Over the course of eight seasons, Game of Thrones broke many records, created a few controversies, and gave us 73 ambitious episodes of television. And, of course, it made us all want a dragon of our own.
The series wrapped up with its final season in 2019, but there’s more Thrones TV on the way. While we wait for George R. R. Martin’s prequel House of Dragons to hit HBO, here are 70 facts about Game of Thrones to tide you over. Valar morghulis.
1. There’s an unaired Game of Thrones pilot.
The first pilot, directed by Spotlight writer-director Tom McCarthy, was so terrible it had to be shelved and reshot. “We got everything wrong on a very basic level with the writing of it,” show co-creator David Benioff told Variety. One of the biggest 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.” In 2019, a copy of that original script was unearthed, which revealed a number of interesting details.
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Daenerys Targaryen were played by Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant, respectively; by the time the show aired, they had been replaced by Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke.
3. The Stark kids were different ages in the show than in the books.
When the book A Game of Thrones starts off, the Stark children are much younger than their on-screen counterparts. Bran was supposed to be 7, while the actor who played him (Isaac Hempstead Wright) was 12; Arya (played by Maisie Williams) went from 9 to 13, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) went from 11 to 15 and Rickon (Art Parkinson) from 3 to 6. In perhaps the most, ahem, stark difference, if Game of Thrones had stayed completely true to its source material, Robb Stark (Richard Madden) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) would have been only 15 and 14 years old, respectively.
4. George R.R. Martin had a cameo in the original episode.
George R.R. Martin had a cameo in the original pilot as a guest at Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding. When the role of Daenerys was recast, the scene had to be scrapped. Martin later lobbied for a less-glamorous, but probably more memorable, role: a severed head on a stake. But according to Martin, “Those severed heads are expensive … So unless I provide my own, I don't get to be a severed head!" Benioff and Weiss offered him the opportunity to make a cameo appearance in Season 8, but Martin didn’t have the time because he was working on The Winds of Winter.
5. There were a bunch of other casting close calls on Game of Thrones.
Ehle and Merchant weren’t Game of Thrones’s only could-have-beens. Gillian Anderson turned down an unspecified role on the show, as did The Wire's 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. Mad Men star Jared Harris and Oscar winner Mahershala Ali were also reportedly up for roles on the show.
6. Arya Stark was the hardest character to cast.
"I remember we probably looked at 300 girls in England and could not find the right Arya," Benioff said at SXSW in 2017. “We just could not cast her.”
They found Maisie Williams while going through audition videos in a Moroccan hotel lobby with bad Wi-Fi, and selected her video based on a small thumbnail that looked promising. “There was just something about that little tiny thumbnail face that just seemed right,” Benioff said. “She looked about 7. Like she was 12, but going on 7. So we clicked on the audition video and waited about 40 minutes for it to download. When we saw that audition video she was just f***ing awesome.”
7. Peter Dinklage almost turned down the role of Tyrion Lannister.
In a Reddit AMA, Peter Dinklage shared the reason why he wasn't immediately sold on Game of Thrones.
"I had one hesitation, because of the fantasy genre, I told [showrunner David Benioff] I didn't want a really long beard and pointy shoes," Dinklage said. "[Benioff and D.B. Weiss] assured me this character and this world wasn't that. They told me about his complexity, the fact that he wasn't a hero or a villain, that he was a womanizer and a drinker, and they painted a flawed and beautiful portrait of him, so I signed on."
8. Kit Harington showed up to his audition with a black eye.
The night before his Game of Thrones audition, Kit Harington ended up in a McDonald's late at night with a woman he was dating. Because it was crowded, they grabbed a seat at a table with another couple, whom they didn't know. Shortly thereafter, the man across from them began making rude comments to Harington's date. Unfortunately, it was only after Harington stood up and challenged the stranger that he realized just how tall his would-be opponent was. "I got battered," Harington admitted, and ended up with a fresh shiner. On the bright side, he thinks that his damaged face is part of what landed him the role. "I think that man who punched me in the face may have helped me get the job," he said. "So if you're watching, thank you."
9. David Benioff pranked Peter Dinklage by telling him the show had been canceled.
After the pilot was picked up, David Benioff pranked Peter Dinklage by calling him and telling him the show had been canceled. "I think it was when the pilot was picked up," Benioff said. "I was with Tom McCarthy and we called him from a Yankees game." It was six hours before Dinklage learned the truth.
Dinklage himself was a fan of playing pranks on set, and he recounted in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. "I like to pretend I’m dead. It’s always fun," Dinklage said. "Just my legs sprawled out in the trailer. You’ve got to get really smushed into the floor in a very awkward position." He said he would wait hours for someone to find him.
10. The show’s nudity wasn’t easy for Emilia Clarke.
Though Daenerys Targaryen turned out to be a career-changing role for Clarke, the actress admitted that her early days on set weren’t easy. On her very first day of filming, she fell off of a horse in front of the crew and, humiliated, cried. Plus, there was all the nudity required of her character—not to mention an infamous rape scene. "Once, I had to take a little time out," she told Esquire of filming the first season. "I said I needed a cup of tea, had a bit of a cry, and was ready for the next scene."
