Game of Thrones rarely does anything less-than-perfect. This is especially true when it comes to casting. Taking the characters from the page and bringing them to life with talented actors who fit the established look of the written roles is not an easy task, but GoT has a knack for it (even when it comes to the usually-inconsistent child actor). Having said that, here are four actors who almost filled the shoes of Catelyn, Daenerys, Sansa, and Magister Illyrio.
Jennifer Ehle as Catelyn Stark
Michelle Fairley brings the perfect balance of unconditional maternal love and stubborn badassery to the role of Catelyn Stark, the matriarch of House Stark who is trying to bring her family back together after its torn apart by the War of the Five Kings. But it was almost another who played the part...
In the unaired GoT pilot, Catelyn was played by Jennifer Ehle, most recently recognized for her work in Zero Dark Thirty, but perhaps best known for the role of Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series. The BAFTA and Tony award-winning actress left the project in the year-long hiatus between when the unaired pilot was filmed and the series was green-lit by HBO and went into production. As much as we love Michelle in the role, we are sad we will never get to see Jennifer’s interpretation of the pivotal character. We think she would have made a great Catelyn!
Tamzin Merchant as Daenerys Targaryen
Emilia Clarke (Daenerys) is one of the most popular actors on a beloved cast. As the pint-sized, powerful young leader intent on reclaiming her kingdom without exploiting the innocent, the role of Daenerys is another complex one. Watching Emilia take Daenerys from a naive, frightened girl controlled by others to a strong, independent leader has been a joy.
But it was originally actress Tamzin Merchant who played the part in the unaired pilot. Tamzin is best known for her turns as Georgiana in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and Katherine Howard in The Tudors. Tamzin is probably the more experienced actor, but we can’t imagine anyone but Emilia in the role. Though we look forward to seeing Tamzin in many more roles, this is one switcheroo we’re a-OK with because let's face it, can you imagine the Khaleesi as anyone else?
Izzy Meikle-Small as Sansa Stark
Sophie Turner inspires sympathy in the often passive role of Sansa Stark, King’s Landing’s prettiest bargaining chip. Sansa is not always the most likeable character. She is not as brave as younger sister Arya, nor as clever as fellow Lannister-marrying material, Margaery Tyrell. But Sophie manages to instill the quiet defiance of a young girl growing up away from anyone she can completely trust, the tragedy of an adolescence spent utterly alone.
It was nearly Izzy Meikle-Small who took on the role. Izzy was the runner-up for the part, and recently said that - though she was sad at the time to lose the role - she is glad in the long run due to the amount of nudity on the show. Izzy, who has played a young Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go and a young Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman, may have held her own as Sansa, but we doubt any young actress could pull it off better than Sophie.
Ian McNeice as Magister Illyrio
Magister Illyrio is a small, but important character in Season 1. In addition to supporting the Targaryen bid for the Iron Throne, it is Illyrio who gives Daenerys the three dragon eggs and introduces Ser Jorah to Dany and her brother, Viserys. The role was played by recurring cast member Roger Allam, a two-time Laurence Olivier award winner. He does a splendid job of portraying Illyrio, and will most likely be seen again as Illyrio comes back into play later on in the book series. However, it was Ian McNeice who originally filled the role. The actor, who you may know from his turn as Winston Churchill in Doctor Who, bowed out due to scheduling conflicts. We can only imagine he would have been just as good in GoT.
Would you have preferred to see these actors fill these GoT roles or are you happy with the current casting? Sound of in the comments below!
Catch the next episode of Game of Thrones on Sunday, June 2 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.