This is it. The most popular television show on the planet has come to an end. With the airing of season eight’s sixth and final episode, Game of Thrones is in the books. It’s time to bid farewell to King’s Landing, Winterfell, and all the other locations in Westeros, not to mention the character we’ve come to love – and hate – so much. It’s truly the end of an era, and almost a decade of television. One curious side-effect of spending so much time with these characters is that we feel like we know them – or the actors playing them. It’s only natural – we’ve been following their adventures for so long that it feels like they’re friends of ours. Truth is, however, we have no idea of the real people behind them. They’ve had lives, and careers, before Game of Thrones – even if they would’ve preferred they remained secret! These are the rarest photos of Game of Thrones’ stars before Westeros.
Jason Momoa’s breakout role came in the first season of Game of Thrones. Playing Khal Drogo, he portrayed the fearsome Dothraki warlord who weds Daenerys Targaryen and gets her started on the path that eventually takes her to the Iron Throne. There’s no mistaking him in that role, with his trademark braid and beard. Born Joseph Jason Namakaeha Momoa in Honolulu, Hawai’i, it was hard to guess the heights to which he’ll one day reach, which today include playing Aquaman in DC Comics’ films. It’s especially hard doing that when you look at this fresh-faced young man, who got his start in show biz modeling and whose first big acting gig was a Baywatch spinoff.
It’s been so long now that it’s easy to forget, but Game of Thrones’ first season pulled off one of the biggest twists in television history (if you never read the books, at least). As the season progressed, we were sure Ned Stark was going to be the show’s main protagonist, only for him to lose his head in the show’s seventh episode. In retrospect, we probably should’ve seen this coming, as the actor playing him, Sean Bean, went to meet his maker in no less than 25 of his screen roles! This photo is from his first television role in a famous British police show, The Bill. While Bean only played a bit part, at least he didn’t die.
Everyone knows that Tyrion Lannister does two things – he drinks, and he knows things. The actor portraying him, however, knows quite a few things more. Peter Dinklage is four-foot-five, and also the only American core cast member of Game of Thrones. As such, he had quite a burden placed on his shoulders to prove he belonged, and we think he did that amazingly well. It should come as no surprise to anyone who followed the New Jersey-born actor’s life and career. He has never let his stature get in the way of his passion, and landed his first lead role – a school production of The Velveteen Rabbit – in fifth grade. This photo is actually from his 1987 high school yearbook.
Not only did the world almost miss out on Natalie Dormer playing Margaery Tyrell, but the world actually almost missed out on Dormer’s acting altogether! Game of Thrones, The Tudors, The Hunger Games – none of them would have been the same without her! She began as a dancer, but then had her eyes on an academic career at Cambridge. Sadly, a misread exam question scuttled her university career, and she went into acting instead. At 23, she appeared alongside Heath Ledger in Casanova, which is where this picture is from. Sadly, her career floundered after that to the point that she started working in data entry. Thank the Seven she didn’t give up!
It’s a little hard picturing veteran English actor Charles Dance as anything other than the grave, steely-eyed patriarch of the Lannister family, Tywin. And yet here he is, gyrating in ladies’ clothes in a still taken from 2002 comedy Ali G Indahouse, in which he played villainous Deputy Prime Minister David Carlton. There’s just something about Dance that makes casting him as a villain seem like the obvious choice, but the 72-year-old actor once had the opportunity to screen test for the role of James Bond! Somehow, he turned it down.
When Kit Harington was cast to play the illegitimate son of Ned Stark who turns out to have royal roots, it was right in his wheelhouse. Kit’s father, Sir David Harington, is an actual aristocrat, being the 15th Harington baronet. Kit only discovered his real first name was Christopher when he was 11, as his mother named him after playwright Christopher Marlowe, also nicknamed Kit. Harington followed in his namesake’s footsteps by starting out in theater, and at 24, Jon Snow was his first TV role. This photo is from a promotional appearance for that first season.