As she told The New Yorker after the series finale had aired, “In so many of those early moments, you probably saw a lot of Emilia’s pain rather than Daenerys’s pain, because it’s not comfortable, it’s not easy. A film set is an incredibly scary place to be for the first time.”
11. Sophie Turner adopted Sansa Stark’s direwolf.
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.” Sadly, Zunnie passed away in 2017.
12. Eating the “horse heart” was terrible for Emilia Clarke.
The horse heart Daenerys had to eat in Season 1 was essentially a giant gummy candy—one that, per Clarke, tasted a little bit like bleach. (It also had pasta running through it to mimic arteries.) She ate 28 hearts, and apparently did a lot of puking between takes. To make the proceedings even grosser, all the fake blood made Clarke so sticky that she got stuck to a toilet.
13. Jon Snow’s cape from the Night’s Watch was made from an IKEA rug.
Game of Thrones owes much of the credit for its characters’ iconic looks to costume designer Michele Clapton, who oversaw a team of anywhere from 70 to 100 costumers each season. In what might be the greatest testament to the costume team’s creativity, Clapton revealed that several of the show’s luxurious-looking capes are made from IKEA rugs. “We take anything we can; we cut and we shave them and then we added strong leather straps,” she said. Following this admission, IKEA created a set of instructions for how to turn your SKOLD rug into a cape.
14. Charles Dance picked up some butchering skills for a scene in Game of Thrones.
Veteran actor Charles Dance took his role as Tywin Lannister very seriously: In Season 1, a scene required his character to skin a deer, and he worked with a butcher to learn the skill so that he could actually do it while filming; he told the Daily Beast that it’s the craziest thing he did on Game of Thrones. “This butcher arrived with a dead animal and they gave me a little room to work in, gave me a sharp knife, and showed me how to skin it and spill the guts into a bucket,” Dance said. “The next day, they gave me another dead animal, and we shot it. It was a bloody good time, but it took me two days to get the smell off my hands.”
15. Sean Bean had some fun with his own decapitated head.
In a Reddit AMA, Sean Bean recalled that, while on-set, he kicked the model of Ned Stark's decapitated head around “like a football.”
16. The internet spoiled Robb Stark’s fate for Richard Madden.
While readers of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series knew that Robb Stark's days were probably numbered on Game of Thrones, Richard Madden—the actor who played him—decided to keep himself in the dark about the books as part of his preparation for the television role. But that didn't stop fans, or the internet, from telling the Golden Globe-winning actor that his reign as King in the North would be short-lived.
"A thousand people spoiled it for me before I had a chance to pick up the third book," Madden told Entertainment Weekly. "I read [the books] season-by-season. I don't want to preempt where Robb is going and that's what I've done since the show started. I also made the fatal flaw of Googling. So that kind of reinforced what people were hinting—saying that something terrible was going to happen and giggling."
17. The Red Wedding was based on real historical events.
Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013 that “no matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.” Cases in point: The Black Dinner of 1440—a dinner/trap that ended in the murder of two children—and the Massacre of Glencoe of 1692, during which soldiers claiming to need shelter due to a full fort slayed their hosts. Martin used both events as inspiration for Game of Thrones’s Red Wedding.
18. Look closely at the faces in the House of Faces and you might recognize someone.
Occasionally, the behind-the-scenes team on Game of Thrones ends up in front of the camera: Many of the faces on the House of Black and White’s Hall of Faces belonged to the show's production team. "You need enough faces that you don’t sense the repeats, but you obviously can’t face cast thousands and thousands of people because that’s prohibitively expensive,” Weiss said. "We used all the face molds we have ever used before. Both David [Benioff] and myself appeared many, many times in the Hall of Faces ... there is at least 20 or 30 of me in there."
19. Game of Thrones's weapon masters got inspiration from history.
Tommy Dunne, who served as weapons master on Game of Thrones, told Mental Floss in 2014 that when he was making weapons for the show, “I [looked] at different periods and different eras—Egyptian, monolithic,” and modeled some of the show’s weapons on their real historical counterparts.
Not all weapons on the show were created equal. The weapons department would make “hero weapons” for the camera out of modern materials like steel, but they were too dangerous to actually use while fighting; for that, they crafted blades out of either aircraft aluminum—which is strong and flexible and safer to fight with—or, if the scene involved stunts or animals, out of rubber. An exception was the arrows: Aside from rubber tips, they wee made just like the real thing. If they were made of weaker wood, they’d shatter upon leaving the bow.
Flaming arrows did get some modifications, though. "A normal arrow might be 32 inches, but for flaming arrows [like we used in Season 2’s Battle of the Blackwater],” Dunne told Mental Floss, “we add another six to eight inches to a larger piece of wood. Then we put on a foam wad that is impregnated with a chemical mix and we burn it, so it’ll be blue, depending on the mix that the special effects team puts on them."
