Now that Game of Thrones has come to a close, we’re all stuck in the nostalgia phase. No matter how we may feel about the finale, it’s clear that the HBO show has been one of the biggest cultural moments in TV history. Because of that, it’s helped to make household names of its previously unknown stars. Some of these stars may have been around for years, but it wasn’t until GoT that they really found their fame.
On the flip side, we have the actors who were almost cast in the hugely successful show. The ones who perhaps auditioned multiple times or the ones who were cast, shot a pilot, and then switched out for someone else! We’ve got those who found fame on the show that ran for eight seasons and those who missed it by this much.
20 BIG BREAK: Lena Headey As Cersei Lannister
Lena Headey first caught the attention of casting directors when she was 17 and noticed during a school drama competition in London.
Soon, roles in fantasy fare like The Brothers Grimm and 300 followed, but there’s no doubt that the actress’s most notable role is that of Cersei Lannister, the queen who once sat on the Iron Throne.
19 ALMOST WAS: Jared Harris As The High Sparrow
Jared Harris knows a thing or two about being on a major TV show: he’s most recognizable for his role in AMC’s Mad Men. Once upon a time, though, Harris auditioned to be the High Sparrow – a role he lost to Jonathan Pryce.
He also auditioned for HBO’s other major show, Westworld – and lost to Anthony Hopkins!
18 BIG BREAK: Alfie Allen As Theon Greyjoy
Prior to GoT, Alfie Allen was hardly a household name. He was mostly relegated to small roles in films or TV productions. By 2011, once he was cast as the playboy-turned-victim-turned-redemptive hero, Theon Greyjoy, Allen showed that he has more skills than he’s been given credit for.
Since GoT ended, Allen has a few roles in comedies in the pipe!
17 ALMOST WAS: Isobel Meikle-Small As Sansa Stark
It was down to Sophie Turner and Isobel Meikle-Small for the role of Sansa Stark before the former ended up victorious. In 2013, Meikle-Small admitted to The Telegraph that it was ultimately a good thing she didn’t land the role.
“I’m not that unhappy, because they all show a lot of flesh, don’t they?” she said. “I don’t think my parents would be happy.”
16 BIG BREAK: Jason Momoa As Khal Drogo
He may now be known as Aquaman and helming his own show (Netflix’s Frontier), but it’s safe to say that his role as the grunting, brutish Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo is what really put actor Jason Momoa on the map.
He may have only been around for the first season, but the HBO show has helped make Momoa a household name and grown his career.
15 ALMOST WAS: Gillian Anderson As Cersei Lannister Or Melisandre
Gillian Anderson may not be a Brit, but she was considered one of the favorites to play either Cersei Lannister or Melisandre.
In a 2013 interview with The Daily Mail, the X-Files actress said, “My 18-year-old cannot believe that I would turn down Game of Thrones or Downton [Abbey] – things she loves to watch.”
14 BIG BREAK: Peter Dinklage As Tyrion Lannister
Another actor who isn’t from Britain (but does a great impression of being from there), Peter Dinklage’s most memorable role to date is definitely that of Tyrion Lannister, the youngest of the family.
While he had been around for years, it wasn’t in lead roles – and now he has eight projects lined up!
13 ALMOST WAS: Dominic West As Mance Rayder
It was family that ultimately made the decision for actor Dominic West, who turned down the role of wildling leader Mance Rayder, since it would have required him to spend six months filming in Iceland.
In a 2012 interview with the Huffington Post, West admitted that he was “going to regret it.”
12 BIG BREAK: Jack Gleeson As Joffrey Baratheon
Perhaps you recall Jack Gleeson as the small boy in Batman Begins, but there’s really no shaking the indelible image of him as the vindictive young King Joffrey Baratheon.
While the role on Game of Thrones was his breakout, it was also his last: After his character's life ended in Season 4, Gleeson retired from acting to focus on his studies.
11 ALMOST WAS: Mahershala Ali As Xaro Xhoan Daxos
Actor Mahershala Ali told Jimmy Kimmel that his terrible audition for Xaro Xhoan Daxos – a merchant from Qarth who appeared in Season Two – was “one of the worst auditions of [his] life.”
