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The Real Reason These Game Of Thrones Actors Left The Show

Game of Thrones was more than just a TV show — it was a cultural phenomenon. What began as a fantasy series by George R.R. Martin spawned one of the most popular TV shows of all time, with millions of people tuning in to each episode for political intrigue, dramatic romance, and, of course, dragons. The long-awaited series finale aired in May 2019, bringing an end to the eight-year long saga. 

Working on a TV show like Game of Thrones seems like it would be any actor's dream, but with so many characters killed off, actors never knew how long they would last. But sometimes, Martin's plans for the narrative weren't the only factor that dictated an actor's early exit. Some had only agreed to a limited run of episodes. Others were cast in major roles for other TV shows and couldn't balance the shooting schedules. A few were replaced because casting directors began second-guessing their original decisions. And still others simply felt that while they'd loved being on the show, it was time to move on. Here are the surprising reasons that these actors left Game of Thrones

Ian McElhinney was written off Game of Thrones early

Game of Thrones fans quickly learned that you could expect your favorite character to be killed off at any moment, and getting too attached would lead to certain disappointment. Naturally, it was even harder for many of the actors to accept that their characters would be shooting their final scenes, especially if they genuinely thought they would survive to see another season. That's exactly how Ian McElhinney, who played Daenerys Targaryen's loyal knight and adviser Ser Barristan Selmy, felt when he got his filming schedule for season five.

His character's death was a shock to McElhinney. When he got the shooting schedule, he was surprised to see that he would only be needed for a few weeks of filming. As a huge fan of the book series, McElhinney knew that Ser Barristan was still alive after the events of the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons. However, after contacting his agent and the line producer, McElhinney realized that, yeah, the showrunners had decided to write him off early. McElhinney was disappointed by the deviation from the original narrative, but perhaps his character will fare better in the final books of the series, which are yet to be released. 

Ed Skrein wished he could stay on

If you did a double take when you saw Daario Naharis in season four, you're in good company. Someone behind the scenes made the decision to recast this character after season three had already aired. Originally, Ed Skrein was playing Daario, Daenerys' political ally and lover in Slaver's Bay. But in season four, the role was given to Michiel Huisman. And to make things more confusing, the two actors look absolutely nothing alike. 

For a while, it was believed that Skrein left the show of his own accord because he was too busy shooting The Transporter Refueled, and he simply didn't have enough time to dedicate to both roles. But Skrein eventually refuted that rumor, stating that he'd actually hoped to continue playing Daario. "My plan was to stay with Game of Thrones for the long haul. ... It was a wonderful experience, but politics led to us parting ways," Skrein said. "And from there I just said, 'Okay, look forward, be positive. Keep calm and carry on.'"

Callum Wharry was too young to play King Tommen

One of the difficulties of working with child actors? Sometimes, it can be hard to properly age up a character, and recasting is necessary. That's exactly what happened with Callum Wharry, who played Tommen Baratheon in the early seasons of Game of Thrones. The fantasy show was Wharry's first (and so far, only) acting role, and he appeared in the first two seasons of the series. The last episode he worked on was the epic "Battle of Blackwater" in season two. 

In later seasons, Tommen would become a more important character. After Joffrey's death, he's next in line for king, and he marries Margaery Tyrell. Wharry looked way too young to play the part, especially alongside actress Natalie Dormer. Therefore, the casting directors had to let him go and find someone new who looked a bit older. They eventually cast Dean-Charles Chapman. Thankfully, recasting a character like Tommen, who'd only played a small role in early episodes, was easy to get away with without drawing too much attention to the change. 

Ian McShane didn't want a major commitment

Ian McShane made a brief appearance in season six of Game of Thrones. We meet his character, Brother Ray, at a blissful commune far from the political squabbles and royal conflicts of the Seven Kingdoms. It turns out that the Hound, who was presumed dead up until this point, has been hiding out there for quite some time. Brother Ray has been acting as a mentor of sorts, hoping that the Hound would understand his philosophy of nonviolence. But the peaceful scene is shattered when the camp is attacked, and Brother Ray is killed. 

It was upsetting for fans of McShane to see him killed off so early, but the actor probably wouldn't have taken on the role if it had demanded more out of him. He was excited to be part of Game of Thrones, but he couldn't handle a long-term commitment. "It was one episode, for a start, which is why I wanted to do it," McShane told Entertainment Weekly, adding, "I think my main use was to re-introduce a character people thought was long gone and who needed some humanity." 

Playing Ramsay disturbed Iwan Rheon

Besides Joffrey, Ramsay Bolton was probably one of the most terrifying characters on Game of Thrones. If just seeing Ramsay in a scene was enough to make your skin crawl, you definitely weren't alone. He was absolutely ruthless, and anyone who got in his way would face the wrath of his army or his ravenous hounds. And actor Iwan Rheon admits that when his time on Game of Thrones was over, he was actually relieved. 

When Rheon appeared on Good Morning Britain after his character had been killed off (with his hounds following Sansa's commands), presenter Kate Garraway said that Ramsay gave her nightmares, and he sympathized with her. "He wasn't a very nice young man," Rheon said. "I'm kind of glad to put him behind me now." 

Rheon knew that he would miss working on Game of Thrones, but he also felt that the showrunners made the right decision for Ramsay's death. "I don't I feel like I'm going to miss Ramsay," he told GQ. "I feel like he had his lark, and it was just that he died. And I think it was the right thing for the show moving forward."

