17 actors who missed out on the roles of a lifetime on ‘Game of Thrones'

HBOThe first episode of ‘Game of Thrones’ initially looked very different.

The eighth and final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has already broken all sorts of records. If it wasn’t clear before, the enormous cast of the show will go down in history as playing some of the most beloved characters to ever grace the small screen.

For some Hollywood stars, however, this distinction is more bitter than sweet.

In the decade since “Game of Thrones” first aired, plenty of actors have missed out on the roles of a lifetime – whether by turning down opportunities, botching auditions, or walking away after the pilot.

Here are 17 people who could’ve played a major role in Westeros.


Tamzin Merchant was originally cast as Daenerys Targaryen.

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty ImagesTamzin Merchant is best known as Georgiana Darcy in the 2005 film ‘Pride & Prejudice.’

Tamzin Merchant played Daenerys Targaryen on the original, infamous pilot episode. After it was poorly received, many roles were recast – including Emilia Clarke as the Mother of Dragons.


Read more:
How Emilia Clarke went from unknown actress to Mother of Dragons on ‘Game of Thrones’


Sam Claflin auditioned for both the roles of Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen.

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty ImagesSam Claflin is known for playing Finnick Odair in the ‘Hunger Games’ franchise.

Sam Claflin dropped out of the running because he had been offered a major movie role.

“I’m kind of glad [I didn’t get the part],” Claflin told Cinema Blend. “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. But I’m a big fan.”


Gillian Anderson was offered a role, but turned it down.

Mike Marsland/WireImageGillian Anderson famously portrayed FBI agent Dana Scully on ‘The X-Files.’

Gillian Anderson told the Daily Mail that she has turned down roles on two beloved TV shows: “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey.”

“If I am going to be spending that amount of time working on something, I would rather be working with a director like Martin Scorsese,” she said.

While she didn’t specify which character she was offered, many fans speculate that it was Lena Headey’s role of the murderous queen,Cersei Lannister.


Tricia Helfer was also considered for Cersei.

Greg Doherty/Getty ImagesTricia Helfer is famous for her role on ‘Battlestar Galactica.’

Tricia Helfer revealed on Twitter that she auditioned for Cersei Lannister. And although she didn’t land the part, she did become an avid reader and fan of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series.


Mahershala Ali blew his audition for the role of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a merchant in Qarth, on season two.

Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE DayMahershala Ali starred on season three of HBO’s ‘True Detective.’

“I think my audition guaranteed that I wasn’t almost on ‘Game of Thrones.’ That was one of the worst auditions of my life,” Mahershala Ali revealed on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”

He said that he had memorized all his lines and prepared “power moves and stances” for the audition, but the backless stool he had to sit on in HBO’s office threw him off. The casting director told him he was too “stiff.”


Izzy Meikle-Small was the second choice for Sansa Stark behind Sophie Turner.

Tim P. Whitby/Getty ImagesIzzy Meikle-Small at the premiere of ‘Pudsey the Dog: the Movie’ in 2014.

“I got to the final two to play Lady Sansa Sark,” Izzy Meikle-Small told The Telegraph in 2013. “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.”


Brian Cox turned down a role because it didn’t pay enough.

Jamie McCarthy/Getty ImagesBrian Cox now stars on HBO’s ‘Succession.’

“Stupidly, I turned it down in the early days because they didn’t pay enough money,” Brian Cox told Vodzilla.co when the site asked him if he’d take a role on “Game of Thrones” back in 2016.

“Now they have more money,” he continued. “And I was silly. I was silly, it was silly, because I’m a complete addict now.”


Jared Harris auditioned to play the High Sparrow.

Steven Ferdman/Getty ImagesJared Harris has landed starring roles on ‘Mad Men’ and ‘The Crown.’

“I lose parts to the weirdest people. It’s kind of confusing,” Jared Harris told Vulture.

The role of the High Sparrow, who played a large role on “Game of Thrones” seasons five and six, eventually went to Jonathan Pryce. Harris also revealed that he auditioned for Dr. Robert Ford on HBO’s “Westworld,” who’s portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.


Jennifer Ehle played Catelyn Stark on the original “Game of Thrones” pilot.

John Parra/Getty Images for for The Hollywood ReporterJennifer Ehle is best known as Elizabeth Bennet on BBC’s ‘Pride & Prejudice.’

Jennifer Ehle told the Daily Beast that she left the role voluntarily after filming the pilot.

“My daughter was seven months old when we did the pilot,” she said. “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. I loved the idea of telling that story.”

“I love ‘Game of Thrones,’ but it was too soon,” she concluded. “I think everything worked out beautifully, because clearly the show is what it was meant to be.”


Sam Heughan auditioned seven different times for various roles.

Desiree Navarro/Getty ImagesSam Heughan stars as Jamie Fraser on Starz’s ‘Outlander.’

