Back in 2011, HBO unleashed a new series into the world in the form of Game of Thrones. Many initially thought that the show was just another Lord of the Rings rip-off but it has become a global phenomenon with a following that’s never been seen in a series before.
Based off of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO’s Game of Thrones follows the political struggle in the land of Westeros and Essos. It shows different houses and their bid for the Iron Throne and with a show that’s very exciting and nerve wracking, it has to have some of the most memorable characters ever.
The show has propelled the careers of many acting newcomers like Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams. Some of the actors and actresses in the show aren’t new to the business though. There is quite a handful who’ve had acting stints here and there. Only those with a good memory and a keen eye can say “hey, I’ve seen this guy somewhere before.” Since it’s fun checking out the humble beginnings of our favorite Game of Thrones actors and actresses, here are the lives of 20 of them before the hit show.
20. Jon Snow / Kit Harington
The King In The North and the Prince that was Promised. Jon Snow has become arguably the most lovable character in Game of Thrones. Our hearts fell and sank when he was killed and betrayed by the Night’s Watch and we were more than happy when he was revived by Melisandre. This was a breakthrough role for Kit Harington but before this, Harington’s already been sharpening his acting skills on stage.
Harington originally wanted to be a journalist but his life took another turn when he landed the role of Alber in the National Theatre’s adaptation of War Horse. This was his first and only acting experience before Game of Thrones though and we’re more than happy to see him land the role of Jon Snow.
19. Oberyn Martell / Pedro Pascal
In season 4, fans got a taste of yet another likable character, this time, in the form of the vengeful but fun Oberyn Martell. HBO cast Pedro Pascal for this one season role and he gave us quite the performance. What we got was a very likable character with a solid Dornish accent and one of the best fight scenes in the series to date.
Before getting his head popped by The Mountain in Game of Thrones, Pascal’s already been a veteran of TV shows. He’s appeared in popular TV shows like Law and Order, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and NYPD Blue. As for films, he has been in quite a few movies including Hermanas and I Am That Girl.
18. Tyrion Lannister / Peter Dinklage
Easily one of the fan favorites in the show, Tyrion Lannister is perhaps one Game of Thrones character that fans don’t want to see die. From his humble beginnings as the Lannister’s unwanted family member to his current position as the Hand of Daenerys Targaryen, fans have followed Tyrion since the start. Behind the brilliant character is Peter Dinklage; who’s a brilliant actor in his own right.
Dinklage has a ton of roles under his resume and his acting already been praised quite a few times before his take on Tyrion. He made his professional acting debut in the 1995 comedy-drama, Living In Oblivion, which he starred alongside Steve Buscemi.
17. Daenerys Targaryen / Emilia Clarke
She puts the Fire in A Song of Ice and Fire and you can bet that she’s one of the fiercest women in Westeros and in Essos. Daenerys Targaryen has been through a lot in Game of Thrones and she has earned every word from her array of titles coming after her name. Putting this vital character to life is newcomer Emilia Clarke and despite her lack of major acting experience, she manages to pull off an amazing performance.
Clarke has had baby steps in acting before landing the role of Daenerys Targaryen. She’s landed minor roles in the British soap opera Doctors and in Syfy’s 2010 film, Triassic Attack. Her breakthrough role really is in Game of Thrones and we’re happy HBO cast her for the role.
16. Jaime Lannister / Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
In the first season of Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister was the most hated character. In the succeeding seasons, we felt sorry for the Lannister because everything just went haywire for him. Now, he’s a fan favorite on the show. The actor behind this now one-handed knight is Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and fans of war films should’ve immediately recognized him.
Aside from his stint as a Lannister, Waldau’s other famous role is with the hit 2001 war film, Black Hawk Down. Before the 2001 war film, Waldau’s already been in other films. His debut film was in the 1994 classic, Nightwatch.
15. Khal Drogo / Jason Momoa
The Dothraki are a terrifying bunch and there’s no other army in the world of Game of Thrones that’s more intimidating. To lead this rowdy bunch, one needs to be the scariest out of everyone else. HBO hit the jackpot when they cast Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo because he physique and overall aura were just the one fans of the books were looking for.
Now a household name because of Game of Thrones and his upcoming role as Aquaman, Momoa is more popular than ever. Before the major roles, Momoa started out as a model and he bagged the 1999 model of the year award in Hawaii. After that, he landed roles in Baywatch Hawaii, Conan The Barbarian and Stargate Atlantis.
