How the cast of Game of Thrones has changed since season 1

When HBO's fantasy drama Game of Thrones premiered six years ago, nearly everything was different. Its viewership hovered around two or three million per episode, its narrative got down to the nitty-gritty of political stratagems, and Sean Bean led the cast.

Now, the acclaimed series often reaches ten million viewers, it builds intensity by eyeing an endgame, and its cast is headed up by stars viewers met when they were fresh-faced and (relatively) innocent. Of the staggeringly large ensemble that made up Thrones' first season, just a handful remain—most of whom act, think, and look very different. Here's a look at how the original Game of Thrones cast has changed over the years.

Sophie Turner - Sansa Stark

When we were introduced to Sansa Stark, played by the naturally blonde Sophie Turner, she was a young girl with her eyes on the crown—a desire rooted in becoming queen to Joffrey Baratheon (Jack Gleeson), the assumed next in line to the throne. Sansa dreamed of living among the royals in King's Landing, indulged her pre-teen heart in all things pretty, and wore her hair in low bunches with a shy smile on her cherubic face—which evolved into more intricate updos and a crestfallen frown when she finally arrived to the Westerosi capital city and discovered the true horrors that sit on the Iron Throne.

Just as Sansa's fate has shifted throughout the seasons, so too has her look. She's gone from a bright-haired pawn in the game of thrones, Joffrey's betrothed, and a victim of House Bolton's immorality to a flame-locked force of power. Sansa's face is stronger in season seven, and her worldview has turned from stolen kisses and lemon cakes to strategizing her next move in the battles to come. She wears her hair half pulled back, much like her mother Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) did pre-Red Wedding, and sports long-sleeved gowns, accessorized with a thick wolf shawl wrapped around her shoulders—a true Lady of Winterfell.

Isaac Hempstead-Wright - Bran Stark

A inquisitive 10-year-old in season one, Brandon "Bran" Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) went against his parents' warnings and climbed the walls of Winterfell, where he stumbled upon the then-Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) and Hand of the King Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) engaging in an incestuous act. Jaime pushed Bran to his possible death, the speculation surrounding his fall reverberating throughout Westeros. Though he wasn't a major player in terms of action, young Bran set into motion the events we see today—and even things we couldn't see, when he started dreaming of a mysterious raven.

Now it's evident that Bran is another drastically changed Stark child. Shorn short is his once-shaggy hair, more sullen are his deep brown eyes, and his facial expressions have gone from animated to reserved. Aside from those physical differences, Bran has become the Three-Eyed Raven he once envisioned, refining his abilities to peer into the past and keep a watchful eye (or three) over the dangers beyond the Wall. What Bran lacks in age as the youngest of the living Stark bunch, he makes up in haunting stares and wisdom that could break the Westerosi wheel of power completely.

Maisie Williams - Arya Stark

Boisterous and rather un-ladylike compared to her older sister, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) bent the rules and focused her attention on swordship and the secrets of the supposedly happy royals and noblemen in King's Landing. There, Arya learned the art of water dancing from the Braavosian sword-fighter Syrio Forel (Miltos Yerolemou), using a fine-tipped sword she named Needle, which her assumed half-brother Jon Snow (Kit Harington) gifted her before he left for the Wall.

As Thrones fans know, Arya fled the capital when her father Ned (Sean Bean) was beheaded, a trajectory that saw her cycle through many cities and accompanying styles—from a cropped cut in the Riverlands to backwards braids in Braavos. But when she finally makes her way back to Winterfell in season seven, Arya looks every bit as Stark as you'd expect her to: dark hair that pulls from Eddard's side and glimmering eyes from Catelyn's, with layered clothing to protect from the long-promised Winter.

But Arya still holds onto her vengeful past. Her sparring session with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), her spat with Sansa that led to her revealing her many faces, and her ultimate murder of Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) in the season seven finale prove her path is soaked with the blood of vengeance.

Kit Harington - Jon Snow

The not-quite-a-boy, not-yet-a-man Jon Snow we knew in Thrones' first season had a brooding attitude and a full and blameless face. Jon left Winterfell to take up the black and help his Uncle Benjen (Joseph Mawle) as a member of the Night's Watch, and in the years that followed, struck up a sneaky alliance with the Wildlings, faced wights and White Walkers by the thousands, died at the hands of his own Crow brothers, and returned from the dead with a little help from Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and the Lord of Light.

A scar now sits on Jon's face and a smattering of half-moon-shaped gouges marking the places he was stabbed spread across his stomach and chest. His raven-black hair remains tousled as ever, though he prefers to wear it tied up to keep it out of his eyes as he goes head-to-broken-skull with a pack of wights.