20. Dothraki is a real language.
In 2014, Living Language released a conversational language course that will have you speaking like Khal Drogo in no time. The course was crafted by linguist David J. Peterson, who worked with HBO to create the Dothraki heard on the show. You can learn a few key phrases here.
21. The Office’s Dwight Schrute influenced Dothraki.
In one episode of The Office in 2012, Dwight Schrute was teaching Dothraki and combined an accusative noun and a transitive verb to create the phrase throat rip. Linguist David Peterson hadn’t considered doing that, but he liked it so much that he canonized it and called it “Schrutean compound.”
Dwight Schrute isn’t the only person who has made an impact on Dothraki: The Dothraki word for eagle, kolver, was named after Stephen Colbert. And the word for good and kind is erin—Peterson’s wife’s name.
22. You can learn High Valryian via an app.
In addition to the “real” languages it teaches, Duolingo offers a class in High Valyrian to enhance your Game of Thrones-watching experience.
23. The White Walkers had their own language.
Peterson called that language Skroth. ““It was actually going to be for the very first scene of the show where the White Walker comes and cuts that guy’s head off. There are parts where you hear them kind of grumble and vocalize,” Peterson said in 2015.
But ultimately, Skroth was scrapped because, according to Peterson, “I think ultimately they decided they didn’t want them actually saying stuff and even subtitle it. That might have been a little corny, honestly, for the opening scene of the show.” For Season 2, a sound designer created an ice-cracking sound that finally brought Skroth to life—albeit without an actual language behind the sounds.
24. Several characters were played by multiple actors.
A handful of characters have been played by more than one actor over the course of the show, notably Daario Naharis (Ed Skrein in Season 3, Michiel Huisman in Seasons 4, 5, and 6), Tommen Baratheon (Callum Wharry in Seasons 1 and 2, Dean-Charles Chapman in Seasons 3 through 6), and his sister Myrcella (Aimee Richardson in Seasons 1 and 2, Nell Tiger Free in Season 5), and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (Conan Stevens in Season 1, Ian Whyte in Season 2, and Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson in Seasons 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.)
25. Ser Pounce, King Tommen’s beloved cat, is dead.
Ser Pounce—King Tommen's royal cat—was introduced in Season 4, and proved to be an excellent prop for Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) to win the heart of yet another king, the very young and very sweet Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman). It only took a single scene for the little fuzzball to find his way into the hearts of viewers and, for a little while, Ser Pounce became a bit of an internet sensation. But after Tommen’s death by suicide, the cat disappeared.
If the timing seemed suspicious, you've clearly been paying attention. "Cersei hated the name ‘Ser Pounce’ so much she could not allow him to survive," Benioff told Entertainment Weekly of the feline's untimely demise. "So she came up with her most diabolical [execution]. Ser Pounce’s death was so horrible we couldn’t even put it on the air."
26. There was more than one Monty Python and the Holy Grail connection.
Part of Game of Thrones’s pilot was shot in one of the castles used for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Three seasons later, in “Breaker of Chains,” an unnamed Meereenese warrior shouts a series of taunts at Daenerys that include “Your mother was a hamster,” “Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person,” and “I blow my nose at you” … in Low Valyrian, of course.
27. The most-Instagrammed Game of Thrones location is in Croatia.
Game of Thrones filmed all over the world, but the most instagrammed shooting location is Krka National Park, a popular tourist attraction in southern Croatia that’s known for its stunning waterfalls. You may recognize the location from several episodes, including Season 4’s “Breaker of Chains,” where Arya and The Hound cross the Riverlands.
28. The show’s VFX artists based the dragons’ movements on real-life animals.
To create realistic movements for Daenerys’s dragons, the effects team took inspiration from actual animals. According to visual effects supervisor Sven Martin, they studied bird and bat wings and behavior. The dragons’ coloring came from animals like frogs and cheetahs. And when Dany pet Drogon, his behavior was cat-like.
29. Starving dragons were the most difficult VFX challenge.
Martin has said that the hardest scene he ever created occurred in Season 6, when Viserion and Rhaegal were chained up underground and not eating. “My animator and I put ropes around our necks,” Martin said, “and our VFX producer, Sabrina Gerhardt, held the [reins], so to speak, as we acted out what it would be like to be injured dragons. We filmed the whole thing, and that helped us nail down the details. It was a lot like motion capturing, without the technical process, in that it helped us to find the subtleties of the performance.”
30. The dragons would be too big to fly in real life.
The heaviest bird to ever take flight was around 150 pounds, and the largest pterosaur was 550. Both of those animals were way smaller than Dany’s dragons—so Drogon wouldn’t be able to take off in real life, according to experts.
31. Jackhammers and bison vocalizations were used to create the sound design of the dragons.
Sound designer Paula Fairfield, who joined Game of Thrones in Season 3, used many different techniques to create the sounds of the dragons. Among them were Tibetan chants and vocalizations from bison and her own dog. She used a jackhammer, screaming Game of Thrones fans, and dangling bones, among other things, to create the sound of Zombie Viserion.
Fairfield told Vanity Fair that she saw Drogon as Dany’s lover and Viserion and Rhaegal—whom she called “the bros”—as more like Beavis and Butthead. Her favorite scene from Season 7 involved “the bros ... waking up on the cliff in the morning, and they’re burping and they’re kind of hissing and getting up, getting ready to go take care of business up north. ... Those scenes are everything. I mean, they are as much fun as—to me, anyway—as the dragons flying around blowing sh*t up.”
32. The show has inspired scientists.
In 2018, entomologist Brett Ratcliffe made headlines for naming three newly discovered beetle species after Dany’s dragons. He labeled them drogoni, rhaegali, and viserioni. And in 2019, Australian scientists named a new species of bee fly Paramonovius nightking after the Night King.
33. Daenerys Targaryen originally had violet eyes.
In the books, the Targaryen family members are notable for their silver hair and violet eyes. During shooting, Daenerys and Viserys (Harry Lloyd) Targaryen originally wore violet contact lenses, but Benioff and Weiss decided they negatively impacted the actors’ ability to portray emotion.
34. The time between seasons 5 and 6 was Kit Harington’s “darkest period.”
“My darkest period was when the show seemed to become so much about Jon, when he died and came back,” Kit Harington told Variety about his years on the show. “I really didn’t like the focus of the whole show coming onto Jon—even though it was invalidating my problem about being the weak link because things were about Jon.”
Even though Jon was dead in the show, Harington had been spotted on the set—and was still sporting his famous Jon Snow locks, which led fans to wonder whether he was really dead at all.
“It wasn’t a very good time in my life,” Harington said. “I felt I had to feel that I was the most fortunate person in the world, when actually, I felt very vulnerable. I had a shaky time in my life around there—like I think a lot of people do in their 20s. That was a time when I started therapy, and started talking to people. I had felt very unsafe, and I wasn’t talking to anyone. I had to feel very grateful for what I have, but I felt incredibly concerned about whether I could even f***ing act."
35. But that “dark” time did get Kit Harington out of a speeding ticket.
After being sworn to secrecy about his fate in the sixth season, Harington was forced to give up the answer after being pulled over for speeding. The officer, a fan of the show, gave him two options: either deal with the punishment for speeding or tell him whether Jon Snow would live or die in the next season. Harington initially thought the man was joking, but after a second look he told him: “I am alive next season.” To which the officer responded, “On your way, Lord Commander."
36. The White Walkers were created using extensive prosthetics.
There were some VFX elements to the wights and White Walkers, but for the most part, the creatures were created using extensive foam prosthetics, which were glued to the actors in a process that took hours. Creating a single prosthetic character required four to six weeks and the work of 10 to 15 artists.
Their weapons were similarly complicated. According to Dunne, the White Walkers’ weapon of choice "is a bit more intricate because it’s an ice sword … These are clear resin swords that are oven-baked—it’s clear glass that looks like a shard of ice."
37. Emilia Clarke suffered two aneurysms during Game of Thrones’s run.
In a 2019 piece for The New Yorker, Clarke revealed that, after wrapping the first season of Game of Thrones, she was working out with a trainer when she felt like “an elastic band were squeezing my brain. I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t. I told my trainer I had to take a break. Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain—shooting, stabbing, constricting pain—was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”
She was having an aneurysm. “As I later learned, about a third of SAH [subarachnoid hemorrhage] patients die immediately or soon thereafter,” Clarke wrote. “For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed.”
It was the first of two aneurysms Clarke would experience while filming the show. The second occurred after the third season of the show, after Clarke went in for brain surgery. “I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium,” she wrote. “These days, you can’t see the scar that curves from my scalp to my ear, but I didn’t know at first that it wouldn’t be visible. And there was, above all, the constant worry about cognitive or sensory losses. Would it be concentration? Memory? Peripheral vision?” She kept the aneurysms secret until 2019.
Clarke survived, of course, and has since created a charity called SameYou that helps people who are recovering from brain injuries and strokes.
38. Peter Dinklage won a Golden Globe for Game of Thrones in 2012, but his mom was betting on Guy Pearce.
Before Dinklage won the Golden Globe for Game of Thrones in 2012, he spoke with his mom back in New Jersey, who told him, “Have fun, but have you seen Mildred Pierce? Guy Pearce is so good. He’s gonna win.” He wryly noted how moms keep us all humble.
39. You’ve probably been mispronouncing Khaleesi.
While being interviewed for The Allusionist podcast, linguist Peterson described the rampant mispronunciation of Khaleesi as "a real thorn in my side." So just how should we be saying the Dothraki word?
"I wanted to make sure if something was spelled differently, it was pronounced differently," Peterson explained of his process of transforming the handful of Dothraki words George R.R. Martin had created into a full language. "That worked pretty well for everything except the word Khaleesi ... There's no way it should be pronounced 'ka-LEE-see' based on the spelling. So I had to decide, 'Am I going to respell this thing because I know how people are going to pronounce this, or am I going to honor that spelling and pronounce it differently?' I made the latter decision and I think it was the wrong decision."
