The original "Game of Thrones" pilot has become the stuff of television legend, since it featured significantly different plots, and several different main actors, from the final product that audiences saw on HBO back in 2011, and was widely considered pretty terrible. Now, the showrunners have recently discussed just how bad their first crack at adapting George R.R. Martin's books really was, and it turns out that that first pilot was "a complete piece of s--t."
That assessment came courtesy of screenwriter Craig Mazin (the "Hangover" sequels, "Identity Thief"), who together with fellow writer John August ("Big Fish") runs the podcast Scriptnotes. The pair hosted "Thrones" showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff on a recent episode for a frank discussion about the fantasy drama's pilot, which Mazin saw at a screening for friends organized by Weiss and Benioff back in 2010.
It didn't go well.
"Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life," Weiss recalled. "As soon as it finished, Craig said, 'You guys have a massive problem.'"
Turns out Weiss and Benioff agreed.
"I was taking notes," Benioff said of the screening, "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 didn't really have any great ideas except that he said, 'Change everything.'"
It turns out that that was great advice, though, since that's pretty much exactly what Weiss and Benioff did. Director Tom McCarthy (now an Oscar nominee for "Spotlight") was replaced by Timothy Van Patten, who re-shot about 90 percent of the pilot. That much reworking is usually a sign of major problems to come with most series; thankfully, with "Thrones," it was all for the better, as Mazin soon discovered. He said on Scriptnotes:
I will never forget being invited to the premiere of the first season. I went in just thinking (skeptically), "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 s--t and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens!
Multiple Emmys later, it looks like things have worked out okay for the "GOT" crew.
Photo credit: HBO