The legendary filmmaker Orson Welles once said that a director was someone who “presides over accidents.” In other words, mistakes are going to happen on a film or TV set no matter how hard you try to avoid them. So sometimes it’s best to make them work to your advantage. Game of Thrones learned this the hard way.
To be clear, what happened with the Game of Thrones pilot wasn’t a filming accident per se, but it was one that could have torpedoed the whole project for good. In other words, you might not be reading this if David Benioff and DB Weiss hadn’t been given a chance for the ultimate do-over.
Now, eight seasons later, Game of Thrones is among the most talked about (and lately complained about) series on TV as it heads into its grand finale Sunday. And it almost didn’t happen at all.
How ‘Game of Thrones’ almost ended before it began
Game of Throne‘s showrunners recently appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and talked about how their show came to be. Benioff read the George RR Martin book A Game of Thrones, and he got to the scene where Bran Stark is pushed out of the tower. He called Weiss and said: “You need to check out these books. I might be crazy, but I think this could be the greatest series of all time.”
Weiss called Benioff back only two days later and they agreed to team up. They met with Martin over a four-hour lunch and Benioff asked them a trick question: Who is Jon Snow’s mother? It wasn’t an answer that was obviously on the page, but Benioff and Weiss got it right.
Having passed that test, they shot the pilot for HBO and Benioff said: “We made every possible mistake.” The duo showed it to some of their writer friends who saw the scene of Cersei and Jaime Lannister having sex. But the writer friends didn’t make the incestuous connection, and Benioff and Weiss knew they were sunk.
What does the ‘Game of Thrones’ cast think of the pilot?
The pilot was such a mess that even the cast noticed. Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, agreed the pilot was a disaster, saying: “They made a lot of mistakes. It didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, had nothing different about it.”
What happened to that pilot? HBO ended up not airing that pilot, even though they sank a whopping $10.6 million into it, Weiss said. But they saw something there and gave Benioff and Weiss another chance.
“Good for them for having that unfounded, ridiculous faith in you guys,” Kimmel told the duo. And he’s right: It’s huge for a network to forgive a $10.6 million mess.
Are mistakes common in TV and movies?
Some mistakes or unplanned events end up working to a movie’s advantage. Here are some of the best examples:
Guardians of the Galaxy: At one point, Starlord (Chris Pratt) presented an orb that held one of the infamous infinity stones, later used to Thanos’ great advantage and the universe’s great disadvantage when half of all living creatures were wiped out. Star Lord ends up fumbling the orb and immediately recovers it. Only thing was, Pratt wasn’t supposed to drop it. Director James Gunn liked the comic take so much, he kept the accident.
Django Unchained: In this Quentin Tarantino film Leonardo DiCaprio’s sinister character Calvin Candie threatens to kill the title character’s wife in front of him. He slams his hand on the table and begins to bleed profusely. It may look great, but it was unintentional. The actor really did cut himself. That’s his blood in the scene. Which was just as well considering how much fake blood Tarantino usually uses.
Star Wars: In the original 1977 film, a group of stormtroopers opens a locked door, and one of the troopers bumps his head on the overhead door. (No wonder those guys can’t shoot straight.) The actors couldn’t see well in the helmets, and the trooper was just a little too tall for the door. It’s an innocuous goof, but Lucasfilm took full advantage of it later. In mixing the sound for one of the special editions, the sound effects team added an audible “thunk” to the soundtrack to accompany the hit. That’s one of the few Special Edition changes fans didn’t complain about.
And it just so happens that after Benioff and Weiss take a breather from Game of Thrones, they’ll be heading to a galaxy far, far away, as they’re scheduled to helm a new series of movies after The Rise of Skywalker.