(That said, in his book Living Language Dothraki, Peterson writes that "many Dothraki words have multiple pronunciation variants, often depending on whether the speaker is native or non-native. Khaleesi, for example, has three separate pronunciations: khal-eh-si, khal-ee-si, and kal-ee-si," which at a later point in the book spelled is "ka-lee-si.")
40. Starring in Game of Thrones made it impossible for Isaac Hempstead Wright to be a “normal” college student.
When he wasn’t playing Bran Stark, Isaac Hempstead Wright was a student at Birmingham University. But he admitted that balancing his roles as co-ed and star of one of television’s most popular series wasn’t easy. "I couldn't walk out of my halls without having to take a selfie,” the actor told Esquire UK. "I had the nicest flatmates. But it made it quite difficult to make friends. I don't think I'll ever be able to have a normal university experience, which is kind of sad. I couldn't relax and go out and have a drink or get drunk or whatever, because if I did someone would be like: 'I saw Bran and he was all f***ed up.'"
41. Both Emilia Clarke and Lena Headey have played The Terminator’s Sarah Connor.
Clarke starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator Genisys, playing the role of Sarah Connor. The part was previously played by Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey, in the short-lived TV series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
42. The trees lining the Kingsroad might not be around much longer.
People have long flocked to Northern Ireland to explore the enchanting Dark Hedges, but the scenic location’s appearance in season 2 of Game of Thrones really put the tourist attraction on the map. Visitors who walk down the "Kingsroad" these days may notice something amiss, though. In 2019, according to The Independent, powerful winds uprooted one of Ballymoney’s famous beech trees, which have been a prominent feature of the town since the 18th century. There were once 150 beech trees at the site, but only 60 to 90 trees are still standing today, according to different estimates. Some fell victim to past storms, while others suffer from rot.
43. George R.R. Martin made the showrunners guess who Jon Snow’s mother was.
Before he’d bestow his blessing on D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, George R.R. Martin asked the two wannabe showrunners the question that previously spurred thousands upon thousands of words of fan speculation: “Who is Jon Snow’s real mother?”
“It was very much like a test question,” Benioff told Vanity Fair in 2014. “Basically, it was like: ‘Guess. I want your guess to be intelligent and I want it to be based in the facts of the world,’” Weiss added. “We had already discussed it. We’d had like a two-hour conversation about it. It was pretty well-trammeled territory for us.”
44. Sean Bean never learned who Jon Snow’s parents were.
Although Sean Bean knew from the beginning that his character, Ned Stark, would die early on, he wasn't told many other plot points—not even the fact that Jon Snow wasn’t actually Ned’s bastard.
When asked if he knew of Jon’s true parentage, the actor admitted, “No. Like with everything with Game of Thrones, it was kept very dark and secret ... I think that’s the kind of magic and the glory of Game of Thrones—that’s why it’s so stunning and breathtaking when these secrets are revealed.”
45. One actor played five characters in Game of Thrones.
Welsh actor and stunt performer Ian Whyte has played a grand total of five roles on Game of Thrones. In Seasons 1 and 2 he was a White Walker; also in Season 2, he played Gregor Clegane (one of three actors to play that role). Whyte—who is more than 7 feet tall—has played a giant many times: In Seasons 3 and 4, Whyte played Dongo the Doomed; in Seasons 5 and 6 was Wun Wun; and finally, in Seasons 7 and 8, he played the unnamed wight giant taken down by Lyanna Mormont.
46. The Battle of the Bastards took inspiration from history.
To create Season 6’s Battle of the Bastards, director Miguel Sapochnik looked to real life conflicts, especially the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE, in which the Carthaginians circled the Romans and won. The sequence required 65 stunt performers—which is more than some films use.
47. Kit Harington needed a safe word while filming The Battle of the Bastards.
In a behind-the-scenes featurette, longtime Game of Thrones camera operator Sean Savage shared that his very favorite scene to film over eight seasons was the moment during the Battle of the Bastards "when Jon Snow is forced to the ground and then trampled. And this seemingly immortal hero of ours looks like he's close to the end."
When Harington fell to the ground, Savage stood over him and filmed from above as tons of stuntmen piled on top of the actor. The scene wasn't entirely scripted, so in order to ensure that Harington wouldn't be injured, "we had a sort of safe word [so] that we could call it off at any point," Savage said.
48. The actor who played Ramsay Bolton was almost cast as Jon Snow.
Iwan Rheon was the runner-up to play Jon Snow. The role went to Kit Harington, and Rheon went on to play Roose Bolton’s sadistic bastard son, Ramsay, instead.
“I think they made the right choice; it would’ve been a very different Jon Snow if I’d played him,” Rheon told Interview magazine in 2016. Ramsey was eaten by his own starving hounds, who were unleashed by Sansa Stark—and though it’s hard to imagine his death being any more brutal, the original shot was actually dubbed “too gruesome” to air.
