This article contains major spoilers.
Game of Thrones – and the Song of Ice and Fire books – are known for their rabid fanbases, but the Blu-ray box-set of the first series reveals facts, anecdotes and stories that only the most enthusiastic of fans will know about.
We’ve trawled through the box-set’s multitude of commentaries, which feature both cast and crew members – as well as the litany of special features – to dig up the best morsels of trivia from this amazing series. Want to know what that raw heart was made of, or where to spot George W. Bush? Read on!
Beyond the Wall
1. The first episode’s opening scene sees a party heading beneath The Wall, a 700ft structure made entirely of ice, but it’s unlikely the actors were cold – the tunnel’s made of cement and it’s dug into the side of the Northern Irish quarry where the Castle Black set was built.
2. It’s particularly chilling when Night’s Watch member Will stumbles on a bevy of dead wildlings, but remember that creepy-looking kid who’d recently been turned into one of the “White Walkers” – that’s not a doll, like many suspected, or even a child: it’s a 19 year old actress.
3. Later on in the series Jon Snow’s friends Pyp and Grenn can be seen eating lunch in the dingy Castle Black mess hall. Production designer Gemma Jackson made a particularly nasty gruel for the actors to eat, but didn’t tell them: Kit Harrington confirmed that Josef Altin, who played Pyp, wouldn’t eat it – and if you watch closely that Mark Stanley, otherwise known as Grenn, can’t bring himself to swallow.
4. Jon’s family crisis leads him to desert the Night’s Watch, but he’s brought back into the fold after a nighttime forest chase. It looks impressive on screen, but the dingy shooting conditions meant that one stuntwoman needed eight stitches when the set’s generators crashed and she ran into a tree.
Across the Narrow Sea
5. Magister Illyrio’s sumptuous home is actually the summer palace of Malta’s president. Filming was permitted, and the set was also used for the Red Keep’s gardens in King’s Landing, but the team wasn’t allowed to film inside.
6. Hardcore fans lamented the loss of the Targaryen family’s violet eyes, but Daenerys and Viserys were originally shot with violet contact lenses. Showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss gave them the chop, though, after concluding that “actors act with their eyes, and [the lenses] really hurt the emotion.”
7. Shortly after Daenerys and Khal Drogo were married, a massive storm hit Malta and blew most of the props into the sea. Hopefully someone saved the basketful of snakes and the barbecued hearts.
8. There were doubts about filming the wedding in the first place, as the relatively conservative Maltese authorities expressed doubts about public decency due to the wedding’s nudity and violence. Magister Illyrio put it best, saying that “a Dothraki wedding without three deaths is considered a dull affair”.
9. Plenty of backstory is supplied when Viserys takes a dip with Doreah, but Bryan Cogman – who wrote episode four – didn’t pen that scene. It was entirely the work of Benioff and Weiss, and was originally supposed to be in episode 3. Cogman didn’t find out until it was broadcast.
10. Fantasy fans will want to pay attention during that scene, too, as Viserys reels off a list of famous dragons, including Vermithrax, the star of 1981 cult classic Dragonslayer. That’s not the only Game of Thrones connection, either: the movie included characters called Valerian and Tyrian.
11. The crew told Emilia Clarke the raw horse heart she had to devour in episode six would taste like gummy bears, but that was far from the case – she says it tasted “a little like bleach”. The crew would inject it to keep it moist, its arteries being made from dried pasta, and Clarke had to keep chewing for a whole day. That retch at the end of the scene? No acting required.
12. The crew had just one take at giving Viserys the infamous golden crown, but luckily they nailed it: smoke machines were strapped to his back and chest, a bald cap was made to resemble molten gold across his face, and the props department forged a gold-like substance that was poured over his head.
13. HBO commissioned the Dothraki tongue from an organisation that specialises in creating imaginary languages. There are more words in the invented Dothraki for “kill” than for “love”, and linguist David Peterson come up with more than 2,000 words before he’d even started translation.
14. Khal Drogo cements his position as the top Dothraki dog when he rips out the tongue of dissenter Mako, but that scene wasn’t in the script – actor Jason Momoa suggested it after noticing that his character, supposedly a great warrior, never demonstrated his prowess.
In King’s Landing
15. The scene where Ned and Cersei clash in Ned’s quarters takes place half-way through the season but, not counting the pilot, it was the first thing filmed.
16. After being stabbed in an attack by Jaime Lannister, Ned Stark wakes up in a fever dream. Back in the real world, Sean Bean showed real dedication to his role by catching the flu – so he really did look that bad.
17. Maisie Williams, the actress behind Arya Stark, is right-handed – but Arya’s left-handed. Without prompting from any of the crew members, she learned all of her fight scenes with Syrio Forel left-handed.
18. The dungeon where Ned Stark is imprisoned and visited by Varys is actually the same crypt that’s seen beneath Winterfell back in the first episode of the series.
19. After Ned’s beheading Joffrey takes Sansa to admire Ser Ilyn Payne’s handiwork – but someone you don’t expect is sat on a spike at the Red Keep. The head to the left of Septa Mordane is actually George W. Bush wearing a wig. “It’s not a political statement”, says David Benioff, “we just had to use what heads we had lying around!”
