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 Game of Thrones 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.

When someone gets hurt they're supposed to scream "banana"

As far as we know, there are no bananas in Westeros. Maybe in some weird corner of Dorne or something, but we really haven't seen a whole lot of our favorite characters dining on banana cream pie after they're done tucking into those spiced locusts, so we're going to say bananas are a rare commodity.

That makes "banana" the perfect code word to use on the set of Game of Thrones because it's not likely to be the sort of word that might randomly show up in a script. Stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam told Entertainment Weekly that everyone involved in a major battle sequence or potentially dangerous stunts knows to use "banana" as a safe word. "When we're doing these battles and people are screaming and crying and dying, you might not know if anyone's in trouble," he said. "So our safe word was always 'banana.' If someone started shouting 'banana!' at the top of their voice, you'd know they're in trouble."

Or maybe that rare banana shipment from Dorne just showed up at the gates. You never know.

Showrunners gave Kit Harington a fake script, just for fun

Face facts, Jaime Lannister. Jon Snow is the handsomest guy on the show. And based on the way he pulls off the whole smoldering thing, Kit Harington is very aware of his status as the handsomest guy on the show.

Now, if you were a showrunner for a series that featured a smolderingly handsome dude who is acutely aware of how smolderingly handsome he is, would you knock him down a couple pegs if you got the opportunity? Of course you would.

In Season 1, Entertainment Weekly says Harington got a fake script for the episode where he uses fire to protect Lord Commander Mormont from a wight. In the fake script, it isn't just the wight that burns, Jon gets caught in the flames, too, and the scene ends like this: "When the fire is finally out, we see by torchlight that all of Jon's hair has burnt down to the scalp. The skin on the top half of his face has been melted in the extreme heat, blistered and pustulant. … Jon smiles, his teeth shining brightly in his destroyed face. Mormont, sickened, has to look away."

Harington, ever the professional, arrived for the shoot, and Dan Weiss explained that HBO wanted to do something about the fact that his character was "too Harry Potter." "We kept this up until we started laughing," he said. "He was a remarkably good sport about the whole thing."

Then they gave Alfie Allen a fake script

Poor Theon. No other Game of Thrones character has suffered quite the same horrors and humiliations, and no other actor has faced quite the same challenges in bringing a character to life. Alfie Allen had to transition from arrogant to broken to redeemed, and that takes some real acting chops, mental gymnastics, and possibly even some actual emotional distress.

Even so, when producers were trying to decide who to torment with a stupid prank, for some reason they picked Alfie Allen because he hadn't already been through enough, apparently. Granted, this was before Reek so most of the character torment was in the future. Perhaps they were just warming him up? Anyway, according to Entertainment Weekly, producers sent Allen a fake Season 2 finale script. In the script, Bran Stark stabs Theon in the heart and reclaims Winterfell.

We're not sure what producers expected, but it probably wasn't this: "I thought it was cool," Allen told Entertainment Weekly. "I went on a holiday, and [showrunners] were all thinking I was going to call up going, 'Hold on a minute whoa-whoa-whoa!' But I just got on with it. Then they had to make it clear to me later on it was all a joke."

Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner were smooching on set

Sansa and Arya are sisters, but they mostly dislike each other. Mostly. We've seen them come together in recent episodes, but that contentious relationship goes back a long way. So how do Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams feel about each other in real life? Well, they don't dislike each other, that's for sure.

"People always think Maisie and I are a couple," Turner told Glamour. "I mean, I am obsessed with her, so you never know." In fact Williams and Turner describe themselves as "best friends" and they say it's been that way since they met during Game of Thrones auditions at the ages of 12 and 13. And when they're on set, they aren't above pranking everyone with some pretend romance. "Even though we're [Game of Thrones] sisters, we tried to sneak a kiss into every scene we did together to freak everyone out a bit," Turner said.

Williams told Glamour that she doesn't expect she and Turner will ever be reunited on screen. "Everyone on set is sick and tired of us being so loud and laughing so much," she said. "Game of Thrones will be some of the funniest days of my life." Which is odd coming from the girl who puts herself to sleep at night by counting people she wants to murder. We'll call that more of an odd-funny than a haha-funny. We're glad you love each other in real life, though.

Queen Elizabeth visited the Iron Throne but wouldn't sit on it

Is there a single person in the whole world who wouldn't sit on the Iron Throne, you know, if it were right there and Cersei Lannister wasn't already sitting on it? Because even if you don't watch Game of Thrones, even if you have no idea what the Iron Throne is or what it represents, the thing is cool. In fact it's more than just cool. It's awesome, it's badass, and it's a freaking work of art. Anyone who sits on it is going to look like a king. You could put a chihuahua on the Iron Throne and it would look like the enemy-smiting army-commanding king of all dogs. And cats, why not?

According to NBC, though, yes. Yes, there actually is one person who turned down the opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne, and it was actual royalty: Elizabeth II, Queen of England. Uh … Elizabeth, are you saying you're too good for the Iron Throne? Maybe it doesn't sparkle enough? Millions of people would give anything to sit on that thing and you were all, "No thanks, where's my tea."

Well, there are some photos of the Queen standing next to the Iron Throne, anyway. But who are we kidding? No one wants to see the Queen standing next to the Iron Throne. It was like the world's most amazing photo op, and we got nothing.

This script will self-destruct

The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones has been pretty over the top in terms of security, but the show's secrets have always been closely guarded. In recent years there haven't been any paper scripts, for example, because it's too easy for scripts to get lost, stolen, or otherwise leaked. Sophie Turner told DigitalSpy that the actors would get their pages on an app the day before shooting. "So we would have to learn it all the day before," she said. "And once you've read it, it disappears 24 hours later, and you can never access it again. It's tighter than the White House security."

The scripts are so closely guarded, in fact, that no one really knows ahead of time who is going to be on set. The call sheets don't even list the actors and characters by name — they have code names. That way no one can obtain any clandestine information about which characters are going to be interacting in a particular shot.

It seems like a lot of trouble, but spoilers are sort of like poisoned wine — it sure does look delicious, but you're going to be really pissed off that you drank it. Showrunners are merely trying to protect us all from a horrible, horrible death. By spoiler. Or something. Just shut up and eat your popcorn.

They put together some fake scenes to trick the paparazzi

So as it turns out, producers are not only keeping all the show's secrets under Fort Knox-level security, but they are also not above trying to decieve viewers into thinking they know the show's secrets. That's almost cruel, but it's also kind of hilarious.

In 2017, Kit Harington told Jimmy Kimmel that showrunners regularly practice that kind of deception. "We did some fake scenes," he said. "We put together people in situations where we knew the paparazzi was around so they'd take photos, and that would get on the internet to fake scenes." They even went so far as to dress Sibel Kekilli up as her long-dead character Shae, and then bring her to the set so spies would think she was going to be resurrected.

But really, just how serious is the threat of Game of Thrones espionage? "One guy hiked 18 hours on foot in the middle of Spain's La Mancha desert to take pictures," showrunner Dan Weiss told Entertainment Weekly. And in 2017, a hacker stole Game of Thrones scripts, posted them online, and then demanded a ransom of about $6 million in bitcoin in exchange for not doing it again. Yep, it's that serious.