Natalie Dormer asked to be written off Game of Thrones

Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) thought she was an expert at the game of thrones, but her ambition turned out be her downfall. She married three kings, became queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and even managed to put Cersei in her place. But in the end, she was outsmarted by none other than Cersei herself, and she was crushed to death as wildfire was ignited under the Sept of Baelor, along with hundreds of other people who were awaiting the trial that Cersei never planned to attend. 

Margaery actually seemed like a moderating presence on the throne and someone with an overall positive influence on King's Landing. It was frustrating to see her seat usurped by Cersei, but Natalie Dormer herself had been ready to hang up her hat for months. In fact, she'd asked to be written off the show even earlier. "In true Natalie Dormer-style, I tried to fit a million projects into a single year," she told Entertainment Weekly. When she finally got "the call" about her upcoming death scene, the showrunners apologized that she would have to stay on longer than she originally intended. 

Richard Madden wanted to try something new

Robb Stark (Richard Madden) seemed like a natural fit for the Iron Throne. He was young, handsome, brave, and willing to risk his life for his family and his people. But fans were shocked when he was murdered by the Freys in the infamous Red Wedding scene, after turning down the opportunity to bind their families through an arranged marriage. In total, Madden worked on the show for five years, and he felt like that was long enough. "Five years was a great time to be on the show," Madden said in a conversation with Amy Adams for Variety, adding, "You really start to learn the trade doing that. And then I was thankful to leave it."

Why was Madden perfectly happy make his exit at the end of season three, even when millions of fans had been rooting for Robb to take the Iron Throne? He felt like it was time to take some risks in his career and mix things up. "I've spent ten years playing different versions of Romeo, from Robb Stark to literally playing Romeo twice onstage," he explained. And now, he's got some new experiences under his belt, like starring in the British TV drama Bodyguard and playing Elton John's manager and boyfriend, John Reid, in Rocketman.

Julian Glover was getting bored

After years of playing Grand Maester Pycelle on Game of Thrones, Julian Glover was starting to feel a bit bored with his role. He felt like his character's only purpose was being "ticked off at Cersei," and once he realized that this wasn't going to change, he started asking the showrunners to ax him. While most of the other cast members were always worried about being killed off and having to say goodbye to the show, Glover was more than ready to move on to something else. 

Much to Glover's disappointment, he was continuously told that he would survive until the next season. As other actors came and went, with their characters dying gruesome deaths, Pycelle remained. Finally, Glover got his wish in season six, and he went out on his specific terms. Just as he requested, he was able to film his death scene "at his leisure," with his usual salary tripled. 

Ellie Kendrick was left hanging

If you were hoping to see Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick) reappear in season eight, you were probably a bit disappointed. Meera, her brother Jojen, and Hodor traveled with Bran for several seasons, keeping him safe as he made his way to meet the Three-Eyed Raven. Along the way, they faced countless dangers, losing Jojen and Hodor to the wights commanded by the Night King. After she finally brought Bran back to Winterfell, he merely told her "thank you" for her sacrifices before sending her on her way. It seemed like a lackluster ending for Meera, and fans were wondering if she would return for season eight and get a more satisfying conclusion. 

When filming wrapped for season seven, Kendrick had no idea whether or not she would be asked to come back. And in late 2017, she was still left hanging. "I wait for the phone to ring and then I find out, but it hasn't rung so I don't know," Kendrick told Metro. "I'll find out whether I am or not at some point, but for now, I haven't been notified so I'm yet to discover." Eventually, the showrunners must've called her and given her the bad news, but she had to wait in suspense for quite a while.

Jack Gleeson was ready to retire from Game of Thrones

When Jack Gleeson was cast as the spoiled and chillingly evil Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones, it was his first major role, but right away, Gleeson demonstrated that he had a certain talent for playing the villain. When King Joffrey finally met his end after being poisoned at his own wedding, it was almost bittersweet. Sure, he got what was coming to him, but the show felt a little different after losing the character that everyone loved to hate. In fact, Gleeson was so good at his job that he admitted he couldn't watch Game of Thrones. Seeing himself act as the embodiment of pure evil was too much for him.

The celebrity lifestyle also proved to be too much for Gleeson, and he realized early on that once his time on Game of Thrones ended, he would be more than ready for his final curtain call. "When I started doing Game of Thrones, perhaps the reality was made too real for me," Gleeson told The Independent. "The lifestyle that comes with being an actor in a successful TV show isn't something I gravitate towards." Instead, he wanted to return to his studies at Trinity College in Dublin and work with humanitarian organizations. 

Richard Brake's role as the Night King was recast

In some cases, the fact that an actor had been replaced on Game of Thrones by someone totally new wasn't always so obvious. For example, the Night King was originally played by Richard Brake, but the character always appeared in makeup that would make any actor unrecognizable. So when he was eventually replaced by Vladimir Furdik in season six, you were probably none the wiser. 

Why was Furdik hired in favor of Brake for the later seasons? Furdik himself says that he isn't 100 percent sure. However, it could be because Furdik had expensive experience as a stuntman. He was actually the White Walker who fought with Jon Snow in the season five episode "Hardhome," and it seems like the showrunners were quite impressed with his performance. After filming that episode, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss asked Furdik if he would be open to playing the Night King in future seasons, and Furdik accepted.