14. Joffrey Baratheon / Jack Gleeson
For the first 4 seasons of Game of Thrones, fans were always on edge when Joffrey Baratheon is on screen. He’s just so annoying and terrible and nobody likes him. Well, Cersei was at least able to love him despite his bratty ways. Jack Gleeson bought Joffrey to life and his performance was nothing short of exemplary and without the actor, we couldn’t have hated Joffrey more.
Many may have recognized Joffrey from his short stint as a young boy in Batman Begins. However, his earliest taste of acting was at 2002’s Reign of Fire. Since then, Gleeson took minor roles in several films including Moving Day and Fishtale.
13. Sandor Clegane “The Hound”/ Rory McCann
The Cleganes are quite the siblings. One’s a hunkering giant who’s ruthless and is made even more terrifying after being revived as a zombie of some sorts. The “nicer” of the two, Sandor Clegane, also known as The Hound, is one of the feared fighters in Westeros. Rory McCann excellently portrays this intimidating character on the show but before this, McCann’s had quite a career already.
Aside from being The Hound on HBO’s Game of Thrones, McCann has had a few minor roles already but perhaps his other claim to fame is by playing the “yarp” guy in Hot Fuzz. As Michael “Lurch” Armstrong, McCann had to play as an innocent but scary man-child. It’s truly a huge step away from being The Hound.
12. Olenna Tyrell / Diana Rigg
One of the most badass characters in the show doesn’t come in the form of a knight in shining armor. Fans of the show might point to Olenna Tyrell as being one of the awesome characters in Game of Thrones. It sucks that she’s already dead in the show but fans of the actress portraying Olenna shouldn’t be too sad as she has quite the filmography to look back at.
Diana Rigg’s career includes several roles for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Perhaps what she’s most known for is her role in the 1960s The Avengers TV series where she played Emma Peel. Amazingly enough, the young Diana Rigg shares a few resemblances to Natalie Dormer who plays her daughter on Game of Thrones.
11. Margaery Tyrell / Natalie Dormer
Margaery Tyrell was one of those characters who we couldn’t figure about what her true intentions were. Natalie Dormer fit the role of the seductive royalty perfectly and the smirk on her face makes us sad that she got killed off last season. The exemplary performance is expected from Dormer who has played other sultry roles in the past.
Dormer played a rather similar role in The Tudors when she played as Anne Boleyn. However, her career started way earlier than that. Dormer’s first jab at acting was way back in 2005 when she landed the role of Victoria in Casanova. Since then, Dormer’s career started to rise, but she became more recognizable after appearing in Game of Thrones.
10. Shae / Sibel Kekilli
Shae was one of the most beloved characters in the series. She started out as a prostitute that served Tyrion Lannister but when she became more than that to the Imp, fans began rooting for Shae as well. She helped Tyrion become happier in his miserable life but all that changed when she betrayed him in Season 4. After that, fans were more than happy to see her killed off.
The actress behind Shae is none other than Sibel Kekilli. She’s starred in quite a few films already including Head-On, When We Leave, What A Man and more. Back in 2004, the press revealed Kekilli’s past as an adult film actress under the name of Dilara.
9. Ramsay Bolton / Iwan Rheon
Perhaps the most satisfying scene in Game of Thrones aside from the Purple Wedding is when Sansa Stark fed Ramsay Bolton to his hounds. Ramsay was a very detestable character and his ruthlessness surpasses even that of Joffrey Baratheon’s. The actor behind the character is Iwan Rheon and fans hated him for the role. Let’s face it though, the only reason fans hate Rheon is because he portrayed the role very well.
Rheon’s breakthrough role was in the E4 series Misfits. He was a part of the main cast from 2009 to 2011 and he plays the role of Simon Belamy who has the power to become invisible. Aside from this, Rheon also has landed a few minor roles in both film and TV.
8. Cersei Lannister / Lena Headey
Cersei Lannister’s the third easiest character to hate in Game of Thrones; first and second goes to Joffrey Baratheon and Ramsay Bolton respectively. It’s not just the character itself that makes us so angry, Lena Headey who plays Cersei just portrays the role very well. From her accent to her intimidating glare, Headey’s plays Cersei so naturally.
