The Early Acting Gigs of 20 'Game of Thrones' Stars

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Six seasons in, and we’re still no closer to figuring out who will win the battle for the seven kingdoms on HBO’s Game of Thrones. But here’s how some of the series’ stars (past and present) made a living before they were Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, and beyond.

1. EMILIA CLARKE // DAENERYS TARGARYEN

Before everyone’s favorite Khaleesi and mother of dragons embarked on her quest for the Iron Throne, Emilia Clarke starred in a commercial (above) for the charity Samaritans, which provides support to people in emotional distress.

She broke into TV with a guest role on an episode of the long-running BBC series Doctors in 2009 and playing Savannah in the Syfy channel’s Triassic Attack in 2010.

2. LENA HEADEY // CERSEI LANNISTER

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Long before she was a Queen or had to endure the world’s worst walk of shame, Lena Headey had her first on-screen role in the 1992 movie Waterland alongside Ethan Hawke and Jeremy Irons. The then-24-year-old actress played Young Mary Crick, whose character has a sex scene with Hawke’s and then eventually marries Irons’s.

3. RICHARD MADDEN // ROBB STARK

The dearly departed King of the North honed his craft on the BBC children’s comedy Barmy Aunt Boomerang. Madden played Sebastian, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of his wacky Australian aunt, Boomerang … who is actually a ghost. Dragons and direwolves probably seemed downright normal after that.

4. GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE // BRIENNE OF TARTH

Before Christie swung a sword as the fiercest lady knight this side of the wall, she had bit roles in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Classy Shopper 2) and The Time Surgeon (The Tape/”Victim”). She also played Lexi/Lucy in 12 episodes of the BBC series Wizards vs. Aliens. Check her out in the clip above.

5. IWAN RHEON // RAMSAY BOLTON

Iwan Rheon, who plays the bastard everyone loves to hate, cut his teeth on Welsh television. He made his onscreen debut playing Macsen White on the long-running Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm in the 2004 episode “OB Cafe”; two years later, he played Daniel on several episodes of the Welsh drama Caerdydd. Fans of the British TV show Misfits will recognize him as Simon Bellamy, a role he landed in 2009. When he’s not setting his hounds on people as Ramsay Bolton on Thrones, Rheon is making music; he released his first album in 2015.

6. JACK GLEESON // JOFFREY BARATHEON

Yes, Jack Gleeson is the little boy rescued by Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) in Batman Begins. You can also catch the boy who would be Thrones' psychotic King in 2007’s Shrooms, about three couples who go to Ireland to collect magic mushrooms and trip out (Gleeson played “Lonely Twin”), and in 2009’s A Shine of Rainbows as Seamus; you can spot him in the trailer above at around 46 seconds.

7. NATALIE DORMER // MARGAERY TYRELL

Before she was Renly, Joffrey, and Tommen’s Queen, Natalie Dormer made her debut on the first episode of ITV dramedy Distant Shores. She played “Mobile Woman,” a character who loudly talks on her cell phone on the bus and gets chewed out by the main character. You can see it all go down in the clip above.

Margaery isn’t the only queen Dormer has played; she lost her head as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors before booking Game of Thrones in 2012.

8. NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU // JAIME LANNISTER

Before he played the Kingslayer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starred in the 1994 Danish thriller Nightwatch as Martin, who takes a night shift job in a mortuary to finance his law school education. Scary stuff ensues, as you can see in the trailer above.

9. AIDAN GILLEN // PETYR “LITTLEFINGER” BAELISH

Before taking on a character who is a skilled player in the game of thrones, Aidan Gillen had roles in a number of TV movies, hit the big screen as Aidan Lynch in Circle of Friends, and played Councilman-turned-Mayor Thomas Carcetti in The Wire.

10. LIAM CUNNINGHAM // DAVOS SEAWORTH

Liam Cunningham made his onscreen debut in a 1992 short film called Public Toilet. A year later, he appeared in his first feature film, the family adventure Into the West, playing a police officer.

11. RORY MCCANN // SANDOR “THE HOUND” CLEGANE

Prior to playing the fire-fearing, murder-loving Hound, Rory McCann got his break in a couple of hilarious Scott’s Porage Oats commercials, the first of which is above (you can see the second one here). You might also recognize the 6' 6" actor as Michael Armstrong in Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz (2007):

12. ALFIE ALLEN // THEON GREYJOY

Before becoming Reek, Alfie Allen—younger brother of singer Lily Allen—had roles in films like Elizabeth (1998), Atonement (2007), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). He also appeared in three episodes of the 2008 miniseries Casualty 1907, which used records from the archives of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel to bring the patients and doctors of the Victorian-era hospital back to life. Allen played Nobby Clark; you can see him in the role in the video above.

13. CARICE VAN HOUTEN // MELISANDRE

In 1999, the actress who was once Stannis Baratheon's right-hand-sorceress starred in the Dutch TV movie Suzy Q, which followed a weekend in the life of a bizarre family in the 1960s. You can see a clip above.

14. CONLETH HILL // LORD VARYS

Prior to playing Westeros's scheming eunuch, Conleth Hill sang as an Irish tenor in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1993. You can get a good look at him in the video above, around the 5:50 mark.

15. NATHALIE EMMANUEL // MISSANDEI

Before she booked Thrones, the future right hand lady of the Khaleesi appeared on the British soap opera Hollyoaks from 2007 to 2010, playing the boy crazy wild child Sasha Valentine. In one story arc her character overdosed on heroin and slipped into a coma. Watch her bring the drama in the clip above (which has some NSFW language).

16. NATALIA TENA // OSHA

Playing a wildling in Game of Thrones isn't Natalia Tena's first foray into fantasy; the actress is perhaps best known for her role as Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter series. But her first big screen role was when she was a teenager, playing Ellie in Chris and Paul Weitz’s Oscar-nominated About a Boy (2002). You can see her at the 1:07 mark in the clip above.

17. ROSE LESLIE // YGRITTE

Before playing Jon Snow's Wildling lover on Thrones, Rose Leslie was a member of Downton Abbey's downstairs crew (she was the housemaid who wanted to become a secretary). But her first TV role was on the documentary series Locked Up Abroad. She played Kim, a lady with less-than-honorable intentions who convinces her boyfriend to come to Peru while she runs a drug smuggling job (NSFW language in the episode). You can check her out above.

18. SIBEL KEKILLI // SHAE

Before she landed the role as Tyrion Lannister’s lady-for-hire, Sibel Kekilli won two Lolas—the German award equivalent of an Oscar—in 2004 and 2010. She also had a role in the 2004 German film Kebab Connection, about a man of Turkish descent who wants to direct the first German kung-fu movie. You can see Kekilli at the 1:01 mark in the trailer above.

19. RICHARD BRAKE // THE NIGHT’S KING

Richard Brake only made a couple of appearances as The Night’s King in seasons four and five of Thrones, but each one was chilling. (Stuntman Vladimir Furdik has taken over the role for season six.) Brake got his start in 1993 on an episode of the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie series Jeeves & Wooster playing a reporter. You might also recognize him as Joe Chill—yup, the guy who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents—in Batman Begins. You can see him at 2:25 in the clip above.

20. JACOB ANDERSON // GREY WORM

Fans of Broadchurch will recognize this leader of the Unsullied as Dean Thomas, Chloe Latimer’s boyfriend. Before that, Anderson made his TV debut in the British soap opera Doctors; he played Ryan Garvey for one episode in 2007.

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