49. Game of Thrones was the most pirated tv show for six consecutive years.
According to TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones was the most pirated show for six consecutive years—from 2012 to 2017. In 2015 it had more than twice the illegal downloads of the second most pirated show, The Walking Dead. In 2018, The Walking Dead finally took over the top spot ... but only because Game of Thrones hadn't released a new episode since 2017. In 2019, the premiere of the final season pirated 55 million times in just 24 hours, according to The Verge.
50. It wasn’t Lena Headey making Cersei Lannister’s Walk of Atonement in Season 6.
Rebecca Van Cleave performed the scene nude, while Headey did it clothed; the show’s VFX team then merged the scenes together. Van Cleave beat out more than 1000 other actresses to film that scene. She told Entertainment Weekly that “I never in a million years would have thought I would be in Dubrovnik surrounded by hundreds of extras and crew members throwing food at me, but it was amazing.” (Fun fact: The production’s Christmas tree featured a Walk of Shame ornament—a naked Barbie with its hair cut short, wearing a sign that read “shame!”)
51. Game of Thrones has an official rap companion album.
In 2014, HBO put out an official Game of Thrones-themed rap album called “Catch the Throne,” which they released for free via SoundCloud. They did it again in 2015, before the show’s fifth season (though volume two contained some heavy metal tracks). Contributors include Method Man (“The Oath”), Snoop Dogg (“Lannister’s Anthem”), Big Boi (“Mother of Dragons”), Talib Kweli (“Lord of the Light”), and Anthrax (“Soror Irrumator”).
52. The Loot Train Attack took 18 days to shoot.
D.B. Weiss described Season 7’s Loot Train Attack sequence—in which Daenerys rides Drogon into battle in Westeros for the first time—as “like a time travel movie ... what if someone had an F-16 that they brought to a medieval battle?” The shoot was a massive logistical challenge. It took place in Spain, and required the presence of many different departments, “all working at the very extremes of their abilities,” production designer Deborah Riley said in a behind-the-scenes interview. “There’s a lot of continuity to make sure that we’re in the right space in the right part of the process reflecting the right amount of burn.” Not only were there set dressing challenges, but they also needed to have cameras flying in perfect time with pyrotechnics so that VFX artists could put Drogon in later. In Season 6, there were 11 shots of Daenerys on Drogon; there are more than 80 in the Loot Train Attack sequence alone.
The sequence took 18 days to shoot, and, according to Director of Photography Robert McLachlan, took weeks and weeks of planning ahead of time. “Everything has to be so tightly nailed down well in advance in order for it to be budgeted. Each one of those shots with a dragon in it is budgeted to the second. It's so wildly expensive to create those images,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “There's also a lot of planning ahead in letting the visual effects department know where we're going to need more smoke than we would physically be able to create after the fires start—adding more fires and building it up, putting in elements we wouldn't be able to do otherwise for safety concerns or sheer logistics.”
53. The one-shot in the Loot Crate Attack is actually several shots spliced together.
Mid-battle, there’s a seemingly-seamless one-shot of Bronn (Jerome Flynn) running through the chaos, but there are actually three cuts in the sequence. “We could have done it in one shot, but in order to add things like burning bodies and dragons flying overhead, we ended up splitting it into three segments that the visual effects department helped us meld together,” MacLachlan said. “They did a fantastic job. Even knowing where the cuts are, I can't even see them, watching them now.”
54. The showrunners knew well before the series ended how the books will end.
George R.R. Martin told D.B. Weiss and David Benioff the “broad strokes” of how the series will end. “Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don’t know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be,” Benioff told Vanity Fair in 2014. “If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character.”
55. Martin didn't expect the show to catch up with him.
The series did catch up to Martin's books, of course, and then overtook them. After the series finale aired to a fair amount of backlash, Martin gave an interview in which he noted, “People know an ending—but not the ending,” Martin said. “The makers of the TV show had overtaken me, which I didn’t expect.”
"I’ve been so slow with these books," Martin told Rolling Stone. "The major points of the ending will be things I told [Benioff and Weiss] five or six years ago. But there may also be changes, and there’ll be a lot added."
In another interview, Martin said that if Benioff and Weiss been totally faithful to the books, the show would have run for five more seasons.
56. The final season featured several callbacks to Season 1.
Prior to Season 8, Maisie William said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that after she knew the ending to season 8, she went back and rewatched the first season.
"After reading the scripts I went back and watched season 1 again, because so much of it refers back to that season," Williams said. "There are so many scenes that will look similar. And also I watched just to remind myself of the arc I've taken already. I wanted Arya to go full circle and try for some kind of normalcy like when she was younger."
57. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who plays The Mountain, needed a stunt double for the first time ever in season 8.
Ahead of Season 8, Iceland native Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, who played Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane in the TV series, told Mashable the final season was "the hardest season I’ve filmed for Game Of Thrones." Filming got so complicated that, for the first time in his four seasons on the show, Björnsson—who is a strongman in real life, and recently broke the world’s deadlift record—needed a stunt double to play The Mountain.
