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The Original Game of Thrones Pilot Didn’t Include Dany’s Sexual Assault

The first version was much closer to the books.

khal drogo look suspiciously at daenerys' egg


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We may never be entirely done talking about the aftermath of Game of Thrones. That’s inevitable, I guess, since the highs and lows that the series hit are now the stuff of legend. One of the most controversial and disappointing legacies of Game of Thrones is the way it used sexual assault in unnecessary and upsetting ways that often deviated from the source material in the Song of Ice and Fire book series.

The worst thing about the way Game of Thrones used sexual assault was that it didn’t have to be that way. And according to a new book, in the beginning, Thrones was far less rape-y than what it became. In the soon-to-be-released book, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon: Game of Thrones and the Untold Story of the Epic Series., Entertainment Weekly’s long-time Thrones expert and correspondent James Hibberd has compiled a full oral history of the series, from development to the finale, in the words of the people who made it. EW has released an early preview of the book detailing the somewhat disastrous first pilot of Game of Thrones.

Yes, first pilot. The original pilot of Game of Thrones has never been seen by the public and for good reason. According to Fire Cannot Kill A Dragon, it was poorly shot, wasting the expensive locations and costumes (HBO execs complained some sections “looked like they could have been filmed in someone’s backyard”). Even though the pilot wasn’t good, HBO execs saw enough they liked that they ordered a full season one and a new first episode, and the rest is history.

There were major cast differences in the original pilot as well. Jennifer Ehle was Catelyn Stark and Tamzin Merchant played Daenerys. The plot was hard to follow and other major changes had to be made. But one change I really wish they hadn’t made was to Khal Drogo and Dany’s wedding and particularly their wedding night. The original pilot was much closer to the books, showing the consummation of Dany and Drogo’s marriage as something more considerate and consensual, while in the reshot version it was a rape.

Of course, it must be pointed out in the books that Daenerys is 13 when her wedding night occurs, which is upsetting for a host of other reasons, and she’s been sold into marriage against her will. There’s a lot that’s extremely problematic with the original set-up, but it’s even more problematic that the GoT creatives took the scene and turned it into one of abject sexual violence.

Here’s George R. R. Martin explaining it in Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon:

Then came the filming of the wedding night. In the Emilia Clarke version, it’s rape. It’s not rape in my book, and it’s not rape in the scene as we filmed it with Tamzin Merchant. It’s a seduction. Dany and Drogo don’t have the same language. Dany is a little scared but also a little excited, and Drogo is being more considerate. The only words he knows are “yes” or “no.” Originally it was a fairly faithful version.

I wish they had kept this and the change makes it clear that the use of rape in pointless ways, one of the biggest things wrong with Thrones, wasn’t always there and didn’t have to be. This excerpt doesn’t go into why the change was made or who made it, but it’s a huge loss and an upsetting shift. As had been said before: making Drogo and Dany’s first sexual experience a rape undermines both their characters, transforming Khal Drogo (who we’re supposed to like) into a rapist and Dany into a woman who eventually falls in love with her rapist. The books have enough sexual violence in them that the show didn’t need to add any more, but they did at many junctures.

As we’ve mentioned time and again, the way that Game of Thrones used rape was particularly upsetting and offensive not simply because rape was a plot point, but because it was a plot point for absolutely no reason, and often it was used in ways that were directly contradictory to the relationships between the characters as we saw them elsewhere in the series and in the books. This, sadly, was one thing from the original pilot that did not need to change.

Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon will hit bookstores on October 6.

(via: EW, image: HBO)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.

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