The stars of Game of Thrones not only have to be wary of cunning deceptions while in character, but backstage as well. Below are three never-before-published tales of backstage pranks revealed by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, along with two previously reported acts of punk’d-dom that fans might have missed. Targets include Kit Harington, Rose Leslie, John Bradley and Alfie Allen — plus, one brave actor even pranked the showrunners themselves.
1. John Bradley’s Ridiculous New Costume.
During the making of season 6, Kit Harington (Jon Snow) and Hannah Murray (Gilly) asked the producers to help them play a wicked trick on their costar and friend, John Bradley (Samwell Tarley). Explains Weiss: “Hannah has long had the sh–tiest costumes on Game of Thrones; she’s been in a burlap sack for five years. She was so happy that she finally gets into a real piece of clothing this year. So Kit and Hannah thought it would be funny to play a joke on John and let him think he’s going to get a new costume too.”
The producers wrangled the show’s costume department to stage a mock fitting for Bradley in a fake costume before shooting began. “We thought it would be great to make the costume ludicrous, but just believable enough to not know it was a gag — so he’d think he would be wearing this on screen,” Weiss says. The result, as you can see in the exclusive photo above, “was all rental stuff, very Henry the VIII, with Tudor bloomers and a massive codpiece that wasn’t even the same color as the rest of the costume.”
Bradley dutifully went to his fitting, and photos were taken. “I looked so bad and ridiculous, it was unbelievable,” the actor tells us. “There was a huge vulgar codpiece — though flattering, to be sure. The reason I bought it is because we’d never seen Sam at home before, and [his parents think] he’s an idiot. [Maybe] Sam dressed like an idiot before he came to Castle Black.”
When Bradley got to the set to begin filming, the costume wasn’t there. That’s when Benioff let him in on the secret. “You always think you’re not going to fall for those [pranks],” Bradley says. “You always think, ‘I’ll see through that,’ and I cannot believe I didn’t see through it! … I don’t think piracy is hurting the show too much — they’ve still got a bit of budget to set aside and make me look like Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.”
Adds Weiss: “He was such a good sport about it, but [in the photo] you can see the look on his face…”
2. Rose Leslie’s Recital.
The showrunners also once played a joke on Rose Leslie after they learned the Ygritte actress dreaded the idea of singing in public. “We heard that Rose was afraid of singing,” Benioff says. “There’s a song in the books that Ygritte sings, ‘The Last of the Giants…'” The earnest song by Thrones author George R.R. Martin is 20 lines long and contains lyrics such as “Oooooooh, I am the last of the giants, so learn well the words of my song, or when I am gone the singing will fade, and the silence shall last long and long.” So naturally, the showrunners sent the actress a bogus script with a scene that has her performing the entire song on screen.
3. Bran Kills Theon.
At the end of season 2, Theon Greyjoy loses control of Winterfell, and actor Alfie Allen initially wasn’t sure if he was coming back to the show for another season or not. Allen was then made certain that Theon was a goner when he received the finale script, which concluded with young Bran Stark declaring to Theon, “This is my Winterfell, not yours,” and then stabbing him in the heart. Even though it meant leaving the show, Allen says he thought this was a great plot twist. “I thought it was cool,” Allen told us. “I went on a holiday, and David and Dan 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.”
4. Jon Snow’s Horrifying Disfigurement.
During the first season, the showrunners decided to pull one over on handsome Harington and his luxuriant mane of hair. Remember the scene where Snow sets a wight ablaze at Castle Black while defending Lord Commander Mormont in episode 8? Harington originally was sent a very different version of the scene. The script page can be found in co-executive producer Bryan Cogman’s book, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones: Seasons 1 & 2. “Jon plunges his hand into the fire, seizes the burning drapes, and FLINGS them at the dead man, engulfing them both in flames,” reads the script. And then after the action concludes: “… 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. Despite what must be the extreme agony of permanent disfigurement, Jon stands stoically by his master’s side.” Mormont then says to Jon: “Gods, boy. I was wrong about you. You’re a ranger, through and through!” And the scene’s script description concludes with this: “Jon smiles, his teeth shining brightly in his destroyed face. Mormont, sickened, has to look away.”
Harington read the script, then arrived on set to perform the scene, Weiss says they explained to the actor that, “HBO was worried the Jon Snow storyline was too Harry Potter, and they wanted to do something to make it darker. They thought he was such a strong actor that he could handle it. We kept this up until we started laughing. He was a remarkably good sport about the whole thing.”
5. Jaime Lannister’s Unauthorized Haircut.
Not all the Thrones pranks are played by the producers. Jaime Lannister actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau decided to turn the tables on the showrunners after learning that his character was going to have a slight hairstyle change.
“Nikolaj wrote this Angry Actor Email about how he was very upset that we were changing his hairstyle,” Weiss recalls. “He said he felt the need to own his hair because his hair was part of his character, and he was going to take it upon himself to get his own haircut that he felt best reflected Jaime Lannister as he saw him. He said he hoped we’d understand and he’d send us a picture shortly.” A day passed, no picture was sent. Another day, still no picture. “Finally, 70 hours later he sent us a picture of him with this military buzzcut. He shaved all his hair off!” The producers were alarmed, especially since Coster-Waldau had some reshoots scheduled and now the footage wouldn’t match. “We thought we’ll have to get a Jaimie Lannister wig at last minute at tremendous expense,” Weiss says. “HBO’s lawyers were calling his lawyers…”
And then, just as the whole Kingslayer hair crisis was spiraling out of control …
“He emailed us back and told us the picture was from five years ago — he hadn’t cut his hair at all.”
Ah payback. What could be more Game of Thrones than that? The cast remembers!
This Week’s Thrones Coverage: Read our deep-dive recap of “Blood of My Blood,” an interview with co-executive producer Bryan Cogman about the return of that character, and listen to the latest episode of our Game of Thrones Weekly podcast, “Coldhands, Warm Heart,” streaming below (and subscribe via iTunes).