Even those who don’t watch television know about Game of Thrones, the acclaimed HBO series based on the A Song Of Ice And Fire fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin. Everyone knows about the vigorous helpings of sex, violence, and epic fantasy lore that the show delivers each week, but what’s been discovered behind the scenes might be even more fascinating.
You’d think that with all of the wonton violence and graphic sexuality on screen, the reality behind the scenes might pale in comparison. On the contrary, we’ve discovered a surplus of weird, wild, and wonderful facts that shed light, and raise a few eyebrows, on the creation of the worldwide phenomenon.
1- Torrential Popularity
Game of Thrones is the most pirated show of all time. Its worldwide popularity has shattered records in more ways than one: beside massive ratings and DVD sales, the show has been downloaded illegally more than any other show in television history. This may be set to change with HBO’s new Now service, available to those without a cable subscription.
2- Ireland Loves Game Of Thrones
According to official reports, Game of Thrones has helped Northern Ireland’s economy to the tune of over $100 million, because of tourism related to locations where the show films.
3- It’s One of the Most Expensive Series Ever
HBO spends approximately $6 million to produce each single episode of Game of Thrones. With a sprawling cast, epic location shoots, and custom sets galore, it’s a good thing the show’s popularity keeps the money flowing. Standout episodes like the sea battle filled “Blackwater” have rang up at over $8 million!
4- Worldwide Film Crew
The blockbuster drama series has one of the most extensive collections of filming locations ever, being shot over three continents and in six different countries. The series is often filmed out of chronological order, with scenes recorded in different countries simultaneously to meet story deadlines.
5- “Who Is Jon Snow’s Mother?”
In an effort to convince author George R.R. Martin to let them adapt the famed novel series into a television show, creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss approached him with an answer to the question, “Who is Jon Snow’s mother?” Thankfully for all of us, they surprised the skeptical writer and answered correctly. The rest of us, both readers of the book and viewers of the show, have yet to find the answer.
6- Speaking of Jon Snow: His Butt Was Faked
You probably remember that image of Jon Snow from behind, nude in a cave with wildling love Ygritte back in season three. It might come as a disappointment to find out that you weren’t seeing actor Kit Harington’s real rear end. Harington revealed in an interview, “the only time you saw my ass, it wasn’t my ass.” A crew member bravely stepped in after an injury left Harington unable to film, having to cut his own long hair to match the actor’s set of dark locks.
7- You’ll Never See The Original Pilot
One of the most well known facts about television is that pilots are filmed first, to get the series approval and funding. In the case of Game of Thrones, an entire pilot was filmed – with different actors in the important roles of Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen – and scrapped, before the show we now know and love was born.
8- There Are 70 Different Ways To Say Hodor
How many ways could a man possibly shout his own name? Several dozen, in fact! Kristian Nairn, the nearly 7 foot actor who portrays the gentle giant with a vocabulary of one word, says that there are about 70 different ways to pronounce “Hodor.” Depending on the situation, there can be a scared, happy, excited, and angry Hodor, among others. The nuances of the word are paired with the scene. To get in on the action yourself, you can download a Hodor app from the Google Play Store, to start annoying your friends in a whole new way.
9- Inspiring Baby Names
“Arya” has become the fastest-growing baby name in the United States. In addition to inspiring this trend, another Thrones character has influenced a new generation of kids: over 150 babies were named Khaleesi in 2012 alone.
10- The Costumes Are Aged For Realism
In an effort to avoid the cheap “Renaissance fair” look that many historical and fantasy productions endure, the costume designers behind Game of Thrones put each piece of clothing through a two week aging process. This gives the costumes a grainy, lived-in look that pays off on screen in every close up shot. The Emmy Awards earned by designer Michele Clapton attest to the importance of this detail.
11- The Costumes Also Hide Secret Messages
There are innumerable details woven into the costumes that portray story and character details for those willing to take the time to look. Khaleesi’s blue dress features dragon scales, while Cersei, a character prone to calling people “little bird,” often has bird imagery sewn into her clothing. “It’s so easy to draw a pretty dress in a fun way,” says costume designer Michele Clapton. “But this is so much more about finding the right look and telling so much more about that character, and that’s what I really, really enjoy: the storytelling.”
12- The Hair Is Very Fake And Very Expensive
Along with the traditional costumes, the Emmy-nominated team behind the look of Game of Thrones has to create an amazing array of wigs. Each platinum wig that Emilia Clarke wears over her natural brown locks is 2 feet long and made of real human hair. The realistic results speak for themselves, looking so natural you’d never guess that each one costs around $7000 a piece.
13- Westeros Found Religion
Although it’s widely recognized as a clear inspiration for the series, creator George R.R. Martin notes that the one major aspect of life that Lord of the Rings ignores is religion. For a fluid, holistic fantasy world to be believable, he realized it needed belief systems. Religion inspires people to the heights of both good and bad, and he wanted his lore to reflect that fact. Thus, Thrones is populated with conflicting belief systems, giving motivation and solace to a wide range of its characters.
14- It Will End On Its Own Terms
Because the show has run at a brilliant clip, year-in and -out since 2011, it will catch up with the notoriously glacial pace of the books soon. With author Martin on track to publish the final two books soon, but no publishing date announced, the show planners have already worked out a plan to finish their creation whether the books are done or not. Martin himself has shared the loose arc of the end-game so that they’ll end in the same place, but don’t be surprised if the adaptation continues to diverge from the source material as it reaches the end – which will supposedly happen with season 8.
