Warning: this article will include spoilers for Game of Thrones and other films and TV series
When Game of Thrones first aired in 2011, the show’s undisputed big star was Sean Bean. With a resume that included playing Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, the titular character in the Sharpe series, the main villains in Goldeneye, Patriot Games, The Island and National Treasure along with roles in Ronin and Troy, Bean had built up a high profile for himself. As in nearly every one of those projects, however, his character Ned Stark dies near the end of the first season, leaving the show without an actor of his level of name recognition. While Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the 1960s British spy show The Avengers, The Great Muppet Caper) entered the show in its third season as Olenna Tyrell, the show allowed the performances of its cast to elevate its existing actors to stardom, instead of inserting another prominent actor in a main role to take his place.
While the show’s cast members were largely unfamiliar to the public until the show started, many of them had appeared in major films and shows before the show or have done so since. In this list, I therefore want to highlight ten films and TV series that have included the cast of Game of Thrones. Their work outside of the show has ranged from Oscar and Emmy nominees and winners to blockbuster successes to cult favourites.
This list tries to promote major performances or minor parts in huge hits, and cannot include every noteworthy role by a Game of Thrones cast member. For fans interested in other projects, several Game of Thrones cast members have appeared in minor roles or guest appearances in prominent British shows. These include the soap opera Hollyoaks, coming of age drama Skins, crime drama Ripper Street (including star Jerome Flynn, the sell-sword Bronn) and action series Strike Back (including second series star Charles Dance, who plays Tywin Lannister).
10. The Tudors: Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell)
In Game of Thrones, Dormer plays Margaery Tyrell, widow of Renly Baratheon and of King Joffrey Baratheon. The role, however, was not her first as a royal, after she played Anne Boleyn, the Queen of England and second wife of King Henry VIII, in the Showtime series The Tudors. Though she died at the end of the show’s second season, she was highly praised for her performance in the role.
On top of appearing in Game of Thrones, Dormer appeared as Private Lorraine in Captain America: The First Avenger in 2011, Nurse Gemma, the first love interest for James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) in the Formula One drama Rush, and Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes’ most famous love interest, in the television show Elementary. She will also appear as Cressida in the two parts of Mockingjay, the film adaptation of the final book in the Hunger Games trilogy, alongside Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), who will play Commander Lyme.
9. A Knight’s Tale: Mark Addy (King Robert Baratheon)
In Game of Thrones, Addy played King Robert Baratheon, who rules in the show’s first season until dying during a hunt. One of his other most prominent roles was as Roland, one of the squires to Heath Ledger’s William Thatcher, in the film A Knight’s Tale. The film depicts Thatcher’s rise from fellow squire to famous jousting knight and attempts to conceal his ignoble lineage, win over Lady Jocelyn and defeat his jousting nemesis Count Adhemar. While Ledger had already had prominent roles in 10 Things I Hate About You, The Patriot and Monster’s Ball, A Knight’s Tale was his first movie as the undisputed star. The film remains popular for its blend of comedy, action and romance, as well as its use of historical anachronisms like a jousting crowd singing Queen’s We Will Rock You. Addy’s comedic and likable role in this fan favorite elevates him into the top ten. He has also appeared in The Full Monty and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood.
8. Downton Abbey: Rose Leslie and Iain Glen (Ygritte and Ser Jorah Mormont)
In Game of Thrones, Leslie plays Ygritte, the Wildling warrior who falls in love with Jon Snow, while Glen plays Ser Jorah Mormont, an exiled knight who leads the Queensguard for Daenerys Targeryen. In Downton Abbey, however, the two played very different characters. Leslie played Gwen Dawson in the show’s first season, a housemaid who trains herself in typing and correspondence and leaves her role to become a secretary at a telephone company.
Glen portrayed Sir Richard Carlisle, a self-made newspaper magnate who becomes a love interest for Lady Mary. The two fall in love and she agrees to marry him, but she later breaks off the engagement after the two argue over their future living situation, her past romantic entanglements and his desire to exert increasing control over her day-to-day life. Glen also had roles in Kick-Ass 2, Kingdom of Heaven, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Harry Brown, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
7. Rome: Ciaran Hinds, Tobias Menzies, Indira Varma (Rayder, Edmure Tully, Ellaria Saad)
In Game of Thrones, Hinds plays Rayder, the leader in the North, Menzies plays Edmure Tully, the younger brother of Catelyn Stark captured by the Freys after the Red Wedding, and Varma plays Ellaria Saad, the paramour of Oberyn Martell introduced at the beginning of the fourth season. While none of the three Rome stars have appeared in more than five episodes of Game of Thrones so far, both Hinds and Varma are poised to make more appearances and all three played prominent roles in Rome.
In the show, which depicted the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire in the first century BC, Hinds played Julius Caesar, while Menzies played Marcus Brutus, Caesar’s most famous assassin. Varma played Niobe, the wife of series star Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd), a Roman officer serving under Caesar. Hinds and Varma both only starred in the first season of the show, while Menzies was prominent in both of the show’s seasons.
An often under appreciated show in the HBO oeuvre, because of its early cancellation due to budgeting issues, the show is nonetheless an excellent and entertaining watch that has much in common with Game of Thrones: political intrigue, violence, vast casts of characters and many locations, among other things. A personal favorite of mine, I would highly recommend Rome to all Game of Thrones fans, because of their similar styles and shared cast members.
6. 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire: Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister)
In Game of Thrones, Headey plays Queen Cersei Lannister, one of the most powerful characters in the Seven Kingdoms. In 300, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, she played another queen, Gorgo of Sparta, the wife of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). In the film, she works to influence the Spartan Council to send reinforcements to help her husband and uncovers that one of the Council’s member betrayed Sparta for the Persians. Her character is one of the few to live through the movie, and she serves as the narrator for the sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, which focuses on the Battle of Salamis, a major naval battle between the Greek city-states and the Persians.
