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The Real Reason These Game Of Thrones Roles Were Recast

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HBO's massive hit series Game of Thrones has been a worldwide sensation since its 2011 premiere, giving new life to George R.R. Martin's fantasy novels and kicking off a global phenomenon. The cultural impact of the show is undeniable — Game of Thrones tours have sprung up in filming locations like Croatia and Ireland, it has its own line of beers with Ommegang, and it even spawned its own cookbook (the latter of which feels a little disturbing, considering some of the meals served on this show). Beyond that, it has made household names out of its cast — from familiar faces like Peter Dinklage and Bond girl Diana Rigg to newcomers like Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke, Thrones has played host to an incredible group of stars.

However, some of those once-familiar faces have changed throughout the series. Over seven seasons, several key performers have ended up getting replaced, leading fans to wonder just what happened. From the re-shot pilot to mid-series replacements, here are some Game of Thrones roles that ended up completely recast, for one reason or another.

Daenerys Targaryen

For seven seasons, Emilia Clarke has shined as Daenerys Targaryen, a.k.a. Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, who is fighting for a seat on the Iron Throne of Westeros. From a mild young bride to a fierce and often ruthless warrior, Daenerys has been through one of the show's most dynamic journeys, and without Clarke's portrayal, far fewer viewers would have fallen in love with the character the way that they did. Hailed as a feminist icon, fans haven't forgotten Daenerys' all time best moments, and thanks to the role, Clarke has been nominated for several awards and has become recognizable around the world. The role has been so career-defining that she recently got a dragon tattoo to commemorate the end of the series.

It might seem unbelievable, with all this in mind, that anyone else ever played Daenerys, but in the initially troubled pilot for Game of Thrones, Daenerys was originally played by Tamzin Merchant, best known for her role as Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard on The Tudors. Creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have been open about their disdain for the original pilot, but neither the two showrunners nor casting director Nina Gould have fully discussed the reason for Merchant's exit. Fans are left to wonder how different the series might have been with a different Daenerys.

Daario Naharis

Game of Thrones' third season introduced a new potential love interest for Daenerys in the form of Daario Naharis, played by Ed Skrein (who would later go on to appear in Deadpool). This clever, long-haired mercenary was clearly interested in Khaleesi from the moment he meets her. When he betrayed his own men and swore to protect her, viewers realized they should keep a close eye on Daario, who was sure to become an even bigger player in seasons to come.

However, after a three-episode arc in the third season, Skrein was unceremoniously replaced by Michiel Huisman, who had previously teamed up with HBO for Treme as well as appearing on Nashville. As it turned out, Skrein had a scheduling issue, as he was set to appear in the new Transporter film. The actor admitted that it wasn't the easiest decision, but that he had no regrets. Luckily for Huisman, he quickly became yet another one of the show's beloved actors, and his romance with Daenerys left many wondering where he might end up as the show concludes — whether or not he will appear in the eighth and final season remains to be seen.

Tommen Baratheon

In the early seasons of Game of Thrones, viewers knew that Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) had three children, all of whom were supposedly of Baratheon blood but were actually bastards borne of her incestuous affair with her twin brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). However, nobody paid much attention to any of the children besides Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Cersei's eldest and decidedly most evil child, who eventually ascended to the throne and wreaked a significant amount of havoc on King's Landing and Westeros as a whole. In fact, his impetuous decision to execute Ned Stark set off most of the current conflict. As a result, the two other supposed Baratheon children, Myrcella and Tommen, were often shunted to the side, making it easy for them to be recast as necessary — a frequent reality when dealing with young actors whose growth gets out of sync with a show's pacing.

Thanks to age issues, Tommen was recast in the show's fourth season — when it was time for him to take the crown, Callum Wharry was replaced by Dean-Charles Chapman. Chapman went on to handle many of the mild King Tommen's more difficult scenes, including a love scene with his new wife, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) as well as his suicide at the end of the sixth season. However, fans quickly picked up on Chapman's familiar face, as he had actually appeared in the show's third season playing a young Lannister squire who was held hostage and eventually murdered, giving him the distinction of having played two separate roles during Thrones' run.

