitted to wear undergarments during her walk.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

7. Valyrian Steel Has a Real-World Equivalent

Everyone knows that the best blades in the Game of Thrones universe are made from Valyrian steel. This steel is a super-strong, but light metal that is unfortunately incredibly rare. It’s also one of the few substances that can kill a White Walker, which only exasperates the problem.

Creating the metal is another problem because there is no one left who knows how to do it. So, the only way to create new weapons is to melt down existing ones, which is what happened with Eddard Stark’s greatsword Ice. While Valyrian steel is a fictional material, George R. R. Martin based it on a real-life alloy known as Damascus steel.

Originally developed in India and the Middle East, Damascus steel was known for its distinctive rippled surface and being highly durable and sharp. Unfortunately, creating Damascus steel requires a specific temperature and technique. Unfortunately, that knowledge was lost sometime in the 18th century. Attempts have been made over the years to replicate it, but the exact formula remains a mystery.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

6. Greyscale Is Based on a Real-Life Disease

Most deaths in Game of Thrones tend to be a result of beheading, maiming, or pretty much any other form of violence you can imagine. As such, we don’t often see what types of diseases the people of Westeros and beyond have to contend with.

That being said, Greyscale is the one fictional disease we know you really, really don’t want to get. While the disease is curable in rare cases, most people who become afflicted with Greyscale are slowly destroyed by it inch-by-inch until their whole body becomes stone. While we, fortunately, don’t have to deal with Greyscale in our day-to-day lives, there are a few real-world diseases that are quite similar.

Leprosy was obviously a big inspiration for Martin when he came up with Greyscale. However, there’s a much rarer disease called Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive that is scarily similar. This incurable condition causes soft tissue to be regrown as bone, effectively turning people “to stone” over the long-term. Fortunately, it’s extremely rare, so you shouldn’t be too concerned that the next cut you get will turn to bone.

If you’re curious to see what it looks like, go to the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia where the skeleton of Harry Eastlack is on display. Eastlack passed away in 1973 at the age of 39 from the disease. At the time of his death, he could only move his lips.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

5. The Show Helped Save a Farmer’s Stock of Rare Pigs

Game of Thrones isn’t something you think of when the phrase “saved lives” comes up. But, that’s exactly what the show did for an Irish farmer and his stock of rare pigs.

Kenny Gracy, who breeds Iron Age pigs on his farm in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, credits Game of Thrones with helping his business survive. According to Gracy, traditional farming is becoming less and less viable. He told the Belfast Telegraph that the show’s production “has been a godsend for me. Rare breeds don’t fund themselves, they’re not profitable and there is an expense with keeping these animals. But this has helped save them.”

So the next time you’re feeling shaken up by another violent on-screen death, just remember that you helped save some pigs by tuning in!

Source: Picture via The Belfast Telegraph

4. The Mountain Probably Could Have Done That to Oberyn’s Head in Real Life

The memorable battle between The Mountain and The Viper had a ridiculously gruesome finish. The finish saw The Mountain popping his opponent’s head like a tomato. It made for a striking visual but it wasn’t very realistic … or was it?

According to a Time Magazine article, a man that size really could crush a skull in such a way. Basing their findings on a Slate investigation into a similar scene from the film Star Trek Into Darkness, Time concluded that it would take 520 pounds of force to make a human skull implode. Considering Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björnsson, the Icelandic strongman who plays The Mountain, ranks as the third strongest man in the world, he’d be more than capable of exerting enough force to ruin poor Oberyn’s beautiful head.

Fun fact: Björnsson eats a whopping 11,489 calories a day to help maintain his gargantuan six-feet nine-inch, 400-pound physique.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

3. So Many Deaths

There are only so many ways I can talk about how death happens a lot on Game of Thrones but if you were to guess how many on-screen deaths there have been over the course of the show’s run, where would you ballpark it? 1,000? 2,000 maybe? Close, but you’re way off.

According to the Washington Post, the real number is 6,887. Yes, you read that right. That number includes not only every named character big and small, but every nameless extra and animal that dies on-screen.

If you’re anything like me, you forget about all the animal deaths. I’m not just talking horses dying in combat, but the thousands of other mammals that have perished. As I said, the list is exhaustive.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

2. Ramsay’s Death Was Originally Much Gorier

Game of Thrones doesn’t offer viewers many moments of catharsis. However, when it does, they hit hard. Such is the case with the cheer-worthy death of Ramsay Bolton in season six.

Bolton found himself strapped to a chair and fed to his own hounds by his abused wife Sansa. The scene itself isn’t actually all that gory, as the camera pans over to Sansa’s satisfied face while we hear Ramsay being ripped apart.

Apparently, the scene was originally intended to be much more visceral. According to Mat Krentz, a visual effects animator who worked on the scene, artists had made an animated jaw for Ramsay that would reveal “the flesh ripping between Ramsay’s skin and gums.” However, it was deemed too gruesome to be used. That’s surprising given that Game of Thrones tends not to shy away from gore very often.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

1. Everyone Loves Arya

Game of Thrones features one notable incestuous sibling relationship between Jaime and Cersei Lannister. However, according to a 1993 letter to his publisher, George R.R. Martin almost included a romance between Jon Snow and Arya Stark.

Martin had initially intended for the half-siblings to fall in love and be “tormented” by their passion for each other. This would be made all the more difficult by Jon’s vows of celibacy to the Night’s Watch. Eventually, Jon’s true parentage would have been revealed, allowing the pair to together without shame.

However, Jon wasn’t the only male character with an eye for Arya, as Martin also intended for Tyrion to fall “helplessly in love with Arya Stark.” Arya, for her part, didn’t return the dwarf’s affections.

Source: Picture via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)