As one of the most recognizable actresses in the show, Headey’s filmography includes some major roles in Hollywood classics. Some of her major roles were for films such as The Brothers Grimm and 300. When it comes to TV, Headey played the role of Sarah Connor in the Terminator spin-off series, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
7. Tywin Lannister / Charles Dance
While Lena Headey’s Cersei Lannister is indeed one of the most terrifying and intimidating characters on the show, the title of most intimidating Lannister has to fall to her father, Tywin. Tywin Lannister’s a battle tested man and it shows with his calm but rough demeanor. Veteran actor Charles Dance put his acting chops to good use with his characterisation of Tywin.
Dance has a very impressive filmography consisting of many films. His earliest taste of acting was when he became a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company during the mid-70s. Those who’ve seen Tywin Lannister for the first time might’ve been shocked because Dance was the same actor who portrayed the flamboyant David Carlton in Ali G Indahouse.
6. Ned Stark / Sean Bean
Sean Bean is one of the most popular actors to star in Game of Thrones. He played the role of the pure and incorruptible Ned Stark. Those who haven’t seen the books thought that Bean’s character will be safe from death since he is the main character but to the surprise of many, he didn’t even last an entire season before having his head chopped off.
Even before dying as Ned Stark in Game of Thrones, Bean has already been killed off in quite a few movies. He was shot by arrows as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. He was pulled apart by horses in Black Death and so much more. He was arguably the most recognizable actor in the series.
5. Robb Stark / Richard Madden
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. House Stark was one of the most powerful houses in Westeros but when Ned Stark’s successor, Robb Stark was killed, the house was seemingly removed from the map. The Young Wolf did a number on the Lannister army before his death though. Richard Madden excellently played this charismatic leader on the show and his acting chops were put on full display.
At the age of 11, Madden entered a theatre group to overcome his shyness. Little did he know then that it would be the start of a good career. Soon after joining the group, Madden was cast to play the role of a young Andy in the 2000 film, Complicity.
4. Robert Baratheon / Mark Addy
There are not many relatable characters in Game of Thrones and that’s why fans loved Robert Baratheon. He was sick of all that’s going on, sick of the responsibilities and he just doesn’t care. Sadly, he was taken from us even before the first season ended. Veteran actor Mark Addy played the role of the Iron Throne’s former owner and we couldn’t have had it any other way.
Before playing the role of King Robert, Addy played other memorable characters as well. He was Fred Flintstone in the live-action adaptation of The Flintstones, he was Dave from The Full Monty and much more. As for his TV repertoire, Addy starred as Bill Miller in the hit TV series, Still Standing.
3. Daario Naharis / Michiel Huisman
Yet another character who has undergone an actor change is the dashing and charming Daario Naharis. This commander of the Stormcrows was first played by Ed Skrein in the third season of the show but after that, Michiel Huisman portrayed the character. Huisman fits the role just as perfectly as Skrein and those who have good memory could remember where they saw the actor/musician first.
While he’s more well-known as an actor, Huisman is actually a musician as well. He’s a guitarist and a singer in a Dutch band named Fontane and they have a few singles under their name. Aside from this, Huisman also has a few solo singles of his own to help support his musical career.
2. Gregor Clegane “The Mountain”/ Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björnsson
No other character in Game of Thrones underwent an actor change more times than Gregor Clegane also known as the Mountain. This literal giant was first played by Conan Stevens, then by Ian Whyte. Now, Iceland’s Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björnsson might’ve secured the role for himself up until the show ends, or when his character dies.
Standing at 6ft and 9in, Björnsson started out as a professional basketball player for the Iceland. After that, he made himself more well-known in the strongman category. He has beaten a 1000-year-old record during the 2015 World’s Viking Strongest Viking competition.
1. Jorah Mormont / Iain Glen
Yet another veteran actor in the cast of Game of Thrones is Iain Glen. In the show, he plays the role of the very loyal Jorah Mormont whose efforts to protect and serve Daenerys Targaryen go as far as having him go through extensive pain just to get cured of Greyscale. Though not as popular as other big time actors like Mark Addy and Lena Headey, Glen has proven that he’s a seasoned veteran in the world of acting.
His first professional role in a film was 1988’s Paris by Night. His breakthrough performance though has to be in 1990’s Silent Scream. His performance bagged him the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 40th Berlin Film Festival. Before landing a role in Game Of Thrones, Glen first played a few TV roles as well including 2 episodes as Father Octavian in Doctor Who.
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