There’s still a few months to go before the sixth season of “Game Of Thrones” arrives, but before HBO‘s fantasy series was a worldwide phenomenon, it was just another pilot that could. And what you may not know is that “Spotlight” and “Win Win” director Tom McCarthy was tasked with filming it. The writer/director who generally specializes in intimate character dramas doesn’t seem like the most obvious choice for George R.R. Martin‘s material, and back in 2011 in an interview with AV Club, he’s the first to admit he wasn’t the right fit.
“I just didn’t feel connected to it,” he said, and the process in general left him pretty disenchanted about working in television again. “I think there are some really good TV directors, but that is a writers’ medium and a studio’s medium. There was a good learning curve on that, but I don’t think it’s anything I’ll rush back to.”
After seeing McCarthy’s pilot, Tim Van Patten, who shot the second episode, was brought in to redo the first. Casting was changed significantly, with Tamzin Merchant replaced by Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, Michelle Fairley replacing Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn, and more. But beyond that, Patten saved what was apparently something of a trainwreck.
On a recent episode of the Scriptnotes podcast (via Vanity Fair), hosts John August and Craig Mazin chatted with the latter’s pals, “Game Of Thrones” writers and showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff, and the latter gets candid about his reaction when he first saw McCarthy’s pilot. “Watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life,” Weiss said. “As soon as it finished, Craig [Mazin] said, ‘You guys have a massive problem.’”
“I was taking notes, 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,’ ” he added.
And so they pretty much did, and the result is something you don’t get very often in the industry. “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,” Mazin said. “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 sh*t and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens!”
Check out the full talk below and if you’re fan of “Game Of Thrones,” be thankful for what you’ve got, because it could’ve gone a whole other way.