Fortunately for him, things turned out okay – Ali has since gone on to win two Academy Awards and casting director Nina Gold has even stated that she regretted not casting him!
10 BIG BREAK: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau As Jamie Lannister
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau looked like a fairytale prince when he was cast in the role of Jamie Lannister, and it’s arguably the star’s best-known role to date.
While some might say his first appearance in a film from America – 2003’s Black Hawk Down – was his breakout, we’d say his role of the troubled Kingslayer is far more memorable.
9 ALMOST WAS: Jennifer Ehle As Catelyn Stark
Did you know there was actually an original pilot for GoT that never aired? In that pilot, it was Jennifer Ehle, not Michelle Fairley, who played Catelyn Stark.
After the series was picked up, Ehle was recast, which was what she wanted so that she could spend time with her newborn daughter. “It was too soon for me to be working, emotionally and bonding-wise,” she said, The Daily Beast reports.
8 BIG BREAK: Kit Harington As Jon Snow
Kit Harington has found himself so attached to his character Jon Snow and the Game of Thrones universe in general that, upon its ending, he voluntarily checked himself into a wellness facility.
The role is certainly Harington’s biggest, but we imagine he’ll have more opportunities to squint soulfully and take off his shirt.
7 ALMOST WAS: Sam Claflin As Jon Snow Or Viserys Targaryen
He may have been on screen with Emilia Clarke in Me Before You, but did you know that Sam Claflin was almost cast as her on-screen brother, Viserys Targaryen?
In a 2016 interview with Cinema Blend, Claflin admitted he’d been passed over, but that there were no hard feelings since he could enjoy watching the show as a “big fan.”
6 BIG BREAK: Maisie Williams As Arya Stark
It was her first ever professional acting role, so it should come as no surprise that Maisie Williams’ big break came in the form of Arya Stark, whom she began playing when she was only 12!
Williams had been rejected from Nanny McPhee 2 and auditioned for GoT instead – we’d say she made the right decision!
5 ALMOST WAS: Sam Heughan As Loras Tyrell Or Renly Baratheon
His hair might match that of the curly-headed Loras Tyrell, but Outlander star Sam Heughan actually auditioned for several roles on the HBO show, including Renly Baratheon and members of the Night’s Watch.
It wasn’t all bad, though, since Heughan said that the extensive audition process helped win him the role of Outlander’s Jamie Fraser.
4 BIG BREAK: Sophie Turner As Sansa Stark
Like her real-life BFF Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner’s first professional acting role was also on Game of Thrones, as her sister Sansa Stark.
Just 13 at the time, Turner dyed her naturally blonde hair red for the role, and has since gone on to see herself become a Jonas Sister and star in another major franchise: X-Men!
3 ALMOST WAS: Tamzin Merchant As Daenerys Targaryen
Like Jennifer Ehle, Tamzin Merchant was actually cast and filmed the unaired pilot as Daenerys Targaryen. Merchant, who was praised by author George R.R. Martin for her work on The Tudors, was replaced by Emilia Clarke.
No official reason for her recasting was ever given, despite the unaired pilot being called highly unsuccessful by the show’s creators.
2 BIG BREAK: Emilia Clarke As Daenerys Targaryen
Where Tamzin Merchant failed, Emilia Clarke succeeded. As the Mother of Dragons (among many other titles), Clarke made a name for herself that has transitioned into success in major films and three Emmy nominations for her role.
Like other cast members, much of what’s in production for the actress is a little lighter in subject matter.
1 ALMOST WAS: Lily Allen As Yara Greyjoy
How’s this for weird? Lily Allen, singer and sister to actor Alfie Allen, was almost cast as his on-screen sister Yara Greyjoy. However, if you remember when the two characters meet, there’s a little inter-sibling awkwardness that ensues – which would have been even more uncomfortable with real-life siblings!
Allen said, as The Telegraph reports, “Once they told me what it entailed, I said no thanks.”
Sources: News.com.au, Time, Variety