But these subtle changes pale in comparison to the bomb-drop that came in the season seven finale: he isn't Ned Stark's bastard, and his name isn't Jon Snow. Rather, he's the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, Daenerys' eldest brother, and Lyanna Stark, Ned's sister and the woman "Jon" spent his entire life believing was his aunt. Thanks to an annulment between Rhaegar and Elia Martell of Dorne and a secret wedding between Rhaegar and Lyanna, Jon is the pair's legitimate child, whom Lyanna named Aegon Targaryen.

John Bradley - Samwell Tarly

Season one saw cuddly Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) arrive at the Wall after his father, Lord Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner), ostracized him from the family and shipped him North in the hopes he'd become a "real man." Sam quickly developed a deep bond with Jon, but was relentlessly teased for his softer looks, gentle personality, and preference for books over battles and bolstering his ranging skills.

Unlike his companions at the Wall, the seasons have been somewhat kind to Sam, who's grown from a recurring character with little influence to a key player. The very same Sam others called "Ser Piggy" in season one killed a White Walker, helped Jon rise to Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, had a son with the Wildling Gilly (Hannah Murray), and traveled to the Citadel to become a Maester. Aesthetically, he doesn't appear too different: a shorter hairstyle that no longer hangs over his forehead, a thicker brunette beard and mustache, and more mature face that reflects the years gone by.

The end of season seven finds Sam in Winterfell, learning that the information Gilly discovered at the Citadel proves Jon is a true-born Targaryen, marking him as an even more crucial piece of the Thrones puzzle.

Lena Headey - Cersei Lannister

It's hard to believe the sinister Cersei Lannister started off simply in season one, as the dishonest wife of King Robert Baratheon. Sure, she was undoubtedly conniving and conspired with many in King's Landing to carry out unspeakable acts to secure her position of power, but she wasn't a keystone in the ways of Westeros. Yet. Entangled in a loveless marriage with no Baratheon-born children to rightfully assume the Throne once Robert died (a death she actually confessed to orchestrating), Cersei knew she'd have to turn the tides sooner or later.

After losing Joffrey and then Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free), having her golden hair knifed off near her scalp, and being made to perform a naked Walk of Atonement through the streets of King's Landing when her attempts to control the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) failed, Cersei stripped away any shred of decency she had left and established herself as a chaotic evil residing in the Red Keep. Now the Mad Queen, Cersei has gone so far as to blow up the Sept of Baelor—which resulted in her sole surviving child, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), committing suicide—to get what she wants. Her hair may be much shorter and her gowns darker than before, but Cersei's more Lannister than ever, promising that Westeros will hear her roar—no matter the costs.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau - Jaime Lannister

The other half of the disturbing relationship at the center of Game of Thrones, Jaime Lannister started out looking a lot like Prince Charming from Shrek before transforming almost completely. Season one Jaime was arrogant, cocky, and verged on being as manipulative as his twin sister Cersei, seen pushing Bran out of a tower and attacking Ned Stark. A decorated knight and Hand of the King to Robert, with a feared reputation as the Kingslayer after murdering the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, Jaime was untouchable at the beginning—but he wasn't invincible.

When the golden-haired Lannister lost his hand and his identity in season three, the series revealed to the audience that Jaime's motivations to kill weren't out of savagery, but out of a desire to protect his family. While fans grew a soft spot for him, things got complicated as the seasons progressed, most notably when Jaime raped Cersei—an act that doesn't happen in the books, where she's only initially hesitant to Jaime's advances. 

The Jaime we know now is complicated and nearly blinded by devotion, with a gold hand and a not-so-golden heart, looking wearier and worse for the wear. At least the season seven finale hinted Jaime could survive the Great War—he finally walks away from Cersei before she can destroy all the pawns and pieces on the game board for good.

Peter Dinklage - Tyrion Lannister

The black sheep of House Lannister, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was once fixated on drinking as much wine as he could pour and frequenting the many brothels in King's Landing. His life took a sharp turn when Catelyn Stark took him as prisoner when she believed he shoved Bran from the Winterfell walls, then again when he was charged with the murder of his nephew Joffrey (an act for which Dame Diana Riggs' Lady Olenna Tyrell was actually responsible), and a final time when Tyrion killed his own father, Sir Charles Dance's Tywin Lannister, leading to his exile from King's Landing and alliance with Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).

Tyrion's fight in the Battle of the Blackwater left him with a scar across his face, and his emotional struggles see him growing out his dark blonde hair into a curly mop and his facial hair into a burly beard that evokes a certain sense of regality. But like most other Thrones characters, Tyrion's visual changes are only the half of it. Gone are his days of sleeping around and drinking in excess, and so too is his allegiance to his Lannister family, as he now serves as Hand of the Queen to Daenerys. A combat expert who honed his knack for war strategy, Tyrion has become a voice of reason, a peddler of peaceful actions over senseless violence, and a crucial figure in the crusade for the Iron Throne.

