Whether you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or not, it’s hard to deny that the HBO series has completely changed the face of television – thanks to its stellar CGI effects and amazing production value, David Benioff and DB Weiss have transformed George R.R. Martin’s fantasy books into a feast for the eyes.
However, one of the main reasons millions of viewers around the world have fallen in love with the series is thanks to its stellar ensemble cast. Oscar winners and screen veterans – as well as complete newbies – have made each role their own, and in some cases actors have relaunched their careers altogether after appearing on Game of Thrones (Jerome Flynn and Paul Kaye, we’re looking at you!).
In the list below, we take a look at 15 actors from the show and what they looked like years before they starred in the hit HBO fantasy series. Some of them appear remarkably different to their alter-egos from Westeros/Essos, whilst others have barely changed at all from their early acting days.
Scroll on down to check out what 15 Game of Thrones actors looked like when they were younger…
1. Diana Rigg
Diana Rigg is a legendary actress of stage and screen. Her career has spanned decades and she’s also won multiple awards and accolades (including a CBE) for her contribution to the world of acting. Game of Thrones cast her brilliantly as Lady Olenna, the quick-witted and cunning matriarch of House Tyrell. Rigg appeared in the HBO series from 2013 to 2017, earning three nominations in a row for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. However, older generations will know Rigg best for her starring turn as Emma Peel in TV’s The Avengers, a role which quickly transformed her into a 60s icon and sex symbol (as you can probably tell from the photo above!).
2. Jason Momoa
Jason Momoa was only in Game of Thrones for one season, and yet everyone still remembers his iconic performance as the butch alpha male Khal Drogo. However, did you know that before acting in the hit HBO series, Momoa was one of the lead actors in Baywatch: Hawaii?! The photo above shows Momoa posing for the camera around the time he was wowing audiences with his buff physique as lifeguard Jason Ioane from 1999 to 2001. Since then he’s come a long way, and is now set to star in Marvel’s Aquaman as the titular character later this year.
3. Kristofer Hivju
Games of Thrones fans will barely recognise the fresh-faced young man pictured above, but it’s actually a photo of Tormund Giantsbane back when he was just starting out as an actor! The lovable wildling is a firm favourite amongst regular viewers, and we’re still holding out hope that the final season will bring Tormund and Brienne together. However, Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju had already been an actor for some time before he was cast as the wildling leader, and the photo above shows him in his first ever TV appearance playing Jim Olsen in Fox Grønland (2001).
4. Lena Headey
Lena Headey has made the character of Cersei Lannister completely her own, winning countless awards and nominations for her portrayal of the ruthless and scheming Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. But before that she had already built up an impressive acting CV, starring in countless films and TV programmes such as 300 (2007) and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009). The photo above shows her as a fresh-faced actress, long before the days she would be mercilessly ruling from the Iron Throne.
5. Gwendoline Christie
Gwendoline Christie’s role as Brienne of Tarth has helped shoot her to stardom – she earned herself a recurring role as Captain Phasma in the Star Wars franchise and also appeared in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015). The black and white publicity shot above is a far cry from her look on GOT – Christie is usually wearing armour spattered with mud or blood (or even a combination of the two). Due to her height (she’s approximately 6 foot 3), Christie was initially told that she’d never make it as an actress and her agent even said “well, good luck with that” when she first announced her intention to enter the world of acting! She’s certainly proved the doubters wrong.
6. Iain Glen
Scottish actor Iain Glen already had an impressive CV before he joined GOT in 2011 – he appeared in the first Lara Croft film, was a regular on Downton Abbey and even starred in the Resident Evil franchise. Fans soon fell in love with his quietly brooding portrayal of Daenerys’ adviser Jorah Mormont, the exiled lord of Bear Island. The photo above shows Iain looking very different to his Westerosi counterpart, posing for the camera during one of his earliest acting jobs.
7. Paul Kaye
Paul Kaye will be better known to older generations as the ever-so-slightly annoying Dennis Pennis, a shock interviewer who used to appear on The Sunday Show and wind up celebrities on the red carpet. Well Kaye has now become a bit more of a ‘celeb’ himself thanks to his memorable performance as the red priest Thoros of Myr in Game of Thrones. And the role has allowed him to branch out and relaunch his acting career – alongside Kaye’s starring turn as Thoros, he’s also managed to bag recurring roles in Lilyhammer and guest appearances in programmes such as Humans.