The Mountain

As one of the two feared and dangerous Clegane brothers, the Mountain is one of Westeros' biggest forces to be reckoned with. Though he has made it through the entire series as Cersei's strongman and champion, he has undergone a significant transformation. Once simply a formidable fighter known for committing multiple war crimes on behalf of the Lannister family, the Mountain was nearly felled by a poisoned spear tip during his duel with Oberyn Martell in season four, after which he was turned into some sort of murder zombie, seemingly loyal only to Cersei.

This isn't the only transformation that the Mountain has undergone during Thrones, as he has actually been played by three separate actors. In season one, when the Mountain nearly killed an opponent in a joust, he was played by Conan Stevens, an Australian actor. The Mountain was less visible in season two, but when he did appear, he was played by the Welsh actor Ian Whyte as he tried to determine who made an attempt on Tywin Lannister's life. Finally, from the fourth season on, Icelandic strongman Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson has portrayed the Mountain, likely to make him more physically intimidating. Now that he's ensconced in an iron mask, it doesn't seem to matter much that this massive man has changed faces three times.

Dickon Tarly

The Tarly family isn't the most important clan in Westeros, but viewers have gotten to know them pretty well over the years. They were first introduced to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley), the lovable bookworm of the Night's Watch and frequent companion to Jon Snow. Sam has proven to be the heart and soul of the show time and time again (even though plenty of viewers find him less than charming), but when it comes to the Tarly clan, he's not so beloved. In the sixth season, when Sam arrived at Horn Hill with his girlfriend Gilly, he didn't exactly receive a warm welcome from his strict father, Randyll, who exhibited a fair amount of disdain for Sam, clearly favoring Sam's handsome and fit brother, Dickon.

During season six, Freddie Stroma, who viewers might have recognized as Cormac McLaggen in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince or as the first season "bachelor" on the Lifetime series Unreal, appeared as Dickon. However, scheduling issues forced him out of the show, so Black Sails' Tom Hopper stepped in, to plenty of acclaim from fans. Sadly, Hopper's time as Dickon has also been cut short, as both he and his father Randyll were burned alive by Daenerys when they refused to bend the knee to her, leaving the Tarly line in Sam's likely clammy hands.

Selyse Baratheon

Most viewers of the show are familiar with Stannis Baratheon — who, as King Robert Baratheon's brother, believed he was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne — but some might not remember his wife, Selyse Baratheon, who was faithful to a fault until the pair both met grisly ends. While Stannis fought for the Throne with the aid of Melisandre, a priestess who believed that he was a prophesied figure destined to save all of Westeros, Selyse was nothing if not a loyal wife. She stuck by her husband through several unsuccessful battles, as well as his obvious attraction to Melisandre. When Stannis used their daughter, Shireen, as a human sacrifice (at Melisandre's urging), Selyse took her own life, only for Stannis to meet his defeat in battle just hours later.

Selyse, when introduced, was nothing more than a minor character, simply standing in the vicinity of Melisandre and Stannis while the latter committed himself to the former during a magical ceremony in the second season premiere. At that time, she was played by Sarah MacKeever, having no lines at all and serving as little more than a glorified extra. However, when Selyse was featured in a multi-episode arc, the show chose a more venerated actress, Tara Fitzgerald, who notably appeared opposite Ralph Fiennes in Hamlet on Broadway in the mid 1990s.

The Three-Eyed Raven

Game of Thrones' pilot, after setting up much of the world of the show, featured a relatively shocking final shot — specifically, a young boy being pushed out of a tall tower after catching a royal brother and sister in a compromising position. That young boy, Bran Stark, survived the fall, losing his mobility but eventually gaining a new set of powers, including the ability to review and even meddle in events of the very distant past, making him the heir apparent to the role of the Three-Eyed Raven.

When the audience finally met the mysterious Three-Eyed Raven in season four, he looked quite different than he would later. Originally played by Struan Rodger, Bran first met the Raven while the omniscient being was holed up in a secluded tree. By the time the Three-Eyed Raven returned to the show in its sixth season, Rodger had been replaced by legendary actor Max von Sydow, best known for The Seventh Seal and The Exorcist as well as more modern classics like Star Wars and Minority Report. Since then, it has been von Sydow that has guided Bran through the secrets of the past, present, and future — likely a matter of the Thrones crew wanting to upgrade to a legendary Oscar nominee for the Raven's expanded presence.