“All the seasons prior to this season that we just finished filming, I never had stunt doubles. I always did everything myself," Björnsson said. "But the last season I filmed … I had a stunt double there."
58. Scientists calculated the odds to try and predict who would survive season 8.
Reidar Lystad and Benjamin Brown—injury epidemiologists at Sydney's Macquarie University—watched all the episodes of Game of Thrones that had aired before Season 8 with an eye toward mortality trends and determined some key factors that they think indicated who was most likely to live or die in Season 8, statistically speaking.
The study found that low-born males with a high level of loyalty were the most likely to be killed, while upper-class women had a better survival rate. In addition, switching allegiances seemed to lengthen a character’s lifespan.
Using these criteria, the researchers suggested that Sansa and Arya Stark had the best statistical chance of surviving the series as they changed allegiances.
The study showed that while Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister had the high-born factor working in their favor, the fact that they remained fiercely loyal to their initial goals probably did not bode well for their ultimate survival.
Not far behind the Stark sisters in terms of survival probability were Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister, who Lystad told HuffPost were both "very much still in the running."
Considering that Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Tyrion are all alive, and Daenerys and Cersei ended up dead, it seems the researchers’ predictions were spot-on.
59. Through the end of Season 7, injuries—especially open neck wounds—and fire were the most common ways to be killed.
Injuries—specifically an open neck wound or injury to an unspecified part of the body—were the most likely cause of death on the series until the end of Season 7, while burning (a.k.a. the only way to kill a White Walker, and a punishment Daenerys's dragons are very skilled at inflicting) was the second most common way to be knocked off. In theory, after Season 8’s two big dragon-led battles, it became the #1 way to die in Westeros.
60. Real people named their kids after Game of Thrones characters.
In the year 2014, per the Social Security Administration, “Khaleesi” was the United States’s 755th most popular baby name for girls, up from 1021th place in 2013. In England, Khaleesi, Arya, Tyrion, Brienne, Sansa, Bran, Sandor, and Theon also saw a rise in popularity after Game of Thrones began airing. (What, no Dagmer Cleftjaw?)
After Daenerys torched King’s Landing, Vulture interviewed several parents who had either named their children that or Khaleesi to see if they had any regrets. Thankfully, they seemed at peace with their decisions. Hector Morales Rivera, who has a 6-year-old named Daenerys, said, “I don’t have any regrets. I still love her name, I have very fond memories because of that name, because of how attached I have been to this series.”
61. A lot of pets have been given Game of Thrones-related names, too.
Pet parents have not been immune to the Game of Thrones naming trend. Banfield Pet Hospital, the largest general veterinary practice in the U.S., analyzed its records database and found that Khaleesi and Arya have been popular pet names, too, but Lady and Ghost top the list in terms of popularity.
62. George R.R. Martin regrets that he didn’t finish Winds of Winter sooner.
"It’s been an incredible ride," George R.R. Martin said of the Game of Thrones experience. "And almost all of it has been great. Obviously, I wished I finished these books sooner so the show hadn’t gotten ahead of me. I never anticipated that." The reason the television show's narrative has gone ahead of Martin is because he has been working on The Winds of Winter, the sixth book in the series, for years—and it still doesn't have a release date (though he is, apparently, “writing every day”). On top of that, there is also supposed to be a seventh book called A Dream of Spring to follow.
63. Season 8's “The Long Night” was Maisie Williams’s first battle.
“The Long Night,” which was filmed in Ireland over the course of 55 nights, marked Maisie Williams’s first time in battle. “Arya’s never in it. Episode 9, I skip every year,” Williams told Entertainment Weekly. “I’ve never been around that way of working. I feel like I’ve always been part of this big show but in terms of being part of the episodes that really define us, this is my first taste of it. ... You try and you train but nothing can prepare you for how physically draining it is. It’s night after night and again and again and it just doesn’t stop. … But the sense of achievement after a day on set is unlike anything else. One of those really tough days, you know it’s going to be part of something so iconic and it will look amazing.”
64. At first, Maisie Williams wasn’t sure people would be excited that it was Arya who killed the Night King.
Williams said she was so excited when she found out that it was Arya, and not Jon, who took out the Night King—but she did have some reservations. “I immediately thought that everybody would hate it; that Arya doesn’t deserve it,” she told EW. “The hardest thing is in any series is when you build up a villain that’s so impossible to defeat and then you defeat them. It has to be intelligently done because otherwise people are like, ‘Well, [the villain] couldn’t have been that bad when some 100-pound girl comes in and stabs him.’ You gotta make it cool. And then I told my boyfriend and he was like, ‘Mmm, should be Jon though really, shouldn’t it?’”
But Williams was fully on board after thinking about what Melisandre had told Arya many seasons ago—that she would shut “brown eyes, blue eyes, green eyes” forever. “When we did the whole bit with Melisandre, I realized the whole scene with [the Red Woman] brings it back to everything I’ve been working for over these past six seasons—four if you think about it since [Arya] got to the House of Black and White,” Williams said. “It all comes down to this one very moment. It’s also unexpected and that’s what this show does. So then I was like, ‘F*** you Jon, I get it.’”
