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13 Actors Who Were Almost Cast on Game of Thrones

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It’s almost time for Game of Thrones to return for its final season.

After seven seasons of watching Daenerys transform from timid Targaryen pawn to khaleesi to Dragon Queen on Game of Thrones, it’s hard to imagine anyone else but Emilia Clarke pulling off the role. However, the Me Before You star apparently wasn’t even showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ first choice for the part.

In fact, several key Westerosi players — from Jon Snow to Catelyn Stark to Loras Tyrell — were nearly played by different actors, meaning the fabric of the hit HBO drama as fans know it had the potential to be drastically different.

See the full list of stars who were almost cast on Thrones below.


Sam Claflin

Noel Vasquez—Getty Images, Helen Sloan—HBO

Before starring in The Hunger Games movies as dashing District 4 champion Finnick Odair, Claflin was apparently in the running to be cast in Thrones‘ very first season. During a 2016 interview with Cinema Blend, the 30-year-old actor revealed he auditioned for both the roles of Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen — the ill-fated brother of Daenerys who ends up getting a pot of molten gold dumped on his head.

However, Claflin said he was ultimately glad he didn’t make the cut. “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 explained. “But I’m a big fan.”

Gillian Anderson

Michael Loccisano—Getty Images; HBO

While promoting her serial killer drama The Fall in 2013, Anderson told The Daily Mail that she had declined roles on both Downton Abbey and Thrones — a decision that her daughter Piper apparently found baffling. “My 18-year-old cannot believe that I would turn down Game Of Thrones or Downton — things she loves to watch,” she said.

The X-Files alum never let on as to which Westerosi resident she was in talks to play, but some fans speculate it was none other than Queen Cersei Lannister herself.

Tamzin Merchant

Ilya S. Savenok—Getty Images, Helen Sloan—HBO

Following some intense feedback on Thrones‘ disastrous original (never-aired) pilot, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss drastically altered the episode to create the current version of the show. One significant change was the recasting of Daenerys from Merchant to Emilia Clarke — despite George R.R. Martin’s praise of her performance as Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard in The Tudors and her initial readings as the Mother of Dragons. No official reason was ever given for her departure.

Jennifer Ehle

Walter McBride—Getty Images, HBO

Ehle played Catelyn Stark in the original pilot, but was replaced by Michelle Fairley before the series was picked up. She later told The Daily Beast that she opted not to return so she could spend more time with her newborn daughter.

“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.”

Mahershala Ali

Steve Granitz—Getty Images, HBO

During a January appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Ali revealed that he completely ruined his chance to play Xaro Xhoan Daxos — the Qartheen merchant who gets locked in a stone vault by Daenerys in the season two finale — due to a lack of chairs in the audition room.

“I had this whole thing worked out with this chair. I was working with doing all these power moves and stances and what not,” he explained. “And then I go in for the audition and I walk into the HBO offices and there’s these two stools…with no back behind them.”

Perdita Weeks

Eamonn M. McCormack—Getty Images, HBO

According to Weeks, she turned down what would have been a short-lived stint as Roslin Frey — the daughter of Walder Frey who is married off to Edmure Tully at the Red Wedding — to focus on a role in The Heretics. However, she told the Daily Mail in 2012 that when the mini-series was postponed due to issues with its Romanian filming locations, she scrambled to make her return to Westeros.

“I gave up a role on Game Of Thrones to take the [Heretics] part and even rang the producers to beg for it back once I’d heard the news about Romania, but it was too late,” she said, referencing Thrones‘ eventual casting of Alexandra Dowling for the part.

Jared Harris

Gilbert Carrasquillo—Getty Images; Macall B. Polay—HBO

Although Jonathan Pryce ultimately made an excellent High Sparrow, it’s hard to imagine Harris wouldn’t have done a similarly convincing job. The Crown star recently revealed to Vulture that he’s had some bad luck with HBO’s big time dramas, missing out not only on Thrones, but on the role of Dr. Robert Ford — which went to Anthony Hopkins — in Westworld.

“I lose parts to the weirdest people. It’s kind of confusing,” he said. “It’s kind of a weird range. It’s a very odd thing to find out who ends up doing stuff that you [auditioned for].”

Sam Heughan

Joshua Blanchard—Getty Images; HBO

The Outlander star once admitted that he read for various parts in Thrones — including Loras Tyrell, Renly Baratheon and several members of the Night’s Watch — seven different times. However, he went on to tell Vulture that the extensive audition process was what gave him the confidence he needed to eventually land his breakout role as heroic Highlander Jamie Fraser.

Dominic West

Tim Whitby—Getty Images, HBO

Similar to Ehle, West reportedly turned down a spot on Thrones in order to spend more time with his family. During a 2012 interview with The Huffington Post, The Wire alum hinted that he had been offered the part of Wildling king Mance Rayder, but couldn’t commit to being on location for six months in Reykjavik — where the scenes beyond the Wall are filmed. However, having never read the books, he claimed he couldn’t remember the name of the character.

“It was a lovely part, a good part. I’m going to regret it,” he said. “My problem is, I’ve got four kids, and at the moment, I’m reluctant to be away from home for a long time.”

Izzy Meikle-Small

Danny Martindale—Getty Images; HBO

While attending a London screening of The Big Wedding in 2013, Meikle-Small revealed that she was neck and neck with Sophie Turner to play Sansa Stark throughout the season one audition process. Turner ended up snagging the role, but while Meikle-Small was disappointed at first, she ultimately realized the part wasn’t right for her.

“I got to the final two to play Lady Sansa Sark,” she told 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.”

Jamie Campbell Bower

Jamie Campbell Bower attends the HUGO show at Motorwerk
Jamie Campbell Bower attends the HUGO show at Motorwerk on July 5, 2018 in Berlin, Germany.Gisela Schober—Getty Images

Known for his roles in sci-fi book-to-movie adaptations like the Harry Potter and Twilight series, it seems natural that he would join the next cult favorite. He was set to star in the pilot of the fantasy show as Waymar Royce, according to his interview with Movieline back in 2009. Ultimately, that original pilot got scrapped along with most of the potential cast. However, if there is one thing we know about Game of Thrones it’s that even when you think a character is gone for good, it might not be so. Luckily, it looks like Jamie is returning to Westeros in an untitled prequel that HBO is developing, Insider reported on Jan. 10, 2019.

Lily Allen

Allen: Getty Images; Greyjoy: HBO

Whether you are House Stark or House Lannister, we can all agree that Game of Thrones is a family affair. Therefore, its no wonder pop star Lily Allen was offered a role on the hit show where her brother, Alfie Allen, plays Theon Greyjoy. “They asked me if I’d be interested in playing Theon’s sister,” Allen wrote on a Reddit AMA Vulture reported on May 14, 2014. Since they are brother and sister in real life, it probably felt natural to have her play his on-screen sister, Yara. However, if you think back to when Yara and Theon first meet, you’ll remember how awkward it would’ve been. “I felt uncomfortable because I would have had to go on a horse and he would have touched me up and sh-t,” Allen explains. “Once they told me what was entailed, I said no thanks.” Needless to say, she made the right choice.

Danny Dyer

Dyer: Getty Images; Pyp: HBO

Roles on Thrones are highly coveted. The EastEnders star told the BBC back in 2015 that he has been turned down three times by Game of Thrones. He confided in Dame Diana Rigg, who plays Lady Olenna Tyrell in the hit show, that he went out for multiple parts such as Pyp, played by Josef Altin. She blamed his cockney accent for him not getting cast, but said she would still put in a good word for him.

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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com and Elaine Selna at elaine.selna@time.com