15- Top Billed Actor Changed
After winning an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister, Peter Dinklage moved into the prime spot on the credits list during the second season of the show. With former “star” Sean Bean losing his head as doomed patriarch Ned Stark in the first season, the road was paved for Dinklage’s ascent to the top. The Hollywood veteran was already well known for roles in a variety of films over the years, but has seen his recognition explode with the ongoing show’s popularity.
16- Entire New Languages Were Invented For The Show
While the books make scant mention of what fictional languages Dothraki and Valyrian actually sound like, the show had free reign to flesh them out. Because the audiences have to actually hear the languages spoken on-screen, a believable dictionary’s worth of words and grammar were developed for each. Linguistic expert David J. Petersen was added to the production to conjure a 4,000 word dictionary for Dothraki alone. Despite inventing it, he says that fanboys still try to correct him on the internet.
17- Dire Wolves Were Real
The larger-than-life wolves seen on the show, given to each of the Stark children in season 1, are based on real life animals that have been extinct for a couple millennia. These creatures were at least a quarter larger than the biggest wolves alive today, so the Northern Inuit dogs used on production have been digitally enhanced, as you can see in the image above.
18. The Opening Credits Are Award Winning Themselves
The iconic opening sequence was created by digital filmmaking studio Elastic, which also produces title sequences for shows The Americans, True Detective, and Masters of Sex. With inspiration drawn from Lord of the Rings maps, the creators wanted to go beyond traditional fantasy imagery with their distinctive “world within a sphere” look. The virtual camera soars over a landscape, swooping in for close looks on each location the given episode will take place in. Again, the attention to detail has paid off handsomely with Emmy winnings.
19- The Music Is Tops, Too
With all of the Emmys for acting, costumes, and more, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the title song has won an Emmy Award in the Best Music category. The hum-worthy tune has gone viral and, along with the show itself, inspired fanciful references, like an entire trilogy of South Park episodes where the string melody is replaced with the word “weiner.”
20- Brienne Doesn’t Know Her Own Birthday
Gwendoline Christie, who plays the towering female warrior, told RadioTimes, “My age? No one knows. Not even my mum. I’ve lost track.”
21- Cersei Can’t Stop Dropping Spoilers
Recently, star Lena Heady, the actress who plays Cersei Lannister, used her Instagram account to disperse hints about upcoming plot threads on the show. They weren’t spoilers in the truest sense, but clues to amuse those in the know: people who have read the books. Months before the ultra-gory fight between The Mountain and the Viper, she shared image of herself pretending to gouge out the eyes of Pedro Pascal, mirroring his eventual and disturbing demise on the show.
22- Rock Stars Have Snuck Onto The Show
First it was Gary Lightbody, lead singer of Snow Patrol, tucked into the gang that captures Jaime and Brienne in season 3. Then Will Champion, drummer for Coldplay, appeared at the notorious Red Wedding. Finally an entire band, Icelandic rockers Sigur Rós (pictured above), performed at King Joffrey’s ill-fated wedding in 2014. It’s become a fun game of “Where’s Waldo” to spot musicians – often fans of the show themselves – cropping up across Westeros.
23- Aemon Targaryen Is Blind In Real Life
The last surviving member of the Targaryen clan except Daenerys herself, Aemon is the blind Maester serving the Night’s Watch with his apolitical wisdom well into his hundredth year. In real life, actor Peter Vaughan is partially blind himself, enhancing the accuracy of his portrayal on the show. Vaughan is a screen veteran, particularly known for his roles in Terry Gilliam’s 1980s fantasy epics, such as Time Bandits and Baron Munchausen.
24- Dragons Are Geese And Cats?
If you’ve been attacked by a flock of geese, you know that the large birds can be pretty threatening, if not exactly dangerous. However, they were inspiration enough for the effects artists who design the CGI dragons on Game of Thrones. The movement of the fictional dragons was modeled on the playful way that geese move when on the ground, and modeled on the behavior of bats while in flight. Finally, for scenes in which the dragons are seen relaxing with their “mother,” the dragons are stroked lovingly by Daenerys in the same way one pets a house cat.
25- The Queen Of Thorns Was An Avenger
But probably not the Avengers you’re thinking of. Diana Rigg, who plays the scheming Queen of Thorns, was previously most known for her iconic role as Emma Peel on the 1960s British fantasy spy series The Avengers. A sex symbol in her time, it’s not hard to see the relation to her character, grandmother to one of the prominent young beauties on the show.
26- George R.R. Martin Prefers Sex To Violence
Martin sees the fact that audiences seem more comfortable with violence than sex to be an utter shame. The author has been on record as saying, “I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a penis entering a vagina, and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness. Ultimately, in the history of the world, penises entering vaginas have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure; axes entering skulls, well, not so much.” He’s really got a point, there.
We’ve covered a weird range of facts about Game of Thrones today, moving from the action on screen to behind the camera, to the past and back. There are as many colorful anecdotes about the creation of this television landmark as there are people in the fictional realm of Westeros.
With a massive cast, sprawling location shoots, and labyrinthine storyline, Game of Thrones is an absolute treasure trove of fun facts and weird behind-the-scenes information. While our list seems comprehensive, we’ve only scratched the surface here. There’s an overabundance of detail and attention that goes into and behind every single episode, so you’re sure to have a few tidbits of information tucked away that we missed. Let us know and help craft more ridiculously fun lists like this!