Game of Thrones has been one of the hottest, most talked about shows of the past few years. It’s hard to pick one reason for the show’s immense popularity. It could be anything: the amazing production values, the complicated but still compelling story lines, the way the show always keeps us on our toes by snatching up favorite characters left and right, I mean, the list goes on.
One of the other things that keeps people hooked on Game of Thrones is the fantastic acting done by the very talented cast. This skilled acting has been noticed and rewarded, as Game of Thrones has skyrocketed the careers of many of its actors. The success of the show, however, was not foreseen by everyone, and a number of people had considered being on the Game of Thrones cast before ultimately deciding, “Nah, what’s a little show like Game of Thrones ever going to amount to?” The poor choice, in this context, is an understatement. Here are 15 actors kicking themselves to various degrees about what could have been.
15 Jennifer Ehle - Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark is one of the main faces you think of when you think Game of Thrones, especially considering her (SPOILER ALERT) grisly end. The red-headed proud Northerner and Stark matriarch is pictured in the minds of all Game of Thrones fans as Michelle Fairley, the Northern Irish actress who had previously had smaller roles on Suits and 24. Fairley, however, was not the original actress pegged to play Cat Stark. The OG Cat was none other than Jennifer Ehle, best known for her BAFTA-winning performance as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice. Ehle was actually all set to play Cat, but dropped out after initial difficulties the show’s production crew had with getting scenes filmed on time. Eventually, Ehle became frustrated with all of the timing conflicts these delays caused, and the role went to Fairley, who we know and love, and mourn, as Cat Stark today.
14 Jamie Campbell Bower - Waymar Royce
If you’re into fandoms in general, which you probably are if you’re reading this article, you probably know Jamie Campbell Bower. Whether you know him as Caius from Twilight, Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, King Arthur in the Starz series Camelot, or young Gellert Grindelwald in Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. Obviously, Jamie is a busy guy. However, before all of those successes, he turned down a part in Game of Thrones.
Originally, Jamie Campbell Bower was offered the role of Waymar Royce, a Knight of House Royce and a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch who is eventually, (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN!) killed by White Walkers. Campbell Cooper even went as far as to film the pilot episode with the crew, but when it became clear that the show would need a large amount of reshoots, he opted out and was replaced by Rob Ostlere.
13 Lily Allen - Yara Greyjoy
Die hard Game of Thrones fans will know that Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy/Reek (depending on when in the show you’re watching) is actually a part of a famous family. His sister, Lily Allen, is a popular recording artist, with hit songs like “Smile”, “F*ck You”, and “The Fear”. What they may not know, however, is that Lily Allen was actually offered a role on the show alongside her brother, playing Yara Greyjoy to his Theon/Reek.
According to an AMA she did on Reddit in 2014, they offered her that role, but she decided to refuse, saying it would be too gross because of the initial incest-y bits that happen when Theon and Yara see each other for the first time since they were children. “I felt uncomfortable,” she wrote, “because I would have had to go on a horse and he would have touched be up and sh*t.”
As much as I love Lily Allen, I will say that I’m glad Gemma Whelan got the role in the end, because she totally kills in it.
12 Tamzin Merchant - Daenerys Targaryen
Yet another Tudors veteran on this list, Tamzin Merchant is known for playing Catherine Howard on that show, as well as Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice. I'm going to break this to you slowly, because I know it’s really going to be hard to understand that anyone other than Emilia Clarke was ever offered the role of the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen herself, but facts are facts. It just so happens that Tazmin Merchant was offered the part, and even accepted, before ultimately declining. I love you, Tamzin, and respect your chops and all, but quite like Gemma Whelan getting the part of Yara Greyjoy, I am kind of super glad that the dice fell as they did. I mean, can you really imagine anyone else emerging from the fire quite like Ms. Emmy C? Honestly, I have to say I think not.
11 Gillian Anderson - Cersei Lannister?
Okay, so full disclosure, I am a HUGE Gillian Anderson fan. Like, absolutely massive. From X-Files to Hannibal to The Fall to American Gods, to her ABSOLUTELY STELLAR performance as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire (which I totally got to see and knocked my absolute socks off). Obviously, I am a huge GA fan. I am also, a huge Game of Thrones fan...which is why I was totally blown away when I heard that Gillian was actually offered a role in Game of Thrones, and turned it down.
