HBO and the Game of Thrones showrunners know what’s at stake if huge plot points get revealed earlier than anticipated. It’s an issue that almost every major show at every major network has to deal with.
Kit Harington, who plays Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, told late night host Jimmy Kimmel that in order to throw off paparazzi who take long-range photos of the actors filming scenes in Europe, the cast filmed three additional fake scenes.
“We put together people in situations where we knew the paparazzi was around so they would take photos and end up on the internet,” Harington said. “So we’d fake scenes so people would think [Harington gets cut off here, but it seems like he was going to say something along the lines of ‘that’s the truth.’]”
Kimmel responds that the entire process seems like a giant pain in the ass, which Harington laughs at. While it might seem like an obsessive and questionable tactic, Game of Thrones isn’t the first show to go out of its way to try and trick fans into thinking something was real. Both The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad have had to figure out ways to deceive paparazzi and reporters who linger around sets, taking photos and writing up what they see.
Shonda Rhimes, the creator of shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, told The Hollywood Reporter during a roundtable interview that they purposely come up with fake sides — the specific pages of a script that refer to a character’s appearance in a scene — in order to throw people off the trail.
“The media will report something that’s going to happen on Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s completely wrong because we have an assistant who spends all of her time writing fake sides,” Rhimes said.
She isn’t the only showrunner to use this kind of tactic. In 2012, The Walking Dead’s then showrunner, Glen Mazzara, spoke about how they decided to forego a paper trail altogether in an attempt to lessen the chances that someone would forget a script or leaks. Still, Mazzara said, they had to write fake scenes just in case someone did get their hands on it.
“We have to write phony audition scenes and, you know, it’s a thing,” Mazzara told The Hollywood Reporter. “There are people out there who just want to spoil a show. It’s impossible to trace.”
The Walking Dead is perhaps a perfect example of just how far a show is willing to go to throw people off. In the show’s fifth season, one of its most popular characters, Glenn, appeared to have been killed off. For weeks, fans questioned what was going on — with many pointing to paparazzi photos of actor Steven Yeun in costume and on set as proof that he was still alive. The Walking Dead even removed Yeun’s name from the opening credits in the following episode to make it appear like the actor wasn’t returning to the show.
Eventually, it turned out that Glenn wasn’t actually dead, but current showrunner Scott M. Gimple took that same kind of precaution into the sixth season finale and seventh season premiere. The season six finale introduced Negan, the wicked villain, and his favorite weapon, a baseball bat named Lucille. Fans knew that Negan killed someone with the baseball bat, but in order to keep it a secret, they had every actor involved in the show film a death scene. Current showrunner Scott M. Gimple has previously spoken about how difficult it can be to film in this new era — when drones that take 4K video fly secretly overhead.
“With the advent of drones, it can become such a game of cat and mouse that as far as sneaking a peek at the actors walking to set, we want to just keep our actors safe and the people who might be looking safe — like [when they're] in the street,” Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter.
Showrunners, directors and actors are all aware of the world they’re living in. When Mark Hamill spoke to Polygon last year for an interview, he equated participating in a Star Wars movie to being in the CIA.
“Man, I can’t say anything about anything. It’s like working for the CIA," Hamill said when Polygon asked about whether he was happy to have a full role in Episode VIII as opposed to what was little more than a cameo in The Force Awakens. "You get your pages in the morning, and they take them from you as you walk so they can shred them before it somehow leaks. You have security lines you have to walk through, both to and from set. And, not to mention, you have to wear these big monk hoods to protect your costume from drones.”
While it may seem outlandish for HBO to spend time filming three unused, fake scenes for Game of Thrones, consider how important certain deaths and reveals are to the show’s success. It makes total sense that HBO would want to do everything it could, including spending a few extra dollars to throw paparazzi and reporters off, in order to protect its upcoming episodes.
Game of Thrones returns for its seventh season on July 16 at 9 p.m. ET.