Bizarre things that happened on the set of Game of Thrones

By all accounts, the sets of Game of Thrones seem like mighty fun and interesting places to be, mainly because Dragons and White Walkers aren't real and thus nobody gets burnt or frozen to actual death. Some of the shenanigans and troubles on set, however, are almost equal to the trials and tribulations of Westeros, such as …

The time they accidentally destroyed an entire ecosystem

Malta was chosen for one of the shooting locations during the first season, but relations soured during the filming of the Dothraki wedding scene, at the Dwejra Heritage Park near the beautiful Azure Window limestone arch near Gozo, Malta. When the production crew poured sand on protected fossil-rich rock beds without any protective membrane, the sand seeped into the land and cemented, burying local flora and fauna, and causing what an independent inquiry called "damage to irreplaceable fossil and ichnofossil features".

A local production company was fined €36,500 for the damage, and the series left Malta soon thereafter. According to some sources, the Maltese government banned the show from continuing to film in the country. However, some Maltese blame the debacle on the lack of oversight from the Malta Environmental and Planning Authority, and have even called for MEPA bureaucrats to be beheaded and have their heads displayed on pikes, to entice HBO to return. OK, maybe they were being facetious in the last statement. Maybe.

They saved a pig farm

Pig farmer Kenny Gracey was on the verge of ruin before GoT came along. The show often goes to Gracey for period-appropriate Iron Age pigs — a cross between domestic pigs and wild boars seen in the series. He's also provided rare breeds of goats, sheep, deer and dogs for the production, and has allowed the production to dig through the piles of scrap near his property to dig up suitably aged and rusted chains, horse collars, anvils, mangers, and troughs to use during filming.

Since 1992, Gracey had been weighed down by a credit crunch and heavy debts — he had just been told by his wife he needed to send all his junk to a scrap yard, when he got a call out of the blue from a props buyer working for the production. Two days later, all his junk was taken by truck to the set. Since then, he has worked for the production as a supplier, animal handler, and even appeared on-screen when his animals need help during shooting. According to Gracey, "It has funded the preservation of my rare and specialty breeds … Game Of Thrones has put me on the map." Luckily, not the map of Westeros — we all know what happens to smallfolk hog farmers there.

In a strange parallel, GoT also dodged a pig farm-related bullet. During an appearance at a community event at her home village of Clutton in Somerset, Maisie Williams told the BBC News she very nearly missed her audition for the role of Arya Stark, because she wanted to visit a pig farm on a school trip instead. Which sounds exactly like something Arya Stark would do, to be honest.

They used (and skinned) real dead stag corpses

In the symbolism-heavy scene showing the Stark discovery of a dead direwolf and stag in episode 1, the wolf may have been fake but the stag was real. It had been shot before filming began, then butchered and gutted by the production team animal handler. By the time it came to filming two days later, the corpse was pretty ripe, and the actors struggled to keep from vomiting throughout the takes. Considering how good the performances were (and how evil the showrunners are), this may have been done deliberately.

Later in the series, Tywin Lannister was introduced in a scene where he was skinning a stag. Again, it was a real stag, and it was really Charles Dance doing the skinning, a task which he was happy to do after reassuring the showrunners he wasn't a vegetarian. He had one day to learn how to skin a deer — according to Dance, "This butcher arrived with a dead animal and they gave me a little room to work in, gave me a sharp knife, and showed me how to skin it and spill the guts into a bucket. The next day, they gave me another dead animal, and we shot it. It was a bloody good time, but it took me two days to get the smell off my hands."

Venison lover Nikolaj Coster-Waldau told Winter is Coming he had hoped the stag would be sent to catering to be served to the cast and crew, but sadly he missed out. There's a joke in there somewhere about Danish actors and stag parties.

They had to ad-lib their own made-up languages

When creating Dothraki (and later Valyrian) for the series, showrunners turned to creative linguist David J. Peterson, who turned the few scattered words and phrases invented by George R.R. Martin, and extrapolated them into detailed, functional languages. This has been invaluable for creating a sense of realism in the show, but there have been a few hiccups along the way.

In one of the early scenes portraying the Dothraki, Jason Momoa's Khal Drogo watched two horny Dothraki braves fight to the death. Producers told him to ad-lib a line, so Momoa used a refrain from the Maori haka war dance: i te waka, or "in the canoe." It wasn't initially subtitled, but Peterson liked the sound of the line so much, he ended up retconning it into the Dothraki language as "Itte oakah!" or "Test your mettle!" The invention of the word oakah in this way would go on to influence how Peterson wrote Dothraki lines throughout the series.

Iain "Jorah Mormont" Glen got into the action as well, when producers forced him to ad-lib a Dothraki line at the last minute. The producers realized they needed Jorah to holler "Take all the gold and jewels!" in Dothraki, so they sent Peterson an email requesting a translation. Trouble was, Peterson was asleep — when he woke up and emailed them the correct translation ("Fichas ei hoshor ma dan!"), the scene was already filmed. The moral of the story: sleep is stupid.

