Original Daenerys Actress Tells All About Axed ‘Thrones’ Pilot and Why She ‘Tried to Back Out’

Tamzin Merchant says she was "naked and afraid" filming the original "Game of Thrones" pilot in Morocco.
Tamzin Merchant
Tamzin Merchant was the original Daenerys on "Game of Thrones"
AP Images / HBO

Emilia Clarke will forever be known as Daenerys Targaryen thanks to her eight-season stint on HBO’s blockbuster series “Game of Thrones,” but she is not the actress who was originally cast as the Mother of Dragons. That actress would be Tamzin Merchant, who played Daenerys in the infamous original “Thrones” pilot that HBO scrapped. When the network redeveloped “Thrones,” Merchant was let go and replaced by Clarke. Merchant has long been silent on her “Thrones” history, but she gave her first extensive interview on the matter to Entertainment Weekly and revealed that her experience on the scrapped pilot was no walk in the park.

“Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson,” Merchant said. “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.”

According to EW, Merchant is referring to “Daenerys’ wedding night in the pilot which included nudity. The Merchant version was filmed as more of a seduction than in the aired pilot starring Clarke. One shot of the sex scene was interrupted by the horse having an erection.”

“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,” Merchant said of her “Thrones” experience. “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.”

When Merchant was replaced by Clarke, no one involved with “Thrones” had any idea the show would go on to become one of the defining television dramas of the 21st century. Merchant remembered of the show gaining popularity, “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!'”

Merchant has no regrets about being released from her “Thrones” contract and believes that had she been forced to continue with the show she would not be “the creative person 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,” Merchant said. “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. I’m profoundly grateful to have claimed my own path to be carving it for myself.”

Head over to Entertainment Weekly’s website to read Merchant’s latest interview in its entirety.

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