While I know people have to make their own decisions, I was totally devastated that she turned down the “unnamed” role (if I was being real, I'm betting my money on that it was Cersei Lannister, but that’s just me). This disappointment is apparently shared by Anderson’s 18-year-old daughter, who was, as Gillian Anderson told Stylist magazine, “absolutely dumbfounded” by her decision to turn down a role in Game of Thrones. “But with a four and six year old,” Anderson said, “I can’t justify spending that kind of time away from home—unless I’m working with Martin Scorsese.”
10 Dominic West- Mance Rayder
Game of Thrones fans now have a clear picture in their head of Mance Rayder. He was once head of the Free Folk and one-time King-Beyond-The-Wall until (spoiler alert) he was deposed and killed. In the show, he is played by Northern Irish actor Ciarán Hinds, with his gruff features, signature wildling snarl, and disdain for authority. But Mance Rayder was almost played by someone else entirely.
Dominic West, best known for his role as Jimmy McNulty in the HBO series The Wire, was originally offered the role. In 2012, he told the Huffington Post that he turned down the role, primarily because he was unfamiliar with the project and did not want to be away from his four children for too long (the role would have required him to film in Reykjavik, Iceland, for at least six months). West described hearing his brother and nephew raving about GoT later on and feeling “terrible, because [he’d] just turned them down.”
9 Sam Claflin - Viserys Targaryen/Jon Snow
Yet another multi-hitter for various fandoms on this list, Sam Claflin is best known as Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games, Philip Swift in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and William in Snow White and the Huntsman. And, if it weren’t for that last role, he could have been just as well known as two very recognizable Game of Thrones characters.
Sam Claflin told CinemaBlend that he was in the running for both Viserys Targaryen, Dany’s horrible, eventually gold-plated older brother, and even Jon Snow, everybody’s favorite sad boy turned-King of the North. Unfortunately, he was too busy with Snow White and The Huntsman to go forward with either role. However, it was just as well for him, at least when it comes to Viserys. Harry Lloyd, who eventually was cast as Viserys, did an amazing job being a villain, but man, it must have sucked to play someone so evil.
8 Sam Heughan - Renly Baratheon/Loras Tyrell
So, if you’re not familiar with the Starz show Outlander, you should be; just to see this ridiculously hot, super talented Scottish actor perform. Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series, has been acknowledged multiple times for his role on the show, and obviously shines there. However, he could have brought that talent to the Game of Thrones universe, had he not exited the running.
Having initially shown interest, he was focused on two parts: Renly Baratheon, and Loras Tyrell (which is pretty ironic, considering how those two characters are romantically paired). That’s right, your favorite super adorable, queer power couple in the Game of Thrones world could have looked entirely different. Not that we’re complaining about what we got: Gethin Anthony was a stellar Renly, and Finn Jones was a perfect Loras. Still, when it comes to the Game of Thrones cast, there’s always wondering what could have been...
7 Ian McNeice - Illyrio Mopatis
You may not quite remember the Game of Thrones character Illyrio Mopatis, but you should. The merchant-prince and Magister of the Free City of Pentos (across the Narrow Sea from Westeros) was the extraordinarily wealthy, powerful benefactor of the Targaryens, and had a big hand in supporting Dany’s ascension.
In the show, he would end up being played by lesser known actor Roger Allam, who, with his double-braided beard, gave something of a regal Ron Swanson feel to Illyrio Mopatis. That was not, however, the original casting direction. Ian McNeice, best known for his role in the HBO/BBC series Rome as the Newsreader, even went so far as to appear in the original pilot as Illyrio Mopatis. However, many scenes in the pilot had to be re-shot, and McNeice opted instead to take a role as Winston Churchill on Doctor Who. I can’t entirely say I blame him, though. I mean, that role was pretty perfect.
6 Danny Dyer - Pyp
Danny Dyer might not be as well known to American audiences, but to the Brits, he is a regular household name; and sometimes a controversial one. His most well known role is as Mick Carter on the British drama EastEnders, and though some critics have criticized him as trashy, he has garnered many, many fans over the course of his two-decade career. That fan base could have grown exponentially if he had gone forward with pursuing the role of Pyp—Jon Snow’s friend —on Game of Thrones, as he had originally intended.
Dyer had apparently pursued the role multiple times, and was even in talks to solidify some sort of a deal, before he backed out and decided to focus on EastEnders and on his many stage and TV productions. The role of Pypar, who was sent to the Wall for refusing to grant sexual favors to a Lord at Acorn Hall, then served the Night’s Watch until (spoiler alert yet again) he was killed by Ygrette at the Battle of Castle Rock. The role was eventually played by Josef Altin.
