HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has already broken all sorts of records and despite the way the series ended, it is a cultural phenomenon. If it wasn’t clear before, the huge cast of the show will go down in history as playing some of the most favorite characters to ever charm the small screen. For some Hollywood stars, however, this distinction is more bitter than sweet.
In the decade since “Game of Thrones” first aired, lots 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 15 people who could’ve played a major role in Westeros.
1. Tamzin Merchant was originally cast as Daenerys Targaryen.
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.
2. Sam Claflin auditioned for both the roles of Jon Snow and Viserys Targaryen.
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.“
3. Gillian Anderson was offered a role, but turned it down.
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.
4. Tricia Helfer was also considered for Cersei.
Tricia Helfer revealed on Twitter that she auditioned for Cersei Lannister. And though 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.
5. Mahershala Ali blew his audition for the role of Xaro Xhoan Daxos, a merchant in Qarth, on season two.
“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.”
6. Izzy Meikle-Small was the second choice for Sansa Stark behind Sophie Turner.
“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.“
7. Brian Cox turned down a role because it didn’t pay enough.
“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.“
8. Jared Harris auditioned to play the High Sparrow.
“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, ultimately went to Jonathan Pryce. Harris also revealed that he auditioned for Dr. Robert Ford on HBO’s “Westworld,” who’s portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.
9. Jennifer Ehle played Catelyn Stark on the original “Game of Thrones” pilot.
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.“
10. Sam Heughan auditioned seven different times for various roles.
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.“
11. Jamie Bamber auditioned for the role of Jaime Lannister.
Jamie Bamber has never addressed his failed “Game of Thrones” audition, but Jaime Lannister was a highly popular role when HBO was casting the show. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau beat out numerous actors for the job.
12. Dominic West couldn’t commit to filming on location in Iceland for six months.
“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’ve 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 ultimately 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.“
13. Jamie Campbell Bower played Ser Waymar Royce, a brother of the Night’s Watch, on the original pilot.
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 (presently untitled) “Game of Thrones” prequel pilot. For now, the network hasn’t ordered it to series.
14. Lily Allen decided not to act opposite her brother, Alfie Allen, as Yara and Theon Greyjoy.
Yara Greyjoy’s unforgettable debut on “Game of Thrones” involved an improper 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.“
15. Charlie Hunnam turned down an important cameo on season seven.
“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.