Who’s that dashing fellow making bedroom eyes at the camera? Why, it’s Tormund Giantsbane himself, Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju. We know, you always figured Tormund was born a huge, bearded baby. This fan favorite fiery redhead is the son of two Norwegian actors, and was actually cast on Game of Thrones by the fans themselves! He was auditioning for History Channel’s Vikings, but fans began making an online push for him to play Tormund. The show’s casting director was convinced to give him a shot, and he landed the part.
If the whole acting thing doesn’t end up panning out for Jerome Flynn, he could always resort to his fallback career. In the mid-1990s, you see, Flynn was part of the musical duo Robson & Jerome alongside fellow actor Robson Green. Though it was short-lived, and they only performed cover versions, the twosome landed three number-one hit singles in their native Britain! As cynical mercenary Bronn, Flynn looks almost unrecognizable. Incidentally, if you ever wondered why he and Cersei never appeared together on the show, it’s because he once dated Lena Headey and it ended badly.
Speaking of Queen Cersei… By the time she was cast as the scheming member of the Lannister tribe, Lena Headey stood out among the batch of relative newcomers. She was already an established actress, having appeared in films like The Brothers Grimm and 300 and TV shows like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Cersei wasn’t her first royal role, either – she played Gorgo, Queen of Sparta, in the aforementioned 300, and King Arthur’s wife Guinevere in the 1998 TV miniseries Merlin, which is where this photo is from.
Theon Greyjoy starts out Game of Thrones as the young ward of Ned Stark and ends it… well, a changed man, both literally and figuratively. What you might not know is that Alfie Allen actually had his eye on a bigger role – that of Jon Snow – and auditioned for it, but didn’t get the part. The son of actor Keith Allen and movie producer Alison Owen, Allen has showbiz in his blood – his sister Lily is a famous singer as well, and appeared with him in the 1998 period piece Elizabeth, which is where this shot is from.
Though he’s known reportedly the odds-on favorite to replace Daniel Craig as James Bond, Richard Madden was once an unknown commodity. Like Kit Harington, he was 24 when he started on Game of Thrones, playing the eldest Stark sibling Robb, who meets a very grisly end at his own wedding. Just a year prior, he played Romeo in a touring production of Romeo and Juliet, ironic since both ROmeo and Robb suffered about the same fate. A barely-recoginzable Madden played muscian Kirk Brandon in Boy George biopic Worried About the Boy the sam year he started on Thrones.
As the Master of Whisperers to five successive monarchs in Game of Thrones, Lord Varys is an enigmatic, scheming spymaster whose appearnace is unmistakable. Wearing long, flowing robes and sporting a perfectly bald head, Northern Ireland actor Conleth Hill had to sacrifice some things, as he grew out his hari in between seasons and had to shave it time and again. Game of THrones is a familly affair for him, as his younge rbrother is a sound engineer on the show and even won four Emmys for his work.
In a show filled to the brim with despicable villains and horrible rogues, King Joffrey was probably the absolute worst. Cruel and vain, Joffrey may be one of the most hated characters not just on the show, but in television history. It’s quite the contrast considering the Irish actor who played him, Jack Gleeson, is reportedly on eof the nicest people you’ll ever meet. The 27-year-old retired from acting in 2014, probably relizing he’ll always be synonymous with Joffrey, but managed to land several appearances in films before that, like this one from Batman Begins.
Danish actor Nikolaj Coster-Wadau plays conflicted knight Ser Jaime Lannister, whose character arc is one of the more tragic on Game of Thrones. Twin borther of Cersei, the two share a . . . creepily close bond that Jaime time and again attempts to sever himsefl from, and yet ultimately fails. Thankfully, Coster-Waldau, who made his film debut Stateside in 2001’s Black Hawk Down, has no such problems in real life. Since 1997, he’s been married to Greenlandic singer and actress Nukaka, with whom he has two daughters. And we’re sure they’re not nearly as insufferable as Joffrey.
Today, after nine years of playing the youngest Stark daughter Arya, Maisie Williams isn’t someone we’d want to mess with. But we forgot all that the moment was saw tiny, adorable Margaret Constance Williams looking back at us from this childhood photo. Nicknamed Maisie after a character in a long-running British comic strip, Williams landed on of the most important roles in one of the biggest shows in history when she was just 14. Not only that, but she beat about 300 other actresses for the part, and it was literrally her first professional gig!
