Most big Game of Thrones fans know the story of the show that almost was. D.B. Weiss and David Benioff‘s original pilot was by all accounts an unwatchable mess that had no chance of becoming an international megahit. But HBO gave the creators another chance, and they were able to save the show — by reshooting about 90% of it and recasting several major roles. The biggest part that had to be redone? Daenerys Targaryen.
That’s right, before Khaleesi became the role that made Emilia Clarke‘s career, it was the one that almost broke another actress — Carnival Row star Tamzin Merchant.
In a dozen years, the original Mother of Dragons has never publicly spoken about her experience filming the infamous episode. But on Thursday during a Zoom interview with Entertainment Weekly, she finally broke her silence — and made it clear why she wanted to forget about it! She said:
“Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson. It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them, because I tried to back out of that situation and, during the contract process, I did back out. I was talked back into it by some persuasive people. Then I found myself naked and afraid in Morocco and riding a horse that was clearly much more excited to be there than I was.”
“Naked and afraid”? Eep. Actors may have to get nude sometimes, but only what they’re comfortable with — they should never be put in a situation where they’re afraid!
As far as that horse comment…
Well, the story goes that in the original version of the scene where Daenerys and Khal Drogo consummate their marriage in the desert, the scene was more of a seduction — closer to how it was in the books. (In the final product it was made a lot more savage and disturbing.)
Unfortunately the version with all the sensitivity was interrupted when the nearby horse got a huge erection on camera. (That story was told in an oral history called Fire Cannot Kill A Dragon.)
But back to Tamzin. She’s since done a lot more TV — you may have seen her in The Tudors, Supergirl, or Salem — so what was it about GOT that was off? Besides the voyeuristic horse, obviously. She explained:
“It was a lesson that if my guts are telling me a story isn’t something I’m excited to tell, then I shouldn’t try to be excited just because other people are telling me that I should be excited. I didn’t have any training as an actor, I only have my instincts. And what excites me and what drives me is a compelling story and a compelling character. So for me, Game of Thrones was never that. I think it’s a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic — she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn’t in my heart to tell it.”
So what was it like for the young actress to watch the show she was almost a part of become a pop culture sensation?
“It was kind of funny riding to auditions on buses with Emilia Clarke’s face on it. Like, ‘Oh my mode of transport is quite interesting today!’ It’s been a thing I felt like I watched unfold and it’s been fantastic for the film industry in Northern Ireland and Croatia, and that has been really great.”
Ultimately it was the producers and not Tamzin who made the decision to recast as her scenes just weren’t working. But the actress, who just wrote a YA fantasy novel called The Hatmakers, says it was the best thing not just for the show but for her creative journey as well.
She illustrated this with a reference to the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Red Shoes. She explained:
“It tells a story of this girl who has a pair of handmade shoes; these red shoes that she’s made herself. She’s walking on her path and she gets taken by this lady in a golden carriage. The lady sweeps her off to this grand life of riches and luxury. And she burns the red shoes that the girl made. All the girl wants is a pair of red shoes and she eventually buys this new beautiful pair — and they dance her to death.”
So the golden carriage is GOT, got it. She continued:
“And for me, I think if I had to get in that golden carriage — if I hadn’t been released from my contract — I think it would have taken me to a place far from the creative person that I am today. Also, if I was very rich and famous, I wouldn’t have time to do all the things that my soul needs to do. Expressing myself creatively is a need that’s more important than any amount of riches that I could have gained from that part. If I did I think I’d just distract myself — but that’s just me, not anybody else; I think Emilia Clarke is amazing. I just wouldn’t be the creator that I am today [like with the book]. I’m profoundly grateful to have claimed my own path to be carving it for myself.”
Well, there you go. It sounds like spending a few hours naked and afraid in the Moroccan desert ultimately led her to the palace of wisdom.
Can you imagine Game of Thrones with anyone other than Emilia Clarke? And would YOU have been able to say no to the golden carriage ride??
[Image via WENN/Avalon/HBO.]