Months later, a producer noticed the discrepancy between the line Peterson provided, and the actual sound of Glen's line — Peterson realized he would need to supply a Dothraki transliteration and translation for the nonsense babbling Glen had improvised. After some effort, Peterson paired Glen's gibberish with a plausible Dothraki expression: Mas ovray movekkhi moskat, or "The loose valuables are for loading." That doesn't have quite the same ring to it but, considering what he had to work with, that's pretty impressive.

Besides, since Jorah Mormont speaks Dothraki as a second language, it only makes sense he'd occasionally say something awkward. We don't really understand Peterson's work or how he does it, but we're glad he's being paid well for all this.

Hurricane Katia vs. the Knights of Summer

Scenes of Renly's camp in Season 2 were meant to be sunny and upbeat, a reflection of the ethos of the "knights of summer" who see war as a game. Problem was, the scenes were filmed in Ireland, where the weather is never predictable, and Hurricane Katia made her stand as a supporter of Stannis. Natalie "Margaery" Dormer ended up nearly frozen due to her costuming during the hurricane (which she mistakenly thought was Hurricane Irene, which hit North America at roughly the same time), and she lamented the scenes weren't shot in sunny Croatia instead. An understandable sentiment, given what the costume department gave her to work with.

In one terrifying moment, gale force winds lifted up a marquee tent filled with extras who were peacefully eating lunch. The tent was wiped out, and five extras were taken to the hospital for treatment. An anonymous extra described the scene: "The floor started to come up, then the side rose up, the roof took off and beams starting falling down. People were getting out whatever way they could. My heart fell. Everyone was screaming. There was bedlam in the whole place." According to Loras Tyrell actor Finn Jones, "Literally the whole extras tent, which was about 1000 extras and all their costumes, took off into the air! It was actually terrifying with things swinging down and people getting knocked out. It was absolute chaos. So that was a real disaster but luckily everyone was OK in the end."

Jason Momoa had a similar story of winds during scenes shot in Gozo where Daenerys walks into a roaring fire. He was relatively lucky: "They shot it in the daytime because they literally lit everything on fire and the winds were so heavy and blew everything away. Hurricane winds. I was dead so I didn't give a s***, but hey! I was in my trailer like 'haha'!"

In short: don't mess with the Storm God. Unless you're Khal Drogo.

They were forced to use tiny Icelandic horses

Iceland provided some beautiful landscapes for the series, but the country came with its own challenges. For one: importing live horses is banned in Iceland, due to fears about diseases being transmitted to the local breeds, so the production crew were forced to use native horses, which are about the size of ponies. Having 6'5" actor Rory McCann riding such a small mount would've looked ridiculous, which is why the Hound and Arya spend so much time walking to the Vale. Any scenes with horses filmed the beasts in the distance behind McCann and Maisie Williams, exploiting what screenwriter Bryan Cogman calls "the beauty of perspective."

This may have been for the best. According to McCann, he had a rocky relationship with the horse he rode in earlier filming, a male steed named Bjork. (Yes, he was named after the female pop star. He's a horse, what does he care?) "We would arrive on set and that horse would look at me and then his ears would go back and the head would drop and then, when [I'd] get on, he'd be shifting from one leg to the other. You could see his face, going, 'Oh, for f***'s sake!' I mean, he hated me."

Meanwhile, Williams was probably lucky Icelandic horses are comparatively small, considering she once fell off her horse while riding and got her foot caught in the reins. She described the situation to the Huffington Post with a charming offhandedness: "Yeah, it was really funny, actually. My leg was, like, caught up by my ear, and I was like, 'Oh, brilliant'." A pretty blase attitude toward being dragged behind a horse, but she's Arya Stark for a reason.

The unnamed executive who was a full-blown pervert

While A Song of Ice and Fire never shies away from sexual imagery, neither does it dwell on it. HBO's Game of Thrones, on the other hand, has been criticized for "sexposition," where dry, dialogue-heavy scenes get livened up by casual nudity. In 2012, SNL made fun of this, with a sketch about two creative consultants on the series: George R.R. Martin, and a 13-year-old boy named Adam Friedberg who adds most of the nudity. He says of his creative process: "I remember there was this one scene where a dude was talking to himself and I was like, why don't we add two naked ladies … Let's just say, the scene started working."

According to director Neil Marshall, the on-set reality isn't too far removed from the SNL parody. In an interview with the Empire podcast, Marshall described the surreal experience of "one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder going 'You can go full front, you know'." The same executive producer would later pull Marshall aside and say, "Everyone else in the series is the serious drama side. I represent the pervert side of the audience, and I'm saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene, so you go ahead and do it."

We'd like to say "and the executive producer's name? Adam Friedberg," but since Marshall wants to continue working in the industry, he didn't deign to name names. Still, you can't prove us wrong.