Sam Heughan told Vulture he was nearly cast as Loras Tyrell, Renly Baratheon, and several members of the Night’s Watch.

“I’d always get so close! I’d be like, ‘Guys, just give me a sword!'” he revealed. “Everyone was going in for those parts.”


Jamie Bamber auditioned for the role of Jaime Lannister.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty ImagesJamie Bamber is known for his role as Lee Adama on ‘Battlestar Galactica.’

Jamie Bamber has never addressed his failed “Game of Thrones” audition, but Jaime Lannister was a highly coveted role when HBO was casting the show. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau beat out many actors for the job.


Dominic West couldn’t commit to filming on location in Iceland for six months.

Arnold Jerocki/Getty ImagesDominic West is best known for playing Jimmy McNulty on ‘The Wire.’

“I was offered something on ‘Game of Thrones’ and unfortunately, I hadn’t seen it, but my nephew and his father said, gosh, ‘Game of Thrones’ is the only great show on! And I felt terrible, because I’d just turned them down,” Dominic West told HuffPost back in 2012.

While West couldn’t remember the exact name of the character, he said it was a prominent role on season three and would have involved filming on location “in Reykjavik for six months,” which is where “Game of Thrones” typically shot scenes north of the Wall.

Given this information, it’s most likely West was offered the role of Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, which eventually went to Ciarán Hinds.

“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.”


Jamie Campbell Bower played Ser Waymar Royce, a brother of the Night’s Watch, on the original pilot.

Jerod Harris/Stringer, Getty ImagesJamie Campbell Bower recently reprised his role as young Gellert Grindelwald in ‘Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald.’

Although Ser Waymar Royce was a small part, he appears in the cold open of the series’ very first episode. Jamie Campbell Bower originally portrayed the Night’s Watch ranger, who was in charge of the mission that went deadly wrong.

In a blog post from that summer, author George R.R. Martin says Bower had signed onto a Starz series, “Camelot,” by the time HBO was doing reshoots.

Now, Bower will have a role on HBO’s first (currently untitled) “Game of Thrones” prequel pilot. For now, the network hasn’t ordered it to series.


Read more:
An actor from the original unaired ‘Game of Thrones’ pilot is returning for HBO’s prequel spin-off


Lily Allen decided not to act opposite her brother, Alfie Allen, as Yara and Theon Greyjoy.

David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for LOVE Magazine/Conde NastLily Allen is known as a singer/songwriter.

Yara Greyjoy’s memorable debut on “Game of Thrones” involved an inappropriate reunion with her brother, Theon Greyjoy, who tried to seduce her (without knowing she was his sister).

Lily Allen revealed that she was offered the role, but couldn’t bring herself to be in that scene with her real-life brother, Alfie Allen.

“They asked me if I’d be interested in playing Theon’s sister,” Allen said in a Reddit AMA. “I felt uncomfortable because I would have had to go on a horse and he would have touched me up and s—. Once they told me what was entailed, I said no thanks.”

Although she characterised the offer as a “cameo” in 2014,Yara is still a major player on the eighth and final season.


Charlie Hunnam turned down an important cameo on season seven.

JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty ImagesCharlie Hunnam starred on FX’s ‘Sons of Anarchy.’

“I would love to do a ‘Game of Thrones’ cameo,” Charlie Hunnam told The Sun in 2017. “They offered me a cameo on that show a little while ago, but I was shooting something else, so I wasn’t able to do it. But maybe in the future, who knows.”

Many fans speculate that Hunnam was offered the role of Daenerys Targaryen’s brother and Jon Snow’s real dad, Rhaegar Targaryen, who appeared in a flashback on the season seven finale.


Ian McNeice appeared on the original pilot as Illyrio Mopatis.

Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagicIan McNeice rose to fame as Harcourt on the 1985 series ‘Edge of Darkness.’

Ian McNeice was originally cast as Illyrio Mopatis, a Magister of Pentos who housed and advised Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen throughout season one.

According to Bustle, McNeice was unable to film his scenes again because the pilot reshoots overlapped with his role as Winston Churchill on “Doctor Who.”


Ed Skrein originally portrayed the mercenary soldier Daario Naharis, but the role was recast for the fourth season.

Frazer Harrison/Getty ImagesEd Skrein went on to play Ajax, the main villain in ‘Deadpool.’

After Ed Skrein’s debut as Daario Naharis on season three, Michiel Huisman took over the role for season four and beyond,sporting a distinctly different look.


Read more:
BEFORE AND AFTER: 9 ‘Game of Thrones’ characters that were recast

The decision was reportedly made because Skrein was cast in “The Transporter Refueled,” but he said it was actually “a lot more political than that.”

“My plan was to stay with ‘Game of Thrones’ for the long haul. That was always my plan. I would have loved to,” Skrein told E! News. “It was a wonderful experience, but politics led to us parting ways.”

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