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While it may be hard to believe, considering the massive, immediate, runaway success the show had upon its premiere, Game of Thrones did have an infamously shaky road to its later dominance on HBO. If you weren't already a fan of the books or don't pay attention to the development of things like TV shows, though, you can be forgiven for not knowing that the show's original pilot was reshot and many of the actors recast, including Tamzin Merchant, who had played Daenerys Targaryen. Now, Merchant is talking about what she learned while filming that ill-fated pilot.
Obviously, many of us would look at the fact that Tamzin Merchant ended up not playing Dany, the eventual Mother of Dragons and, later, killer of innocents, as something that the actress missed out on. Game of Thrones quickly became a worldwide sensation after it debuted in mid-April of 2011, and Dany was one of the standout characters, making a star out of Emilia Clarke. However, Merchant, who's also appeared in The Tudors, Salem, Supergirl, and currently stars on Carnival Row, sees it quite differently. Here's what she recently told Entertainment Weekly about the experience:
Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson. It was an affirmation about listening to my instincts and following them, because I tried to back out of that situation and, during the contract process, I did back out. I was talked back into it by some persuasive people. Then I found myself naked and afraid in Morocco and riding a horse that was clearly much more excited to be there than I was.
Oh, man. We can all agree that none of that sounds good, right? Even though Tamzin Merchant, who was 21 at the time of filming, would eventually be replaced anyway, she clearly learned a good lesson during her casting and while working on the first pilot for Game of Thrones. Seeing as how she backed out before filming had even begun, it's seems clear that she was not happy about parts of the process. But, I can imagine that there would have been a lot of people who really wanted to get the pilot filmed, and who probably thought Merchant was about to throw away a massive opportunity, and she bowed to the pressure to rejoin the show.
It's probably hard to fully tell, before you begin a project such as Game of Thrones, how it will impact your life. Emilia Clarke has spoken quite openly in recent years about feeling pressured to do the nudity which was in a lot of the Game of Thrones scripts for her (particularly early on), and seeing as how Merchant described her time on the pilot as her being "naked and afraid," it sounds like that was at least part of her problem with the work, as well.
Basically, Merchant got an on the job lesson in trusting your feelings in the moment, and changing course if need be, even if it ends up annoying others. She continued:
It was a lesson that if my guts are telling me a story isn't something I'm excited to tell, then I shouldn't try to be excited just because other people are telling me that I should be excited. I didn't have any training as an actor, I only have my instincts. And what excites me and what drives me is a compelling story and a compelling character. So for me, Game of Thrones was never that. I think it's a testament to Emilia Clarke for making that role iconic — she was obviously excited to tell that story, and she was epic and excellent. But for me, it wasn't in my heart to tell it.
Tamzin Merchant went on to say that it was also pretty much a blessing that she was fired from the show, because, had Game of Thrones still gone on to the pop culture prominence that it did with her playing Dany, she doesn't think she'd be either the creative person that she is today or have the time she requires for what her "soul needs to do," so it really seems that everything worked out for her.
You can, of course, relive the Tamzin Merchant-less Game of Thrones in its entirety on HBO Max, and if you'd like to see the actress in action you can watch her on Carnival Row Season 1, on Amazon.