The last time we checked in with Carnival Row star and The Hatmakers author Tamzin Merchant (Salem, Supergirl), she was teasing what viewers can expect from Imogen Spurnrose during the second season of Amazon Prime's Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne-starring alt-Victorian fantasy drama. For this go-around, Merchant is reflecting back on her time as Daenerys Targaryen on HBO's Game of Thrones. What's that? Emilia Clarke is Daenerys Targaryen? Oh yeah, but before she was? Merchant held the role- at least for one outing. that "outing" was the 2009 pilot that was reportedly so bad that it inspired George RR Martin's infamous "Red Wedding" scene. Okay, we made that up… but it was reportedly so bad that it resulted in sweeping changes both in front of and behind the cameras that would result in the global phenomenon that's currently looking to spin-off a number of series. One of those changes was Merchant being released from her contract.
Speaking about the pilot publically for the first time, Merchant looks back on the experience now as a "great lesson" on a number of levels. "Shooting that pilot was a really great lesson," the Carnival Row actress explained during an interview with 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." Merchant is referencing her time filming the pilot overseas, where she had nude scenes with Jason Momoa's and a story from the set that a sex scene was interrupted by an aroused horse.
The biggest lesson that Merchant learned from the experience? Trust her instincts first before others. "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," she explained. "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."
Reflecting back more than ten years later, Merchant sees parting ways with the project was something that benefitted her creatively in the long-run. "If I hadn't been released from my contract – I think it would have taken me to a place far from the creative person that I am today. Also, if I was very rich and famous, I wouldn't have time to do all the things that my soul needs to do. Expressing myself creatively is a need that's more important than any amount of riches that I could have gained from that part," Merchant explained. "If I did I think I'd just distract myself – but that's just me, not anybody else; I think Emilia Clarke is amazing. I just wouldn't be the creator that I am today [like with the book]. I'm profoundly grateful to have claimed my own path to be carving it for myself."
Before production was shuttered, Carnival Row was keeping a nice, steady flow of news coming fans' way (even if it wasn't always the most positive). Jay Ali (USA Network's The Purge) is joining the series as Kaine, a Faerie allied with the Black Raven criminal gang alongside Delevingne's Vignette. Erik Oleson (Netflix's Daredevil) agreed to join as executive producer and showrunner, taking over the helm from first season showrunner Marc Guggenheim (who will still consult on the series and remain an executive producer). There was even a "creative differences" moment, with series co-creator Travis Beacham departing the series (co-created with Rene Echevarria) in what was reported as a "mutual decision" (though Beacham remains an executive producer).