Headey also starred as Sarah Connor in the television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which lasted two seasons from 2008 to 2009. This connects her to Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen), who will also play Sarah Connor in the 2015 movie Terminator: Genesis, directed by former Games of Thrones director Alan Taylor.
5. Love Actually: Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed)
In Game of Thrones, Brodie-Sangster plays Jojen Reed, a boy with special gifts who accompanies Bran on his journey to the North. In the film Love Actually, an extremely popular Christmas-set romantic comedy, he played Sam, the stepson of recent widower Daniel (Liam Neeson). Sam falls in love with a girl in his class, learns to play the drums to impress her in a school Christmas pageant, with the help of his stepfather, and eventually wins her over, while Daniel falls for Carol (Claudia Schiffer) at the same pageant.
Brodie-Sangter has voiced the character of Ferb in the popular children’s show Phineas and Ferb, played a young Paul McCartney in the film Nowhere Boy, and will star as Newt in the upcoming film The Maze Runner, based on the first novel in a popular young adult dystopian trilogy.
4. The Dark Knight Trilogy: Jack Gleeson and Aiden Gillen (King Joffrey Baratheon and Lord Baelish)
In Game of Thrones, Gleeson played King Joffrey Baratheon, while Gillen plays Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the former Master of Coin and constant political schemer. In Batman Begins, Gleeson appeared as an unnamed boy protected by Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) in Gotham City after Ra’s al Ghul (Neeson) and the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) releases their fear toxin. The role was Gleeson’s first credited role in a feature-length movie. After his character’s death in Game of Thrones, however, Gleeson announced he is officially retiring from acting. As a student at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, studying theology and philosophy, the school named Gleeson as a Scholar in 2012, an extremely prestigious award entitling him to free tuition, board and food, as well as other privileges.
In The Dark Knight Rises, the final movie of the trilogy, Gillen played a CIA agent sent to escort Dr. Pavel, a nuclear specialist. Bane, a captive on his plane, then hijacks it from Gillen’s unnamed character and his men in the opening action sequence. Gillen is also famous for playing Tommy Carcetti in the groundbreaking HBO drama The Wire, and Lord Nelson Rathbone, the main villain in 2003’s Shanghai Knights, starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson.
3. Elf: Peter Dinklage
In Game of Thrones, Dinklage’s extraordinary performance as Tyrion Lannister earned him Emmy and Golden Globe Awards as Best Supporting Actor in 2011, as well as the leading bill in the cast from Season 2 onwards. In the Christmas favorite Elf, Dinklage played Miles Finch, a talented but hot-tempered children’s author recruited by Walter Hobbs (James Caan) to write a new book to save his publishing company after a notable flop. Buddy (Will Ferrell), however, mistakes Finch for one of Santa’s elves, infuriating Finch to the point where he attacks Buddy and storms out of the building.
Dinklage received critical acclaim and several award wins and nominations for his performance in The Station Agent, and starred in both the original British version of the dark comedy Death at a Funeral and its American remake. He will play Bolivar Trask in the upcoming film X-Men: Days of Future Past.
2. Harry Potter: David Bradley, Natalia Tena, Michelle Fairley, Ciaran Hinds (Walder Frey, Osha, Catelyn Stark, Rayder)
Bradley plays Walder Frey, host of the infamous Red Wedding, where Fairley’s character Catelyn Stark’s throat is slit after watching her son Robb, his bride, and many Stark bannermen die at the hands of Frey’s men. Tena’s character Osha is a Wildling woman who befriends Bran Stark, and Hinds’ Rayder was referenced when discussing Rome (number 7 on this list).
Bradley’s character Argus Finch, the unfriendly caretaker at Hogwarts, appeared in all of the Harry Potter movies except The Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Tena played Nymphadora Tonks, a member of the Order of the Phoenix who, as a Metamorphagus, can change her appearance at will, in the last four Harry Potter movies. Fairley briefly appeared in The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 as the mother of Hermione Granger, as she erases herself from her parents’ memories before departing with Harry and Ron to destroy the Horcruxes, while Hinds featured in Part 2, the final movie of the series, as Aberforth Dumbledore. One other Game of Thrones cast member appeared in the series as well, to be discussed in the number one entry.
Bradley also appeared in Hot Fuzz with Rory McCann (Sandor “The Hound” Clegane) and in Harry Brown with Iain Glen (Ser Jorah, mentioned earlier) and Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos Seaworth). Fairley also appeared on the TV show Suits in its third season with Conleth Hill (Varys).
1. Star Wars: Julian Glover (Grand Maester Pycelle)
With an extraordinary resume including many of pop culture’s most enduring staples, it seemed overly limiting to list just one of Glover’s many projects alongside his name. In Game of Thrones, he plays Grand Maester Pycelle, an elderly Small Council member in King’s Landing and adviser to the King, but this is but the most recent of his many iconic projects.
In The Empire Strikes Back, he played General Veers, the Imperial AT-AT commander who led Darth Vader’s ground assault on Hoth. The following year, he played Bond villain Aristotle Kristatos in For Your Eyes Only, stealing a British submarine targeting system to sell to the KGB only for Bond (Roger Moore) to defeat him. In 1989, he played Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, who pretends to be an ally to Jones (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery), only to reveal himself as a Nazi. Donovan, however, selects the wrong Grail cup and dies horribly. He also voiced the giant spider Aragog in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and appeared in the 2004 film Troy, alongside fellow future Game of Throne actors Sean Bean and James Cosmo (Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night Watch), as well as in several classic episodes of Doctor Who.