People just walked around naked, like, all the time

One of the unavoidable issues with so much nudity in the series is the logistics of nudity behind the scenes. Though everyone involved is a professional, sometimes it's just unavoidably funny.

Pedro "Oberyn" Pascal discussed how, during one of the orgy scenes, one of the actresses stayed disrobed between takes. This makes a lot of psychological sense, as repeatedly robing and disrobing in front of everyone could be more uncomfortable and lewd than just staying nude while waiting for the crew to sort their stuff out. Pascal described his amusement at having a naked person wandering around the green room during long breaks, where she spent the time waiting by playing Words With Friends with show creator David Benioff, and sitting next to a visibly uncomfortable Charles Dance while he tried to concentrate on his script. If only we all had Charles Dance's problems.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has a similar philosophy on nudity as part of the job. In an article with GQ, he said "I've seen Sean Bean naked. I've seen Mark Addy. And Lena … We do that at the read-through. We just strip naked and read the script." Considering there were no naked scenes with Jaime Lannister, Ned Stark, and Robert Baratheon (Addy), it either suggests Coster-Waldau finds memorizing his lines easier in the nude, or there's some kind of tense nude sauna scene that got cut out of the Season One script.

Meanwhile, Kit Harington had to spend a lot of time lying naked on a slab as the recently deceased Jon Snow, being washed by Melisandre in preparation for his resurrection. Carice van Houten, who plays Melisandre, didn't make things any less awkward for him. This was the period of filming when the return of Jon Snow was (supposed to be) a massive secret and he was referred to as "LC" on set. It technically meant "Lord Commander," but Houten decided to turn it into an acronym for something much more amusing and rude. Entertainment Weekly couldn't print it, but Jezebel could. We can't say what it is, but you know what it is.

The food was atrocious

One of the great things about A Song of Ice and Fire is the detail in which Martin describes the food of his imaginary world, from the Mediterranean-influenced haute cuisine of King's Landing to the spiced locusts of Slaver's Bay. Don't read his books when hungry is what we're saying. But portraying this in the show often means the actors have to eat a lot in certain scenes, which is difficult with multiple takes.

Sansa Stark is famous for her love of lemon cakes, but it took a bit out of poor Sophie Turner. According to actress Kate Dickie, who played Aunt Lysa, during the filming of a Season 4 scene featuring the two, the emotional shifts were so sudden and complex, the scene had to be shot many times, and Turner had to eat an unreasonable number of lemon cakes in the process. In that season's DVD commentary, Turner revealed her disgust with fans sending her lemon cakes because, "I hate lemon cakes. I can't hate a cake more than lemon cakes, and I had to eat like 50 of [them]." To be fair, there's no cake so good that eating 50 of them under studio lights wouldn't put you off for life.

Rory McCann, meanwhile, suffered with fake ale. It took between 10-12 takes to nail the scene where Hound takes Polliver's drink, with McCann downing a flagon of food coloring-spiked water each time. Immediately after they accepted the last take, McCann ran outside and threw up, which makes you wonder why he didn't just drink real ale the whole time, if he was going to do that.

Still, that's not as bad as what happened to Josef Altin and Mark Stanley, who play the Night's Watchmen Pyp and Grenn. In one scene, they're required to eat some gruel in the Castle Black mess hall, so evil production designer Gemma Jackson made it as disgusting as possible, and didn't tell them. Altin refused to eat it entirely, and Stanley made a great effort but couldn't bring himself to swallow. Exactly what Jackson did to make it so disgusting is unknown, but considering they were filming in Iceland, home of urine-fermented shark and sour lamb testicles, we can certainly speculate.

That horse heart Daenerys Targaryen ate was the most disgusting thing ever

As bad as the above experiences were, they don't compare with the suffering endured by Emilia Clarke, during the scene when Daenerys eats a stallion's heart to prove her worthiness as a Dothraki. Clarke was actually eating an edible prop heart she had been assured would taste like Gummi Bears.

It did not taste like Gummi Bears.

Clarke described it instead as "sort of a congealed jam kind of thing. On the outtakes, there will be me heaving into a bucket. It's such a reflex, when you taste something that's just so revolting, you kind of instantly just want to get rid of it. It's safe to say that I didn't eat lunch that day."

Propmaster Gordon Fitzgerald designed the fake heart to have just the right look and consistency. "It really needed to provide some visible resistance when she bites into it. We settled on the same mature of gelatin gummy bears are made of and it worked wonderfully — right up until the moment Emilia almost threw up." Which is why propmasters should be forced to eat their own creations before they're fed to actresses.

What's worse was, the heart had to be given regular injections to stay moist, involving fake blood with the vague taste of bleach. In the end, Clarke was covered in the sticky stuff from head to toe, and kept adhering to everything she touched for a long time after the scene was shot. In fact, she disappeared from the set for a while due to it — she was stuck to her toilet seat. After all that, it makes us wonder if it wouldn't have been easier (and less disgusting) to just have Emilia Clarke eat a real horse's heart.