Although Game of Thrones would become the biggest pop-culture phenomenon of the past decade (not counting the final season), the series experienced some very rough growing pains. The original pilot of the series was famously scrapped and almost entirely reshot with several characters recast with new actors, and one of the biggest casting changes was Daenerys Targaryen. The character was originally played by Tamzin Merchant (Carnival Row) before she was replaced by Emilia Clarke, and the original Daenerys broke her silence about that original Game of Thrones pilot while speaking with Entertainment Weekly.
“Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson,” Tamzin Merchant told EW. “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… 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.” Merchant added that 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.” Actors get recast all the time, but Merchant was forced to watch the show she was briefly associated with become bigger with each passing season.
It was kind of funny riding to auditions on buses with Emilia Clarke’s face on it. Like, ‘oh my mode of transport is quite interesting today!’ It’s been a thing I felt like I watched unfold and it’s been fantastic for the film industry in Northern Ireland and Croatia, and that has been really great.
In Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, an uncensored tale of the making of the series, Game of Thrones co-executive producer Bryan Cogman said that he thought “Tamzin did a really good job. It’s hard to say why things didn’t work out. Ultimately, it’s obvious Emilia Clarke was born to play that part.” Merchant stars alongside Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne in Carnival Row, Amazon’s fantasy series that revolves around “mythical creatures who have fled their war-torn homeland and gathered in the city as tensions are simmering between citizens and the growing immigrant population.” Production on the second season wrapped up last year, but Amazon hasn’t confirmed when the series will return.