Of the many Game of Thrones characters we lost along the way, there’s probably no one we miss more than Hodor. The gentle giant who could say his own name looked after Bran Stark for four season of the show before meeting his untimely yet herois end at the hands of White Walkers. Northern Irish actor Kristian Nairn had never acted before being cast as Hodor, and his six-foot-ten fram probably had something to do with that. What had nothing to do with his casting was his successful day job as a house music DJ.
As almost six-foot-four, British actress Gwendoline CHristie seems like the perfect choice to play brave knight Ser Brienne of Tarth. However, Christie herself would probably admit to being shocked at how everything turned out. Starting out as a gymnast who was bullied as a teen for her size, she took up acting after a back injury forced her retirement. She made a few small appearance here and there, and became world-famous in 2011 as Brienne. The role catapulted her to fame, and she went on to play Cpatain Phasma in the new Star Wars films.
Although his size is unmistakable, six-foot-six Scottish actor Rory McCann could probably almost walk down the street unnoticed. As the foul-mouthed, horrifically scarred Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, he showed his tough exterior hid a good heart by protecting the Stark girls – first Sansa and then Arya.
That’s pretty fitting for someone who once worked as a gardener and painter. We should be thankful he’s still with us at all, actually, as McCann once nearly lost his life in a rock climbing accident. His sister, Sally, also works on Game of Thrones, in the show’s costume department.
This bleached blond young punk you see here is Irish actor Aiden Gillen, who you know (and hate) as Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the conniving Master of Coin. Before he ended up on Game of Thrones, however, he was one of the cast’s most experienced pros. Seen here in the mostly forgettable 2010 drama The Low Down, the chameleon-like Gillen is probably best remeber as crooked Baltimore politician Tommy Carcetti in The Wire. Don’t worry that his Game of Thrones exit hurt his career – he currently stars on History’s Project Blue Book.
This photo was taken when English actress Nathalie Emmanuel was nine or ten years old, and who claimed she has been a drama queen since she was about three years old. Wishing to channel those energies into something constructive, her mom got her into singing, acting, and dancing. It paid off big – by the time she was ten, she was playing Young Nala in the West End production of The Lion King. Emmanuel got the news about being cast as Dany’s interpreter and confidante Missandei while she was working as an assitant in a clothing store.
While may of Game of Thrones’ young stars got their start on the show, one actress reached Westeros in the twilight of her long career. Diana Rigg may be 80, but if her memorable performance as Olenna Tyrell is any indication, she still has a lot of gas left in the tank. So, the question remains, who starred as a heroine on the original 1960s version of The Avengers, which had nothing to do with Marvel? And who appeared as a Bond girl in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? To paraphrase Olenna, “It was me.”
Ygritte the wildling, portrayed by Rose Leslie, may have met her end but Leslie still hit the jackpot. Aside from her prominent role on the world’s most popular show, she also nabbed Kit Harington. Jon Snow may not know much, but his actor sure knew hot pop the question – the two got married in 2018. Leslie started out playing a character who couldn’t be farther from Ygritte, appearing as housemaid Gwen Dawson in Downtown Abbey. Fititngly, like Harington, Leslie also comes from a family with royal connections, being a distant descendant of King Charles II.
Simply put, Game of Thrones probably wouldn’t be what it is without Emilia Clarke playing Daenerys. The show’s pivotal chacarter, her journey is probably the most signifacnt, going from isolated outcast to having the best claim to ruling the Seven Kingdoms. It’s kind of funny, then, to realize Clarker wasn’t the creators’ first choice. In the show’s original pilot, which was later reshot, Dany was played by a different English actress, Tamzin Merchant, but they ended up replacing her with Emilia. The rest, as they say, was history. This photo is from a much less glamours, and much earlier, role in Clarke’s career. It was a made-for-TV movie named Triassic Attack, and it was just as terrible as it sounds.