65. Emilia Clarke didn’t see Daenerys’s big turn coming.
After she read the final Game of Thrones scripts, Clarke told The New Yorker that “I took a very long walk around London in a daze, not quite knowing how to digest the news … I had no idea what to expect for this last season. I hoped for some juicy things to get into, as I always do for each season, but I didn’t see this coming. … Even for a part that I’ve given so much to and I’ve felt so much for, and for a character that’s seen and lived through so much, I don’t know that there was any other way. But it was a shocker to read.”
66. The showrunners compared Daenerys's arc to a legendary film character.
Benioff and Weiss had previously told Clarke that Daenerys’s arc mirrored that of Lawrence of Arabia. “I watched Lawrence of Arabia, and I was, like, ‘Great, cool. He’s brilliant. He survived, and it’s wonderful,’” she said. “But then you remember how that movie ended, with Lawrence’s disintegration. I didn’t quite put those two things together. Or maybe I didn’t want to see it coming because I care about Daenerys too much. Fundamentally, he’s brought in as a savior. He goes in and fights for the people, but then, ultimately, it’s a story about how power corrupts absolutely. You see power turn this man wild and mad. He can’t see anymore through the haze, the giddy highs, of being in charge. And that’s what Daenerys experiences.”
67. Emilia Clarke watched speeches of dictators to prepare for Daenerys’s speech after burning King’s Landing.
"In giving all these speeches in fake languages, I watched a lot of videos of—now it seems funny—dictators and powerful leaders speaking a different language to see if I could understand what they were saying without knowing the language," Clarke told Variety. "And you can! You absolutely can understand what Hitler’s f***ing saying, these single-focus orators speaking a foreign language. So I thought, 'If I can believe every single word I’m saying, the audience won’t need to be looking at the subtitles too much.'”
Clarke said that she put a lot of pressure on herself to nail the scene. “Any actor will tell you the days on set are long and then you go home and do your homework, which is learning your lines for the next day. This is learning a fake language on top of that! It almost killed me,” she said. “Then the weirdest thing happened—I walked on set, didn’t need a rehearsal, and I got through the whole thing perfect on the first go. The rest of the day it was like Daenerys was just with me. That’s the only time I got through that speech without getting anything wrong, when it was on camera. If you had asked me to do it the next day, I’d already forgotten it.”
68. Kit Harington didn’t read the scripts before the table read—so he was shocked by a number of the final season’s moments.
Because he didn’t read the scripts ahead of time, Harington found out in front of his co-stars that Arya killed the Night King. “I was surprised, I thought it was gonna be me!” the actor told Entertainment Weekly. “But I like it. It gives Arya’s training a purpose to have an end goal. It’s much better how she does it the way she does it. I think it will frustrate some in the audience that Jon’s hunting the Night King and you’re expecting this epic fight and it never happens — that’s kind of Thrones. But it’s the right thing for the characters. There’s also something about it not being the person you expect. The young lady sticks it to the man.”
Clarke knew that Harington hadn’t read the scripts, so she made sure to sit across from him during the table read, to “watch him compute” their last moments on the show together, she told Entertainment Weekly. When they got to the moment where Jon killed Daenerys with a dagger to the heart, he recalled, “I looked at Emilia and there was a moment of me realizing, ‘No, no…’” at which point Clarke nodded and sank down in her chair.
“He was crying,” Clarke told EW. “And then it was kind of great him not having read it.”
69. The events on Game of Thrones led to some marital disagreements.
Like so many Game of Thrones fans, the friends and family of the people who create the show had a serious investment in the series’ characters and storylines. In 2015, while appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Amanda Peet admitted that she threatened to divorce David Benioff if anything happened to Jon Snow.
"I said, 'I've heard all this stuff … [Kit Harington] got a haircut, I don't want to divorce you, what's happening?'" Peet said. Benioff assured his wife that Jon wasn't going to die, but obviously that wasn't true—or at least not at the time. "I don't love you anymore," Peet (jokingly) told her husband. "I said, 'If you kill him, that's it.'"
But not even Parris McBride, George R.R. Martin's wife, was immune to petitioning (read: threatening) her husband when it came to advocating for which characters she wanted to see still standing when the series concludes. "[George's] wife did actually say that if he ever kills off Arya or Sansa, she's going to leave him," Maisie Williams revealed in 2015. "I'll just keep smiling, and say 'If you want to stay with your wife, you've got to keep me alive!'"
Based on what happened on the show, it seems like both Peet and McBride have reason to be happy.
70. There’s a prequel coming.
It’s called House of the Dragon, and it will take place 300 years before the events of Thrones. Though we won’t see any of the characters we know and love in the show, the behind-the-scenes team does have a few familiar faces: George R.R. Martin is co-creating alongside Ryan Condal; Condal will serve as co-showrunner alongside director Miguel Sapochnik.