By and large, author George R.R. Martin was extremely happy with the debut season of HBO’s Game of Thrones. The casting process — which he actively participated in — discovered so many ideal unknowns, the show handled some of his iconic moments perfectly (“The death of Ned Stark could not have been done better,” Martin has said), and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss managed to add new layers to certain characters (such Cersei Lannister, as seen during her chat with Robert Baratheon about their ruined marriage).
There were, however, two scenes in the show’s first season in 2011 that bugged the bestselling author – and both were due to the production trying to make the most epic TV series of all time on a budget that was then considered sizable ($6 million per episode), yet far from what was needed to pull off the author’s vision.
The scene that annoyed him the most was just “fixed” by his Thrones‘ prequel House of the Dragon. In the first season of GoT, King Robert embarked on an ill-fated hunt through the woods along with a few others when he was gored by a boar.
“Where we really fell down in terms of budget was my least favorite scene in the entire show, in all eight seasons: King Robert goes hunting,” Martin explained in the book Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon. “Four guys walking on foot through the woods carrying spears and Robert is giving Renly shit. In the book, Robert goes off hunting, we get word he was gored by a boar, and they bring him back and he dies. So I never [wrote a hunting scene]. But I knew what a royal hunting party was like. There would have been a hundred guys. There would have been pavilions. There would have been huntsmen. There would have been dogs. There would have been horns blowing — that’s how a king goes hunting! He wouldn’t have just been walking through the woods with three of his friends holding spears hoping to meet a boar.”
Martin’s expansive description is exactly what Dragon portrayed in its third episode when it chronicled King Viserys’ hunting party.
Interestingly, the other scene from the first season of Thrones that frustrated Martin due to budget constraints also received a Dragon do-over: The jousting tourney. While the sequence in Thrones was highly effective in staging some compelling action with practical effects along with introducing some crucial King Landing court intrigue, Martin’s original vision for the sequence was more like the Super Bowl of Westeros.
“There were a number of points we had to cut back,” Martin said of the original jousting scene. “The jousting tournament was one of them. A tournament in the Middle Ages sponsored by the king and the Capital was a huge thing. And [co-executive producer Bryan Cogman] wrote a faithful version [in the original script]. There were dozens of knights, you saw eight different jousts, you got a sense of pageantry and competitors rising and falling and the commoners betting. We should’ve been at least as big as A Knights Tale but we couldn’t even achieve that. The only jousts we saw were essential to the plot. Still, I thought it worked pretty well.”
Once again, Dragon staged its own version of a jousting tournament in the show’s debut episode, with an extended sequence in front of a very large (albeit CG-enhanced) crowd. Obviously, Dragon having a budget of nearly $20 million per episode helped the production go a bit bigger.
House of the Dragon airs Sunday nights on HBO.