Game of Thrones filmed a secret episode you may never see
Fans of Game of Thrones or the series of books on which it’s based are always in danger of becoming an obsessive lot, reading and re-reading thousands of pages of material, watching and re-watching dozens of episodes—if only to get better at memorizing everybody’s name in the series’ gigantic cast.
But there’s one episode of the series that even the show’s biggest fans will likely never get to see—a secret episode which was recently discussed by actor Kit Harington, that know-nothing Jon Snow.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, Harington revealed that prior to the launch of the series in 2011, creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff commissioned a pilot for the series in 2008, which still exists, though he believes no one will ever see it.
If you recall, the first episodes for Game of Thrones were rather remarkable for the confidence with which they began building Thrones‘ immense and daunting world, with the first episode, “Winter Is Coming”, being a basically perfect adaptation of the first book’s first hundred or so pages.
There’s a good reason that episode came off so polished and self-assured—the episode that launched the series into the popular consciousness wasn’t the first time the crew had tried to put the show together. Their first iteration of the show was promptly scrapped following the realization that they had done a subpar job in their first attempt at bringing the world of Westeros to life, with the roles around Harington being largely recast.
“They made a lot of mistakes,” Harington said freely. “It didn’t look right, didn’t feel right, had nothing different about it.”
Actress Sophie Turner, who played Sansa in the first pilot as well, similarly describes the episode as a top-to-bottom failure. “We had to re-shoot basically all of it because it was really bad,” she told The Telegraph in 2014. “HBO almost said ‘no.'”
From the tone of Harington and Turner’s comments, it sounds like this lost first episode of the show was much more ramshackle on the production end, off in tone while still being substantially similar in story. His 2008 Jon Snow was clean-shaven, with his long locks being a simple wig.
When the team reassembled for a second try at the show, they leaned more heavily into the adult content of the series, making it dirtier, sexier, bloodier, and more tangibly real. Suddenly, a story that came off as hokey on the first try became arresting to watch on screen.
None of this was instantly alarming to Harington, who had the good fortune of landing Jon Snow as his first onscreen role.
“We didn’t know if it was going to go, and we didn’t know if it was going to be any good,” Harington said. “But it was HBO, and it was American TV, so it felt like a huge deal.”
Harington went on to add that not even he has actually seen the lost pilot, and that it is unlikely anybody ever will—but it does exist. He knows this because Weiss and Benioff have used it before as blackmail material, sending him unflattering screenshots from the episode, threatening the release of the amateurish first work to keep him in line.
“They say, if I ever piss them off too much, they’ll release it on YouTube,” Harington said. “Every now and then, they send me a screengrab, just as a threat.”
With every new episode of Game of Thrones, it feels more and more like a miracle that the show exists on the scale it does at all, with a massive investment having gone into make this fantastical world feel very believable and real. The idea that there exists an episode of the show from the same creative team that misses the mark is a tantalizing notion. Hopefully sometime in the future, perhaps when the series is finally over, we’ll get a chance to see what a cornier, less-accomplished adaptation of the fantasy sensation would’ve looked like.