The Night King

Game of Thrones is rife with villains and antagonists, but few are more sinister or mysterious than the Night King, the ancient and seemingly infallible leader of the White Walkers. The Walkers, who reside far north of the wall that separates Westeros from the northern wilderness, were previously considered nothing more than a frightening legend, but after being sighted by many members of the Night's Watch, the threat has become real. Throughout the show's run, audiences have watched the Night King perform despicable acts ranging from turning a baby into a White Walker to taking down one of Daenerys' beloved dragons. Now that he has ridden his own newly-acquired dragon across the Wall, it looks as if the Night King will be arriving in Westeros before too long.

Though the character comes to life via impressive prosthetic make-up, as the show went on, sharp-eyed viewers realized that the Night King looked different from when we first met him. Before season six, the Night King was played by Richard Blake, but the role then went to Vladimir Furdik, an actor hailing from Slovakia. Though the show's creators have never provided a concrete reason, it's possible that Furdik won the role thanks to his history as a stuntman, giving him more mobility for the expected battles that will close out the series.

Myrcella Baratheon

Much like Tommen Baratheon, Cersei Lannister's middle child, Myrcella, went largely overlooked until later seasons of Thrones, thanks to her overbearing older brother, Joffrey. As a child, Myrcella was essentially left out of the plot entirely until the second season, when her uncle Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) decided to send her to Dorne as either a bride or a hostage (his real intent, as with many of Tyrion's plans, remains unclear), creating a permanent rift between Tyrion and Cersei. In the fifth season, she reappeared as a lovestruck teenager engaged to Trystane Martell, the young prince of Dorne. Thanks to an ongoing battle between the Lannister and Martell families, she ended up murdered at the hands of Ellaria Sand shortly after discovering her true parentage (specifically, that her uncle Jaime is her real father).

Though Myrcella was played by the young actress Aimee Richardson during her appearances in the earlier seasons, when she returned, she was played by the dynamic Nell Tiger Free. Again, much like Tommen's strategic recasting, this can likely be chalked up to aging, as sometimes the original actor doesn't fit the part of a maturing character anymore. Though Myrcella's role has ended, both actresses did her justice during their time on the show.

Beric Dondarrion

Throughout Thrones' run, Beric Dondarrion has (literally) lived several lives. In season one, he served as nothing more than a member of a search party sent by Ned Stark to bring the Mountain to justice. As war broke out in Westeros, he joined a group called the Brotherhood Without Banners, a group aligned with the Red God (the same one Melisandre worships) that has allowed Beric to be revived from the dead by his resident Red Priest, Thoros of Myr, during multiple dire situations. Most recently, Beric has been aiding Jon Snow (who, thanks to Melisandre, was also raised from the dead using the powers of the Red God) in his fight against the White Walkers, traveling north of the Wall in order to get more information on these mysterious and ancient creatures.

Since Beric was such a minor character in the first season, his casting likely wasn't much of a discussion, with David Michael Scott filling the role (sans eyepatch). Beginning in season three, Irish actor Richard Dormer took the reins. A change in appearance is easily explained, considering the man died multiple times off-screen before viewers saw him again. Fans may have finally seen the last of Beric, however, considering he was on the wall when it collapsed. Whether or not he appears in the show's final season remains to be seen.

Lothar Frey

When most viewers hear the name Frey, they likely think of Walder, the aging, vindictive patriarch of House Frey and one of the architects of the Red Wedding, one of the show's most gruesome and divisive scenes. As a house of the Riverlands, viewers were introduced to the Frey family in the show's first season, when Catelyn Stark, a highborn daughter of the Riverlands, asked for their help. They eventually turned on her, setting them up as one of the show's most sinister houses.

One of the hallmarks of the Frey family is its sheer size — at the age of ninety, Walder Frey is on his eighth wife — which means viewers may have had trouble keeping track of which Frey was which. Many surely remember Walder's son Lothar Frey, if only for his pivotal role in the Red Wedding. During the show's third season, Tom Brooke played Lothar for just two episodes, but by the time the sixth season rolled around, it appeared that Brooke was unavailable. A mysterious casting notice went up for a Frey son, and it was eventually announced that Daniel Tuite would take over the role. Of course, since Arya Stark paid a visit to the Frey family, nobody will be playing Lothar for the remainder of the show.