Pre-implantation embryo development encompasses several key developmental events, especially the activation of zygotic genome activation (ZGA)-related genes. Endogenous retroviruses (ERVs), which are regarded as "deleterious genomic parasites", were previously considered to be "junk DNA". However, it is now known that ERVs, with limited conservatism across species, mediate conserved developmental processes (e.g., ZGA). Transcriptional activation of ERVs occurs during the transition from maternal control to zygotic genome control, signifying ZGA. ERVs are versatile participants in rewiring gene expression networks during epigenetic reprogramming. Particularly, a subtle balance exists between ERV activation and ERV repression in host⁻virus interplay, which leads to stage-specific ERV expression during pre-implantation embryo development. A large portion of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) embryos display developmental arrest and ZGA failure during pre-implantation embryo development. Furthermore, because of the close relationship between ERV activation and ZGA, exploring the regulatory mechanism underlying ERV activation may also shed more light on the enigma of SCNT embryo development in model animals.