You might think you know everything about Game of Thrones, but there are some details about the actors portraying the various characters that could change the way you view the entire series. For example, there are certain cast members whose personal approaches to their now-iconic roles were probably a little different than what you gathered from their scenes. After hearing them describe their methods, you might start to see those intentions manifested on-screen. In other cases, stars of the show had to make some serious choices about whether to agree to certain scenes — or to play their roles at all. There’s even a rumored cast feud that has made a very visible difference in the events of the show!
Read on to soak up all of the real-life details about the cast that might make a significant difference in how you see their characters on the show and how your view Game of Thrones as a whole. By the way, if you’re not caught up on this series, there are spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned.
Emilia Clarke ditched her no nudity clause to become the Mother of Dragons
Before she become Daenerys Stormborn in Game of Thrones, Emilia Clarke was still working her way up to fame with guest roles in several TV series and small-screen movies. When she nabbed her key role in the HBO show, she knew enough about the business to put a « no nudity » clause in her contract. However, the British actress was ultimately willing to table that line of legalese when it came time for the scene where she emerges naked from the pyre as the Unburnt with her trio of baby dragons.
The actress explained to The Sun (via CinemaBlend) that because the moment was so valuable to the development of her character, she was willing to forego her own rule. « It was just a wonderful, strong moment I wanted to own, a real empowering, girl-power wow scene, » she said. « I was so thrilled with it. It’s not a sexy scene, she’s not naked for no reason, it’s not gratuitous. She’s naked because she’s just destroyed her enemies in this almighty blaze after they underestimated her — how could I say no? »
Khaleesi’s confidence and self-possession in that moment feels even more obvious after understanding Clarke’s initial hesitation about naked scenes. The actress has since said that while she doesn’t need a double for other body-baring scenes for the show, she does need some « vodka and some flattering lighting » to get through them.
Lena Headey let someone else take that walk of ‘shame’
Lena Headey is not as calculating and terrible as Cersei Lannister. In fact, it takes wearing that wig to really get her into the spirit. What might be a surprise, though, is that there is one major moment of her character’s arc that Headey wasn’t actually there for.
In the Season 5 finale, Cersei is made to atone for her many sins by walking from the Great Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep stark naked as Septa Unella shouts « shame » above the jeers of the crowd. Headey was pregnant during production, so a body double named Rebecca Van Cleave did the walking. In addition to the obvious reason for the substitution, Headey revealed that she couldn’t have given the performance she wanted to even she was doing the walking. « I’ve done nudity. I’m not averse to it. But I know I’m a very emotional actor and I get really driven by that, » she told Entertainment Weekly. « And the thought of being naked for three days and trying to contain her in the way she would be I think I would feel very angry. I didn’t want to be angry. »
In other words, if you notice some hazy spots near Cersei’s neckline in those scenes, that’s because there were two people making it happen, but that choice was important to bringing the right emotional intensity to the scene.
There’s a reason you never see Cersei and Bronn in the same shot
If you watch Game of Thrones closely enough, you might notice that Cersei Lannister and Bronn of the Blackwater have never exchanged words and barely even glances throughout the show. Even though Bronn has served beside both of Cersei’s brothers and even said he was delivering « two traitors’ heads » to her doorstep in the Season 7 finale, they never speak on-screen. In fact, there’s a moment in that same scene when he abruptly decides to step away from the Dragonpit summit to take Podrick Payne out for a drink while « the fancy folk talk » just ahead of Cersei’s arrival. If his quick exit seems a bit forced and even awkward, there’s a reason.
The two characters never reportedly share the screen because Lena Headey and Jerome Flynn were a couple in real life many years ago, and their relationship ended very badly — to the point that they won’t even be in the same room together during production. The only time they’ve ever even been in the same frame on Game of Thrones was during a Season 3 scene when Cersei zips past an unfriendly chat between Bronn and her guardsmen. Knowing the rumored tension that may exist between these two certainly makes Bronn’s audible vitriol whenever he mentions Cersei that much more interesting.
The Jon and Daenerys romance is totally awkward for the stars
Whether you’ve been ‘shipping Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen since the very beginning or perhaps you wish Ygritte had lived long enough to find out what Jon Snow does know, the two royals finally come together in Season 7 on both a professional and personal level. If their on-screen tryst seems a bit weird, that oddity may be owed to more than just the fact that the characters are actually aunt and nephew, as Bran Stark discovers during one of his wargs.