8. Peter Dinklage
Renowned screen actor Peter Dinklage has won the the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series twice for his role as Tyrion Lannister, once in 2011 and then again in 2015 (he has received consecutive Emmy nominations from 2011 to 2016). Before Game of Thrones he found plenty of work in TV and film, and the photo above shows him in 2003’s The Station Agent, a comedy-drama about a quiet and withdrawn man (played by Dinklage) who has an intense love of railroads. He looks very different from his role on GOT – Tyrion’s huge facial scar and heavy-set beard has completely vanished!
9. Jerome Flynn
Jerome Flynn plays the irascible scoundrel Bronn on Game of Thrones but he was certainly no stranger to the world of show business before that. The picture above shows Flynn in a still from Soldier Soldier – he portrayed Sergeant Paddy Garvey on the series from 1991 to 1997, a programme which also featured his 90s singing partner Robson Green. For his look on Game of Thrones, Flynn has since grown a dark beard and longer hair in order to accurately portray the lusty sell sword Bronn.
10. Conleth Hill
Yep that’s right, Varys ‘The Spider’ secretly has a full head of hair hidden away somewhere! Northern Irish actor Conleth Hill has to shave his head for his role as the spy master, which is why we barely recognised this photo of him as a young actor in an early TV performance. He’s not just a screen actor though – Hill won the 2001 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actor and has received two Tony Award nominations for his work in the theatre, an impressive resume for Westeros’ most feared spy master.
11. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson
Whose this strapping young man, you ask? It’s none other than The Mountain, also known as Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson when he’s not snapping people in half or gouging out the eyes of his enemies on-camera. Björnsson is a professional strong man and actor, so he was always going to be well-cast as The Mountain That Rides aka the biggest and fiercest warrior in all of the Seven Kingdoms. Alongside his role on Game of Thrones, Björnsson regularly competes in weightlifting competitions and is the current World’s Strongest Man. Nice!
12. Carice Van Houten
Carice Van Houten is barely recognisable in this photo of herself as a young actress. Game of Thrones fans are more used to seeing her with long red hair and flowing red robes, but here Van Houten is posing against a tree trunk in a publicity still with not a strand of red hair in sight. Originally hailing from the Netherlands, Van Houten has worked extensively in the Dutch film industry, but her starring role as the Red Woman helped her to crossover into mainstream Hollywood. She met her partner, the actor Guy Pearce, on the set of Brimstone in 2015 and gave birth to their child the following year.
13. Rory McCann
Before Rory McCann was The Hound, the Scottish actor starred in a number of films and TV programmes including The Book Group, Shameless and the 2007 film Hot Fuzz. He joined the cast of Game of Thrones in 2011, right from season one, and has won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Sandor Clegane, a complex character who is currently undergoing a fascinating redemption arc in the series. As well as acting, McCann is a musician and plays the piano and guitar.
14. Liam Cunningham
This dashing young man is actually none other than Liam Cunningham, who plays Davos Seaworth, ‘The Onion Knight’ in Game of Thrones. The Irish actor has had a lengthy career in acting, and the photo above shows him playing Sir Agravaine in First Knight (1995), which also starred Sean Connery as King Arthur and Richard Gere as Lancelot. Cunningham has since shot to stardom thanks to his excellent portrayal of Davos and has bagged himself guest appearances on a whole host of sci-fi/fantasy programmes including Merlin and Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams. Not bad for a lowly smuggler with half his fingers missing!
15. Charles Dance
And last but not least, here’s a photo of the one and only Charles Dance back when he was a young man! He couldn’t look more different to his GOT character Lord Tywin, the battle-worn patriarch of House Lannister. Like Diana Rigg at the top of this list, Dance is an iconic British actor and has won numerous accolades for a career spanning several decades across stage and screen. He hasn’t showed signs of slowing down either – since his exit from Game of Thrones, Dance has various projects in the works, including an appearance in Godzilla sometime next year.