As millions of fans eagerly await the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, it’s difficult to believe that the HBO series very nearly got off on the wrong foot. The original pilot of Game of Thrones was shot in 2009, but upon a private screening for friends, it was clear that series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had a massive problem. Thankfully, the choice was made to reshoot close to 90% of the pilot, which also meant recasting some characters, such as Michelle Fairley replacing Jennifer Ehle as Catetlyn Stark and Emilia Clarke replacing Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys Targaryen. To Benioff and Weiss’ relief, the new pilot was received with a much greater enthusiasm, but somewhere, there lays the infamous original pilot, likely locked away in a vault.
As we know, Sean Bean played Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell on Game of Thrones, and he was one of the first actors cast in the series. While speaking with Entertainment Weekly, the actor shared his thoughts on the unaired pilot episode.
I think there were some very good moments. It was experimental in some ways. I think they were trying to portray what could be achieved: the kind of wonder and awe, the vast scale and complexity, all these war-faring tribes, the magic, the beauty, and the treachery. I think trying to get that into a pilot may have been difficult, and perhaps the story was lost a little. But nevertheless, it gave you a sense of what it could be. We were just going along with what was down there [on the page], but though they didn’t use the pilot in its entirety, they used certain moments, and I think the pilot served its purpose. As I said, it shows you what could be done and certainly what was done thereafter. It was developed, it got bigger and bigger and bigger and more exciting and breathtaking. It was just an idea, I think. It’s impossible to get an idea of the whole season of Game of Thrones into a pilot. We were very pleased with what we’ve done, and we really enjoyed being on it, and we knew there was something special in that early stage.
As far as the differences between the original pilot and the one we all saw, Sean Bean remembers, “a scene with Bran in the old tree and [his parents are] talking to him about life. He was very young at the time, when Isaac was playing the part. There are some nice scenes with [Williams as Arya]. I quite enjoyed those scenes because there was a lot of horrible backstabbing going on, and I think those scenes stood out because they were very natural and people could identity with them: a father and his children. I also remember the banquet, which was quite interesting. We shot it in Scotland, and it was a banquet with King Robert. All the families were coming together, there was a real feeling of this horrible tension, which represents what we did afterwards.“
Although a number of seasons have passed since Sean Bean last played Ned Stark, he still remains a fan-favourite, and Bean has a few thoughts on why the character has resonated with audiences.
He’s very honorable, he’s very honest, he’s a man of integrity, and he does the dirty work, as he does at the beginning when he chops off the guy’s head. But he’s a man who’s very fair-minded, and he’ll stick to his principles through thick and thin, regardless of who he’s up against. With him going to King’s Landing and getting involved with such backstabbers, it’s something he wasn’t used to, and certainly not at that level. I think it was quite tragic to see him chipped away by these people until he was really struggling, and he was in very deep. Throughout, he maintained his honor and his integrity, and I think that’s something viewers really took to their hearts. He’s one of the very few good men. He was the first good man in Game of Thrones, and he stayed that way to the bitter end. His sons and daughters have taken those values for themselves, and it’s a much richer show because of that — because of him.
The final season of Game of Thrones returns to HBO on April 14, 2019.