In real life, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke, the actors portraying the characters, have such a close-knit bond that they felt completely uncomfortable shooting their love scene together. Harington admitted as much during a chat with Vanity Fair: « If you’ve known someone for six years and they’re best friends with your [wife], and you’re best friends with them, there is something unnatural and strange about doing a love scene. » The actor revealed that between takes, he and Clarke would laugh about how « ridiculous » it was for them to kiss one another in front of the cameras. In other words, if it seems like there’s some physical passion missing in their scenes, that’s because there kind of is.
The actor playing Doran Martell thought he’d stick around longer
If you were surprised to see Doran Martell come and go so quickly on Game of Thrones, you weren’t the only one. Actor Alexander Siddig offered up some dirt after his character was mercilessly taken down by Ellaria Sand. He told StarTrek.com, « There was something wrong about that because I had been contracted for four episodes in the following season, so if they were going to kill me off at the end of the last season why would they contract me for those four episodes? »
Siddig speculated that perhaps fan excitement over seeing him in the role got too carried away, and that explains why he needed to be removed more quickly than previously expected. « There was an enormous amount of fan excitement when I got named to be on the show, and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, yes, Doran Martell. He’s going to be great as Doran Martell.’ That might have been the kiss of death, » he said. « Maybe they didn’t want quite that much attention on that character … Or maybe I just screwed up. Maybe I said the wrong thing to the wrong person. » Looking back on the Dornish arc, it does feel like there was some cut-and-run action happening there at the end.
Sophie Turner learned about sex on the show
Poor Sansa Stark has been through a lot on Game of Thrones, and the violations that she’s suffered are already terrible enough to endure without remembering just how young the actress portraying her was when she began working on the series. Sophie Turner was just 13 when she nabbed the role of the elder Stark sister, so her worldly knowledge of some of the things the show became so famous for — sex, in particular — was still developing at the time.
In fact, it was the show that introduced her to the birds and bees. « The first time I ever found out about oral sex was from reading the script. I was 13, » she told The London Times. « I said, ‘Wow! People do that? That’s fascinating.’ I’d be doing a read-through and we’d be talking about very graphic stuff. I guess that was my sex education. Being on Game of Thrones. » The fact that her knowledge of carnal things was so innocent sure adds another layer of awful to those scenes with Ramsay Bolton.
Arya really is the boss of The Hound
Arya Stark has experienced a lot of fascinating dynamics with other characters on the show. She and Jon Snow had a tight bond, her relationship with Sansa is ever-changing, and she and Brienne of Tarth certainly have an understanding. She even managed to break into Tywin Lannister’s inner circle! Perhaps none of these dynamics is quite as interesting as the partnership she forged with Ser Sandor Clegane aka The Hound.
Even though he was on her kill list, The Hound still decided to help Arya, and throughout their travels, Arya may have been the kid, but she seemed to earn the Hound’s true respect and deference. As it turns out, that admiration proved true in real life, too. Actor Rory McCann has admitted that while they were filming together, actress Maisie Williams was definitely the wiser of the two. He told Rolling Stone, « She’s just such a good actress! Really clever, really bright, she knows everything … she’s a real help to me, because I’m a bit goofy and a bit daft. I forget where I am in the story and she knows my lines, my story, where we are, what’s going on, the reason we’re there. I get in trouble for pulling faces, and she keeps me in check. » So, if you enjoy the chemistry of this on-screen relationship, that’s because it was authentic for the two stars.
Iwan Rheon almost became Jon Snow instead of Ramsay Bolton
At this point, it might be hard to imagine anyone other than Jon Snow becoming the new King in the North, thanks to actor Kit Harington’s earnest demeanor, but the show almost cast a very, very different actor in the role. Iwan Rheon, who did such a formidable job as the savage Ramsay Bolton, revealed that he was this close to portraying the bastard son of Eddard Stark before Harington landed the part.
« I auditioned for the pilot of Game of Thrones, and was down to the last two for Jon Snow, » he told The Telegraph. Ultimately, both producers and Rheon recognized that the role of Ramsay would be a better fit for him. « Ramsay is the complete polar opposite. In my mind, I secretly thought it was Ramsay. » Things worked out for the best, of course, since Rheon’s turn as the show’s villain was unforgettable. Looking back at his scenes, there’s hardly a trace of Jon Snow in his depiction, but the fact that he was so close to becoming the hero only makes Rheon’s nasty performance even more riveting to behold.
You’re supposed to see some vulnerability in Joffrey
Another big bad of the series was Joffrey Baratheon, whose absolute amorality inspired all manner of terror in his kingdom. There was very little that he was afraid of — even mama Cersei eventually lost the power of persuasion over him — as his thirst for tyranny gained strength with every gasp from his horrified subjects. However, the actor portraying Joffrey wanted you to see a scared little boy beneath all that sniveling bravado.
Jack Gleeson said that while he was still trying to belie the « self important arrogance » of King Joffrey, he wanted to give his character a little more nuance. « I also tried to find the more sympathetic side of Joffrey, » he told Australia’s Herald Sun. « It’s quite a small side and not one that people would necessarily see, but there was a side. He was insecure, he wanted a stable family environment, and he wanted to be loved. I enjoyed playing that side — and the crazy psychopathic stuff. » You’d have to look pretty hard to find those moments of vulnerability in Joffrey, no doubt, but it’s fun to look for them when rewatching old episodes.
It was important to Peter Dinklage not to be a caricature of a dwarf
Game of Thrones doesn’t gloss over Tyrion Lannister’s status a little person. In fact, his dwarfism has been the subject of many moments of humiliation and even anger for him and those in his life. However, Tyrion has always gotten the last laugh and commands the respect and loyalty of some of the most powerful people in Westeros. His wit and sense of self-preservation make him one of the most intriguing and perplexing characters on the entire show. For actor Peter Dinklage, it was very important to him that Tyrion never be portrayed as some sort of cartoonish figure.
The actor told The Guardian that he accepted the role because it allowed him to be a fully realized person who wasn’t completely defined by his size. « I loved The Lord of the Rings as books and movies but, like elves, dwarves are presented as another creature. They are not humans in those stories, » He said. « We don’t have elves walking around, but we do have dwarves like myself. We are real. So it’s nice to be humanised in fiction for once, especially in that genre. George [R.R. Martin] was clever enough to make a dwarf a fully fleshed-out human being. » Dinklage revealed that he refuses to accept film roles if his character is a mere cliché, which makes his complicated turn in Game of Thrones that much more compelling.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a way better dad than Jaime Lannister
Jaime Lannister can hardly be accused of being father of the year. He sat idly by as his first son, Joffrey, became an absolute monster, then he watched as Cersei Lannister’s miscalculated vengeance basically destroyed their last surviving child, Tommen. He didn’t even have the foresight to protect daughter Myrcella from the Sand Snakes. Portraying such poor parenting might not come easy to actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau because the Danish dad is actually pretty protective of his own kids.
Coster-Waldau told the New York Post that he even doesn’t let his children watch Game of Thrones. It’s not so much about the rampant nudity and violence of the show that keeps him shielding their eyes as it is an effort to avoid any confusion about his true identity. « Work is work. It’s not something we sit down and enjoy, » he said. « For my kids, it’s just weird to see your dad pretend to be someone else. It’s weird to see your father make out with another woman. It’s not cool. » Who knew a guy who plays such a cavalier cad on-screen could be such a thoughtful dad in real life? Of course, it probably would be rather difficult to explain the whole Jaime and Cersei concept to kids, so perhaps his approach is for the best.
Aidan Gillen was trying to bring real magic to Petyr Baelish
Whether you love or loathe him, Lord Baelish (aka Littlefinger) is certainly one of the most emotionally evocative characters on Game of Thrones. He fancies himself an intellectual trickster who steadily climbs the ladder of chaos he creates with all of his royal whispering … until Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven talents helped Sansa see through his subterfuge once and for all.
After hearing actor Aidan Gillen’s approach to the role, though, Littlefinger’s scenes may seem a bit different and possibly more humorous in retrospect. The actor told GQ magazine that he was trying to channel the moxie of a magician in his portrayal. « I first thought of him as some kind of magician — or a politician who thinks of himself as a magician, » he said, pointing to the comic character Mandrake the Magician as a source inspiration. Gillen also said he tried to give the character an almost feline demeanor paired with a patriarchal presence. « If I’m leaning in when I speak sometimes it’s just to let the other person know that I want them to hear me properly and because I want to see them, really close, » he said. There you have it. If your mind ever conjured up an image of Baelish pulling a rabbit out of a hat during one of those breathy interludes, now you know why.