20. It takes a lot to shock Game of Thrones viewers, but the death of Ser Hugh of the Vale, with a lance through the neck, managed it. The entire stunt, from the horse falling over to the spurting blood, was kept hidden from the likes of Arya and Sansa, so those reactions are very genuine indeed.
21. Winterfell’s courtyard looks incredibly realistic, but it’s actually built on a car park – and the gift shop was kept well hidden.
22. The scene with Sansa talking to Queen Cersei and Catelyn at the feast was actually comprised of two scenes shot a year apart: Sansa’s parts were from the original pilot, and the portions with Cersei and Catelyn were spliced in later after Michelle Fairley was chosen to play Catelyn Tully instead of Jennifer Ehle.
23. Robb, Theon and Jon Snow show off some impressive abs when they’re getting their hair cut, but David Benioff shed some light on that scene. “If you’d seen the number of crunches they were doing before this scene, they were practically throwing up; they’re not acting – just holding their breath and flexing their abs!”
24. The spooky crypt beneath Winterfell is normally a wine cellar.
25. The Queen’s carriage is pretty imposing as far as caravans go, and it caused several problems on set: when filming its arrival it actually knocked one of Winterfell’s gates off its hinges.
26. The stag that’s been killed by the direwolf in the season’s first episode is no prop. It’s a real animal that was shot – by someone else! – two days before filming, and was gutted by the production’s animal handler and erstwhile butcher, Kenny. If you spot any of the cast looking a bit grim during this scene, they’re trying not to vomit: Weiss confirmed the animal “wasn’t in great shape” by the time it came to filming.
27. The pool in Winterfell’s godswood is actually filled with black paint to make it as reflective as possible.
28. The dingy, deserted tower that Jaime pushed Bran out of was redressed and used as Bran’s bedchamber for the rest of the series.
29. Old friends Ned and Robert share a joke when the King arrives at Winterfell, but Mark Addy’s laugh was so loud it spooked the horse he’d rode in on.
30. Harry Potter actress Natalia Tena plays wilding Osha, and A Song of Ice and Fire author George R. R. Martin was so impressed with her performance that he’s making changes in his next book, The Winds of Winter. “She’s become such an interesting character,” he explains, “that when she reappears in the books I’d like to give her a more interesting role to play”.
31. Rob Ostlere, who plays Waymar Royce in the opening episode, came very close to playing Viserys.
32. When Benioff and Weiss started planning the series, Martin told them to work with HBO – and before that even happened the trio started casting their ideal stars. Even back then, they were adamant that Game of Thrones would only work with Sean Bean and Peter Dinklage as Ned Start and Tyrion Lannister.
33. Prostitute Ros was originally supposed to be included in one scene, but Benioff and Weiss are obviously fans: “she’s so much fun to watch that she’s become a relatively major character in season two”, the explained. Sexploitation obviously pays off!
34. The armourer who’s crafting Needle while Jon Snow and Jaime Lannister clash in the Winterfell courtyard is Tommy Dunn, who created all of the weapons seen in Game of Thrones.
35. Many cast members are virtual first-timers: none of the child actors have done professional work of any substance, and Emilia Clarke and John Bradley West – who play Daenerys and Samwell Tarly – were fresh out of drama school.
36. Keep watching Will when he’s riding through the woods in the first episode. A short clip from the pilot episode is used, and it’s a different actor.
37. Keen-eyed fans will be able to spot some changeable weather when the Starks discover the direwolf puppies: it’s raining lightly in half the shots and not in others, as it was filmed over two separate days. Different puppies are used throughout, too.
38. When Catelyn Stark and Maester Luwin are preparing for the King’s arrival, one of the extras is later seen in the Lannister court.
39. Similarly, one of the prostitutes that Jaime provides for Tyrion later becomes one of Queen Cersei’s hand-maidens. A continuity error? “No, a promotion!” confirms Benioff.
40. A crew member pointed out that Magister Illyrio had paintings in his palace depicting cannons and guns – weapons which weren’t used in Westeros or Essos. Weiss covered his tracks by claiming that it’s wildfire – a volatile substance that will be familiar to anyone who’s read A Clash of Kings, the second book in the series.
The Pointy End
41. Ned and Robert’s scene in the crypt is one of the few to survive from the pilot and one of the few that’s shot on 35mm film, as evidenced by the slight grain that can be seen on the HD version of the episode.
42. Composer Ramin Djawadi was brought on board “when [Benioff and Weiss] were entering panic mode”. He was hired, three days later he pulled out due to scheduling conflicts, and it was only some hasty pleading that kept him involved in the project.
43. A lot of the snow that’s being blown around Castle Black? Cotton wool.
44. Every bit of lore that’s seen on the show’s gnarled, knackered books was written by the show’s writer and unofficial historian Bryan Cogman, although it was copied out by a calligrapher – with messages written and produced even when they’re not opened on camera. Cogman’s also written the entries included on the box-set’s Westerosi encyclopedia.
45. One of the artists who designed Pandora in blockbuster Avatar worked on Game of Thrones in the early stages, with his influence felt especially in the lofty surroundings of The Vale and The Eyrie.