Conleth Hill - Varys

From the outside, Conleth Hill's spymaster Varys (known in the early Thrones years as the Spider) hasn't changed all that much since the first season. He's still bald as an egg, he's still a eunuch, and he still talks in a dulcet voice that leaves you hanging on his every word. But the starkest difference between Varys in his days at King's Landing and the Varys Thrones fans know now is his true allegiance. Where it was once believed to be with the Baratheon lineage when he was serving as Master of Whisperers on the Small Council, Varys' actual loyalty lies with the people—and with Daenerys, as long as he believes she can bring peace to the Seven Kingdoms. Varys eventually teams up with Tyrion as Hand to become Dany's own Master of Whisperers, and helps lead the cause against House Lannister.

Jerome Flynn - Ser Bronn of the Blackwater

Ah, Bronn (Jerome Flynn), the quippy and sarcastic sellsword who rose from nearly nothing to prominence after championing from Tyrion in the trial by combat in the Vale, shifting from a single name to a full title: Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. Where he once served as Tryion's bodyguard in season one, Bronn now is part-time buddy, full-time babysitter to Jaime Lannister. His Lords may have changed, but thank goodness his hilarious one-liners remain. 

Emilia Clarke - Daenerys Targaryen

Silver-haired and sweet-natured, the young Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is but a distant memory. In season one, Dany's brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) sells her to the Dothraki in Essos, where she becomes the Khaleesi to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa). Abuse at the hands of brutish men and a surprisingly strong but tragic relationship with Drogo push Dany to unleash her inner fire, and she emerges as the Mother of Dragons at the end of the first season.

That young and ambitious girl has now grown into her own, her tanned skin paling down to Targaryen translucency, her foreign capes traded in for monotone threads as she neared her homeland of Dragonstone, and her tiny dragons maturing to full size. A compassionate yet take-no-flack political operator whose road to royal redemption has been rocky, Dany looks more poised to rule the Seven Kingdoms than ever.

Iain Glen - Ser Jorah Mormont

Though Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) is pretty much the picture of steadfast devotion and unrequited love, he wasn't always that way. In the first season of Game of Thrones, Jorah was spying on Daenerys for Varys and sending him information about the Targaryen exiles. It wasn't long before he developed feelings for the young Mother of Dragons, leading him to save her from an assassination attempt and reject a royal pardon that would summon him back to King's Landing. But when Dany learns of Jorah's dishonest past, she dismisses him outright.

Now, Dany and Jorah have reunited and he's back on Dany's good side, standing tall as one of her most trusted advisors and fiercest defenders. With less hair on his head and a miraculously cured case of greyscale, Jorah took on his biggest challenge yet in the show's seventh season: facing off against the White Walkers, an act of valor that proves he'll forever put his beloved Khaleesi before his own well-being.

Alfie Allen - Theon Greyjoy

If there ever was a human embodiment of pompousness and conceit, Alfie Allen's Theon Greyjoy in Thrones season one is it. The only living son and rightful heir of Lord Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) of the Iron Islands, Theon was sent to Winterfell in his youth and served as Ned Stark's ward. House Stark raised Theon, who formed a best friendship and pseudo-brotherhood with Robb (Richard Madden) and considered the rest of the Stark siblings his own family, and Ned his real father. That all changed when Theon betrayed the Starks, seizing Winterfell and staging a murder of Bran and Rickon (Art Parkinson) on behalf of House Greyjoy.

Theon then spent years as Reek, the prisoner of Ramsay Snow/Bolton (Iwan Rheon). The traumatic experience saw him lose the part of his body he claimed to use best (if you catch our drift) and his entire sense of self, something he doesn't truly gain back until the later episodes of season seven.

Pulling himself out of the in-between of identifying as a Greyjoy and a Stark, Theon now looks as beaten down as you'd expect. But though his blue eyes are graying and his cheeks are sunken, Theon's will to survive is sparking up again—a fantastic sign for the Ironborn man moving into season eight.

Rory McCann - The Hound

Once Joffrey's dog in Thrones' first season, Ser Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), a.k.a. the Hound, went from a fugitive on the run with Arya Stark to the potential murder victim of Brienne of Tarth to a something of an anti-hero with his own complex fears, hopes, and desires. If you told us while we were watching season one that the Hound would eventually join up with the Brotherhood Without Banners, fight alongside Jon Snow, and become a better person by season seven, we wouldn't have believed you. (His even more luscious beard, however? We kind of saw that coming.)

The Mountain

Ser Gregor Clegane, a.k.a the Mountain, was a total brute in season one, spilling blood wherever and whenever he wanted. But when he died during a trial by combat against Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), the Mountain was reanimated as Qyburn's Monster to serve as Cersei's personal murder machine. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson replaces former actors Conan Stevens and Ian Whyte as the menacing man behind the new Frankensteinian Mountain, whose bloodshot eyes and purple skin still give us nightmares.