The Game of Thrones pilot episode was the first episode of the series filmed, but has never been aired. The pilot was shot between 24 October and 19 November 2009 on location in Northern Ireland and Morocco, directed by Thomas McCarthy. A heavily re-shot version of the pilot, with new material directed by Tim Van Patten, serves as the first episode of the series itself. It is not known if the original pilot will ever be publicly screened or released.
Because several scenes shot by McCarthy remain in the final episode, and because McCarthy helped cast several of the regular cast, he was given a "Consulting Producer" credit on the first episode.
Differences between pilot and seriesThe pilot episode has a notably different cast to the rest of the series. For a number of reasons, HBO replaced several actors, major and minor, between the filming of the pilot and the series itself:
- Tamzin Merchant played the role of Daenerys Targaryen in the pilot. For the series she was replaced by Emilia Clarke.
- Jennifer Ehle played the role of Catelyn Stark in the pilot. For the series she was replaced by Michelle Fairley.
- Ian McNeice played the role of Illyrio Mopatis in the pilot. For the series he was replaced by Roger Allam.
- Richard Ridings played Gared in the pilot, but was replaced for the series by Dermot Keaney.
- Jamie Campbell Bower played Ser Waymar Royce in the pilot, but was replaced for the series by Rob Ostlere.
In addition, the role of Grand Maester Pycelle was originally planned to be in the pilot episode in a new scene and the role was cast with Roy Dotrice. The scene was cut but Dotrice was retained for the series itself. Shortly before filming began Dotrice fell ill and was replaced at short notice by Julian Glover (Dotrice later joined the TV series in Season 2, cast as chief pyromancer Hallyne).
Another change was that the pilot featured scenes shot in Scotland, using Doune Castle to stand in for Winterfell. Other footage was also shot in Morocco for the scenes featuring Daenerys. In the series itself Winterfell was created through several locations in Northern Ireland and filming on soundstages, whilst Malta and Croatia were used for the majority of the scenes involving Daenerys in Essos in the first two seasons. However, the producer later returned to Morocco to film the Slaver's Bay scenes for Season 3.
In the original pilot episode, author George R.R. Martin himself made a cameo appearance, as a Pentoshi nobleman in the background, wearing a gigantic hat, but ultimately his appearance was cut out of the final episode.
In the original pilot episode, the German folk band Corvus Corax appeared as minstrels at the Winterfell feast. However, their scenes were completely removed in the final episode.
A minor change was that in the pilot, Alfie Allen retained his own blonde hair in the role of Theon Greyjoy, but for the series itself he adopted a dark wig more in keeping with his character's appearance in the novels.
Material retained in the first episode
Several scenes shot by McCarthy were retained in the final episode. These scenes are shot on film rather than the digital recordings made for the rest of the series, making them appear slightly different (most notable in the scene in Winterfell's crypts). These are known to be:
- A few brief shots during the Prologue scene, when the Night's Watch rangers are fleeing from the White Walkers through the forest, were retained from the pilot.
- The scene in the Winterfell crypts where Robert Baratheon asks Eddard Stark to become the new King's Hand.
- The scene at the Winterfell feast where Ned and his brother Benjen Stark discuss the Night's Watch ranger that Ned executed.
- Sansa's scene during the feast at Winterfell when Catelyn introduces her to Queen Cersei. Because Catelyn was recast between the pilot and the final episode, Catelyn's appearance had to be re-filmed with new actress Michelle Fairley. However, because one camera angle is pointed at Catelyn and Cersei, and the opposite camera angle is pointed at Sansa, the original footage of Sophie Turner in this scene from the pilot was simply intercut with the new footage of Michelle Fairley as Catelyn. Notice that in the final episode, in this scene Sansa is never in the camera frame with Catelyn and Cersei at the same time (only a stand-in wearing her dress, of which only the sleeve is visible).
- The scene in Winterfell's courtyard where Tyrion Lannister and Sandor Clegane exchange a few words before Robert thanks Eddard for accepting his offer and they ride out to hunt. A blonde-haired Tyrion can briefly be glimpsed in this scene. In the regular series this was changed to a more dirty blonde (in real life, Peter Dinklage has black hair, thus the pure golden blonde in his original look didn't match the actor very well). More notably, Theon Greyjoy is shown in this scene with blonde hair rather than the black hair he sports for the series proper.