When the hit HBO show Game of Thrones first aired in 2011, it thrust a number of then-unknown actors into the limelight. The show has now made the careers of international acting superstars including Kit Harrington and Sophie Turner.
Whilst it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the characters we have come to know and love, different actors were the first choice for many of its most prominent roles. Here’s who was supposed to play some of the biggest names in Westeros. One thing’s for sure: it would have been a very different show if they’d taken the parts.
1. Gillian Anderson as Cersei Lannister
Hugely successful actress Gillian Anderson was the producer’s first choice to play Cersei Lannister, however, for one reason or another, she turned the role down. Whilst I’m sure she’d have made a great Cersei, there’s no denying that Lana Headey has nailed the role of the evil queen.
2. Dominic West as Mance Rayder
The King Beyond the Wall was initially supposed to be played by Dominic West, but he turned down the role because of family commitments which prevented him from filming in Iceland for a prolonged period of time. But I think we are all pretty glad Ciarán Hinds got the part instead. “It was a lovely part, a good part. I’m going to regret it,” West said of the role. “My problem is, I’ve got four kids, and at the moment, I’m reluctant to be away from home for a long time.”
3. Izzy Meikle-Small as Sansa Stark
It turns out that Izzy Meikle-Small, who was already known for her portrayal of Kathy H. in the 2010 movie Never Let Me Go, was a hairsbreadth away from becoming Sansa Sark, but Sophie Turner was chosen over her at the last minute. “I got to the final two to play Lady Sansa Sark,” Meikle-Small revealed to The Telegraph. “I was a bit sad because the show’s massive, but I’m not that unhappy because they all show a lot of flesh, don’t they? I don’t think my parents would be happy.”
4. Sam Hueghan as Loras Tyrell
Then unknown actor Sam Hueghan auditioned for quite a few roles in Game of Thrones. In addition to Loras Tyrell, he was a potential candidate for Renly Baratheon and certain members of the Night’s Watch. The process reportedly gave him the confidence to land his breakout role in Outlander, and Finn Jones was definitely the right man for the job in the end. All’s well that ends well!
5. Lily Allen as Yara Greyjoy
It’s hard to imagine someone as feminine as Lily Allen playing a character as fierce as Yara Greyjoy. Allen reportedly turned down the role because it involved “too much incest”, which is totally understandable as her real-life brother Alfie was cast as her on-screen brother Theon!
6. Sam Claflin as Jon Snow
Like Sam Hueghan, Jon Snow wasn’t the only role Sam Clafin auditioned for. He was also in the running to play Viserys Targaryen but was glad that he never got cast on the show. I think we can all agree that Kit Harington was the better choice, and it’s not like Calfin hasn’t had success in recent years, especially as he got his big break playing Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games in 2012. “I like getting into things like that [as a viewer] and not being a part, because I always find it’s very jarring if I was part of it,” he said. “But I’m a big fan.”
7. Danny Dyer as Pypar
Despite auditioning for the show three times, Danny Dyer was never cast. His cockney accent reportedly held him back, and you have to admit that Pypar would have sounded more than a little odd with one. It must have stung when fellow Londoner Josef Altin was ultimately cast in the role.
8. Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark
If it hadn’t been for family commitments, Jennifer Ehle would have played Catelyn Stark and not Michelle Fairley – although no one can deny that Fairley did a fantastic job. She had recently given birth to a daughter at the time of filming and didn’t want to miss out on valuable bonding time. “It was too soon for me to be working, emotionally and bonding-wise, but I needed to do it, and I was also passionate about the books,” she said. “I loved the idea of telling that story.”
9. Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys Targaryen
A few of the actors on this list featured in the never-aired Game of Thrones’ pilot and one of them was Tamzin Merchant who played the Mother of Dragons. It’s not known why she wasn’t ultimately given the role, but as she was already hugely successful in her own right, it was only fair that someone else was given a chance, and I doubt anyone could have done a better job than Emilia Clarke. In the end, the perfect actors were chosen to play some of Westeros’ best-loved characters, but there’s no harm in imagining what could have been. It certainly would have made for awkward viewing if Lily Allen had agreed to be Yara and acted alongside her actual brother! On the subject of casting, check out the original audition tapes from some of Game of Thrones‘ biggest stars: