Game of Thrones is one of the most popular shows on television. It owes its enormous success to a number of things, ranging from its smart writing to its enormous set pieces. Every kind of person is interested in the world of Westeros, and that’s a credit to George R.R. Martin’s source material, and the compelling stories at the heart of this series. Of course, part of any great television show comes from the compelling characters that populate its world. On TV, characterization is only as good as the actors that you cast.
Overall, Game of Thrones has lucked out in the casting department, casting great actors to play the vast majority of the show’s wonderful characters. Even the best shows aren’t perfect in the casting department, though, and that’s definitely true on Game of Thrones. Although the great actors outweigh the terrible on this show, there are a fair share of both.
On a show this sprawling, it’s hard to cast every role perfectly, and although the show has been an enormous success, that’s only made its missteps all the more pronounced.
Having said all that, here are 9 Casting Decisions That Saved Game Of Thrones (And 6 That Ruined It).
15 Ruined: Kit Harrington
Jon Snow is pretty lame. That’s part of his character, and although he’s ostensibly one of Game of Thrones’ main protagonists, he’s also a pretty broody guy. Jon gets to reveal his own skills as a leader and warrior several times throughout the serious, but Kit Harrington has never had the dramatic chops to hold his own against some of the best actors on the show.
Although Harrington’s performance has generally improved as the show has continued, proving that he’s more than just a pretty face, Harrington has done little to make Jon into a fascinating protagonist. That’s okay. After all, there are so many interesting characters in the world of Game of Thrones that Jon’s facets aren’t as important as his ability to kill White Walkers when the time comes.
14 Saved: Sean Bean
Sean Bean’s role in Game of Thrones is, admittedly, pretty brief. Although it initially seems like Bean’s Ned will be the protagonist, fans of the books know that’s ultimately not the case. Still, Bean makes the most of his time on the show, imbuing Ned with the kind of righteous honor that will make his children feel the need to honor his legacy however they can.
It’s harder than expected to play a genuinely noble man, but Bean plays the part sublimely, carrying both an ease and a weight that makes Ned feel entirely real. This is not the life Ned envisioned for himself, but he knows that he must do what he can with what he’s been given. Sean Bean was the perfect choice to play all of that.
13 Ruined: Michiel Huisman
Daenerys’ storyline has been among the more hit-or-miss on Game of Thrones. Sometimes it is truly compelling, and other times it fizzles and feels like nothing more than filler. One of the most unnecessary elements of Daenerys’ story is her relationship with Daario Naharis, played largely by Michiel Huisman.
Although Daario is not meant to be much more than a pretty face, Huisman does very little to suggest that there’s anything going on behind his stunning features. Instead, he seems content to simply model for the camera and, although he did that quite well, few fans were sad to see him go when Dany left him in Meereen.
There’s nothing wrong with a pretty face, but on Game of Thrones, we’ve come to expect more.
12 Saved: Sophie Turner
Sophie Turner would not have made this list during the early seasons of Game of Thrones. That may not be fair, but her portrayal of Sansa often seemed one dimensional and bratty. As the seasons went on, though, Sansa proved that she was capable of playing the game as well as many of the men who had once dominated her.
A lot of that is down to Turner, who has proven to be one of the best parts of the last few seasons of Game of Thrones. In these inconsistent later seasons, Sansa has been allowed to come into her own as a woman and as a character, and Turner has played that transition marvellously. Sansa doesn’t suffer fools anymore, and it doesn’t seem like Turner would be willing to either.
11 Saved: Charles Dance
Charles Dance embodies Tywin Lannister so thoroughly that, although Tywin is indisputably a bad guy, his death was still something of a tragedy. Tywin was perhaps the best the show had to offer in terms of characters who were great at playing the game. He was ruthless, but only in order to ensure that his own family came out on top.
He had a sharp tongue, and a cunning mind. He often wielded immense power, and used that power to earn what he wanted. Tywin was a villain in that he opposed characters we found good and righteous and was vicious in taking down his enemies.
Tywin rarely lost, and Dance played his pride perfectly, right up until his final moment, when he’s unceremoniously murdered by his least favorite son on the toilet.
10 Ruined: Michelle Fairley
Catelyn Stark was the matriarch of the Stark family, a lioness who was Ned’s equal and his love. Unfortunately, Michelle Fairley was never able to rise to the same level of greatness as Sean Bean, and although Catelyn survived for several additional seasons, her death felt like the least traumatic part of the Red Wedding.
Catelyn’s story is a fairly complicated one, in part because of her tortured relationship with Jon Snow, who she could never bring herself to truly care for or love. Unfortunately, Fairley’s choices always seemed to go a little bit bigger than they needed to, which may have worked on a different show. On Game of Thrones, though, it felt off, especially compared with the subtler work that was happening around her.
9 Saved: Maisie Williams
Arya Stark initially seems like a fairly minor character. After all, she’s really a child when the series begins and spends most of the first season in lessons learning how to get better with a sword. She’s the tomboy to Sansa’s princess. As played by Maisie Williams, though, she’s also a traumatized young person who is forced to confront who she wants to be, and how she wants to be seen.
Maisie Williams plays Arya with the kind of fierce glee that we rarely see in young performers. Arya is ferocious, but she’s also still a kid, and Williams plays both of those elements perfectly. Although Arya has had some disappointing plotlines in recent seasons, Williams’s performance has never skipped a beat, and it made her scenes worth watching.
8 Ruined: Iwan Rheon
In all fairness to Rheon, Ramsay was probably doomed from the beginning. He played on screen like a pale imitation of Joffrey and lacked that character’s inherently delicious sadism and his nuance. Rheon instead chose to play Ramsay like a sociopath with no real redeemable qualities. He was a malicious fiend in a world that had proved to be much more nuanced than that.
Ramsay’s death came as a welcome relief from that kind of unquenchable evil. He’s the kind of character that doesn’t need any reason at all to do truly terrible things. He’s willing to do them just for the fun of it. Rheon’s performance often played up that cartoonish quality to the character, which made him much less interesting to watch than most of the show’s antagonists.
7 Saved: Alfie Allen
Theon Greyjoy is a coward in a world filled with heroes, but he ultimately comes to realize that himself. Whenever he’s given the chance to do something truly brave, he does the opposite. Still, as played by Alfie Allen, Theon becomes deeply sympathetic because of that cowardice that he can’t help but display.
What’s more, Alfie Allen has proven that he can play trauma better than almost any actor on television, as he recovers from the horrible forms of torture that Ramsay Bolton put him through. Theon may never be redeemed as a character, but Allen has given us a chance to care about him. We understand and pity Theon, even if we may never love him, and that’s all because of Alfie Allen.
6 Saved: Lena Headey
Cersei Lannister is ostensibly a villain. She rarely does things that would widely be considered good. In spite of her villainy, though, it’s hard not to root for Cersei, and that’s in part because of Lena Headey’s consistently remarkable performance in the role. Cersei is out to destroy those she perceives as her enemies, and is absolutely ruthless in her pursuit of those goals.
Even as Headey plays up Cersei’s ferocity, she’s also careful to remind us that Cersei was a wonderful mother, and it was partially the loss of her children that drove her to her current state of madness. Cersei may be a villain in this story, but as played by Headey, she’s one that is deeply sympathetic.
5 Ruined: Finn Jones
Loras Tyrell isn’t exactly the most dynamic character in the history of Game of Thrones, but Finn Jones did very little to make him more compelling. Although he was the love of Renly Baratheon’s life, he never seemed to have as much interest in playing the game as his sister Margaery.
Instead, Loras comes across as a fairly uninteresting character. Despite the question of his sexuality, which is interesting considering the norms governing the culture of Westeros, Loras basically just exists to be a pretty face, and then a pawn in the game between the High Sparrow and the crown.
His death barely registered as more than a mere blip, and that’s because, despite Loras’ supposed charisma, Finn Jones did very little to make the character work on screen.
4 Saved: Jack Gleeson
It may not seem like Jack Gleeson is really acting during his scenes as Joffrey, but that’s only because he’s so delectably terrible in the role. Every great story needs a great villain, and for the first few seasons of Game of Thrones, Joffrey was the perfect spoiled brat turned sociopath.
Gleeson’s genius was that, even though Joffrey was irredeemably terrible, we also understood how he came to be that way. He was neglected almost completely by his father, and his mother told him that he could have whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. This was a boy who grew up knowing that he would one day be the king, and it infected the entirety of his short life.
He was terrible, sure, but Gleeson played him as a perfect, lived-in sociopath.
3 Ruined: Isaac Hempstead-Wright
Bran has always been the least interesting Stark, and it’s never been a particularly close race. Part of that is because Bran has been so disconnected from the show’s main narrative for such a long time, but Hempstead-Wright’s performance isn’t helping matters much.
Bran’s forays into the world of mysticism and magic have been interesting from a plot perspective, but they’ve done fairly little to illuminate Bran as a character. Hempstead-Wright’s flat line deliveries in recent seasons are definitely a choice, but they’re one that makes Bran pretty difficult to be around.
Hempstead-Wright as an average child actor for most of the show’s run, and now that he’s finally an adult, he’s completely lost any charisma or personality.
2 Saved: Peter Dinklage
Peter Dinklage is probably the most obvious candidate for inclusion on this list, and that’s because he is the perfect choice to play Tyrion. An outstanding combination of wry wit and enormous wells of sorrow, Dinklage understands everything about the character and understands what is needed to make him feel sympathetic.
Tyrion is one of this story’s true heroes, and he may be one of the very best at playing the political games that the show is so regularly focused on. The decision to cast Dinklage proved early on that this would be a show worth taking seriously.
Dinklage went on to win several prizes for the role, multiple Emmys and a Golden Globe. They were entirely deserved.
1 Saved: Nikolaj Coster-Waldau
Jaime Lannister arrives on the show as an outright villain. At the end of the first episode, he pushes a young boy out a window. Over the course of the show’s run, though, Coster-Waldau has been able to imbue Jaime with genuine humanity. Thanks to some remarkable acting, Jaime has transformed into a tragic figure, striving to be honorable even as he’s pulled by a desire for the approval of his father.
Coster-Waldau’s performance represents everything that can be great about Thrones. He’s torn between love for his sister and desire to help their family and his urge to do what’s right. Jaime’s tragedy is that, for his most heroic act -- killing The Mad King -- he was scorned and ridiculed, and Coster-Waldau plays that hurt perfectly.
Who's your favorite actor on Game of Thrones? Sound off in the comments!