5 Izzy Meikle Small - Sansa Stark
Undoubtedly, Sansa Stark is killing it this season. From her starting point as an innocent, Joffrey-crushing girl (on a scale of one to Sansa, how much do you regret your first crush?), she transformed into a tortured woman fated to endure horror after horror. She, of course, rose (and again, if you don’t know this by now, SPOILER ALERT) to the stature of a bada** who takes no names b*tch, who is ready to run the show.
I have absolutely come to associate Lady Sansa Stark with the actress who plays her: Sophie Turner. However, Sansa was almost played by someone else altogether. 19-year-old British actress Izzy Meikle-Small almost played Sansa, before it was given to Sophie Turner. It all worked out for Meikle-Small, though. The super-youthful-looking actress has made a name for herself playing the younger version of female leads, including Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go, and Charlize Theron in Snow White and The Huntsman.
4 Mark Strong - Stannis Baratheon
Though it has never been commented on by Mark Strong himself, there is a pretty credible rumour floating around that Mark Strong, the British actor best known for his roles in Guy Richie films, Green Lantern, The Imitation Game, and Kingsman: The Secret Service, turned down a substantial role in Game of Thrones in order to pursue AMC’s 2013 remake of Low Winter Sun.
What role is that, you might ask? Oh, just a little character called Stannis Baratheon. Instead, the role of Stannis went to actor Stephen Dillane, who also played Thomas Jefferson in the 2008 HBO miniseries John Adams (for which he won a Primetime Emmy). Dillane went on to play Stannis for 24 episodes, while, unfortunately for Mark Strong, Low Winter Sun was canceled after only one season. I guess that does save Mark Strong from having to play a character people really came to hate toward the end (ahem, SHIREEN BARATHEON, ahem), but still.
3 Perdita Weeks - Roslin Frey
If you’re a fan of the Showtime show The Tudors, you’ll recognize actress Perdita Weeks as Mary Boleyn, the sister King Henry’s wife, Anne Boleyn, and also his mistress. Apparently, having pulled off a period drama so well led to the Game of Thrones producers offering her a role on the show. She was going to be cast as Roslin Frey. If you don’t remember, Roslin Frey was the beautiful Frey daughter who was supposed to marry Robb Stark as an alliance with House Frey, until Robb falls in love and marries Talisa Maegyr. It is Roslin’s marriage to Edmure Tully that serves as the notorious Red Wedding. Perdita Weeks initially turned down the role because of a scheduling conflict with another project. That project eventually fell through and Weeks tried to get the role back, but by that time, the show runners had already cast actress Alexandra Dowling to play Roslin.
2 Brian Cox - Role Unknown
If you’re a theatre buff, you might know this Scottish actor best as the world-renowned portrayer of King Lear with the Royal Shakespeare Company, but you may have also seen him in the Bourne Identity movies, Braveheart, Rushmore, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Troy, and Dr. Who. But what's the one credit he missed out on? Game of Thrones.
Cox has stated that he was approached for a role early in the series, but turned it down because the production team was not offering him enough money. The Emmy award winning actor has since said that he feels foolish for having turned down the role, saying “I was silly. It was silly.” He began to regret his decision after tuning into the show to watch his friend, actor Ian McShane, play Septon Ray in the sixth season. After watching that episode, he got hooked on Game of Thrones like so many of the rest of us, and now wishes he had taken the opportunity to be a part of it.
1 Ray Stevenson - Role Unknown
You may know him best as Titus Pullo on the HBO/BBC show Rome (which, by the way, has many alums in the current Game of Thrones Cast), or through his work in the Marvel Universe as The Punisher/Frank Castle, and as Volstagg in the Thor movies. He was also offered a chance to be known as a character in Game of Thrones, but turned it down for what he says are artistic reasons. He felt that it was too late in the show for him to join and actually make an impact on the plot. “I would rather have been cast at the beginning,” he told Movies.com. “I think it’s wonderful, but it’s not something I would come onto at this point...Having already been seen at the beginning, I would rather have been involved in the growth of the show.” Personally, I don’t know about that...Game of Thrones is pretty known for introducing crucial characters down the line, and especially for throwing curve balls...but to each his own, I guess.