In its eight seasons of existence, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” has become the most talked-about TV show of its generation — and there are plenty of reasons people can’t get enough of it. From the expansive setting and lush costumes to the near-constant waves of action and sex that bombard viewers, pretty much everything about “Game of Thrones” is epic.
But maybe the most epic part of the series is its massive cast. The series has included dozens of main characters during its run and has built up a notorious reputation for killing them off, no matter how beloved they are by fans. Even though you probably know many of the actors who star in “Game of Thrones,” there’s a good chance you wouldn’t recognize them if you saw them on the street — because they often look nothing like the characters they play on the show.
Take a look at some stunning shots of what members of the “Game of Thrones” cast look like when they aren’t in character.
Emilia Clarke — Daenerys Targaryen
Daenerys Targaryen might be the most recognizable character from “Game of Thrones,” thanks to the countless awesome moments she’s had during the show’s run. But her platinum-blonde hair and dead-serious facial expressions — the character’s most signature aspects — are two things actor Emilia Clarke does not share in real life. The 32-year-old British star is naturally a brunette and has a great sense of humor, which you can see in virtually any interview with her. Clarke has apparently never been photographed on the street with actual dragons surrounding her, which also makes her unrecognizable for fans of the show.
Sophie Turner — Sansa Stark
The character of Sansa Stark has undergone one of the most stark — pun intended — transformations of any character on the show, but her one constant has been her beautiful red hair. In real life, actor Sophie Turner is a natural blonde who originally dyed her hair for the role before wearing wigs in more recent seasons. Like Emilia Clarke, another huge difference between Turner and her character is her warm personality, which is a major contrast from Sansa’s cold-as-ice demeanor as Lady of Winterfell.
Maisie Williams — Arya Stark
Arya Stark and the actor who plays her, 22-year-old Maisie Williams, both share an amazing set of eyebrows, but their looks are pretty different other than that. Williams dresses in much more fun and flattering clothes than Arya, who is pretty much always seen in some shade of brown and an ensemble that accentuates swordplay over fashion. Arya’s chosen hairstyle is also pretty bland but, as you can from this picture taken in 2019, Williams likes to have fun with her locks. I honestly cannot imagine Arya Stark ever wearing any shade of pink, let alone dyeing her hair that color!
Lena Headey — Cersei Lannister
The character “Game of Thrones” fans love to hate more than any other is Queen Cersei Lannister, who has done too many vile things on the show to even keep track of anymore. She’s known for her blonde hair and take-no-prisoners attitude, neither of which you’ll find in actor Lena Headey. The 45-year-old star has jet-black hair and rocks some tattoos in real life, both of which are things that would be shocking to see on Cersei. As you can also see from this picture of Headey at 2011’s San Diego Comic-Con, she’s a bit of a hipster. The queen would probably not approve of such frivolity.
Gwendoline Christie — Brienne of Tarth
One of the most jarring transformations of anyone in the “Game of Thrones” cast belongs to Gwendoline Christie. The 6-foot-3-inch actor plays Brienne of Tarth, who is known for wearing short, slicked-back hair and heavy armor that covers her entire body. In real life, Christie has incredible fashion sense and might be the most glamourous-looking actor in the entire cast! She’s married to a fashion designer and has worked as a model, so it makes sense. Despite them looking nothing alike, both Christie and Brienne are equally awesome.
Peter Dinklage — Tyrion Lannister
There are a ton of actors on “Game of Thrones,” but only Peter Dinklage gets top billing in the opening credits every week. The three-time Emmy winner looks fairly similar to his onscreen counterpart, the cynical tactician Tyrion Lannister, save for the giant scar on the character’s face. But if you go back to Dinklage’s pre-Hollywood days, you’ll see he looked pretty different. In this picture, taken in 1994, you can see Dinklage singing with his punk band, Whizzy. It’s actually not hard to imagine Tyrion singing with a punk band, too.
Charles Dance — Tywin Lannister
When you picture Tywin Lannister, the patriarch of the ruthless Lannister family, it’s impossible to not envision his receding, white-blonde hair and intense stare. Actor Charles Dance, a 72-year-old veteran of the British drama scene, appears much more friendly and approachable than his character. Just check him out in this photo, taken in 1985, around the time he got his breakthrough role in the English series “The Jewel in the Crown.” As you can see, he’s more of a freckle-faced redhead than a blonde Lannister. But he still looks pretty intense.
Alfie Allen — Theon Greyjoy
Theon Greyjoy has had one of the roughest character arcs in the entire series (remember his days as Reek?) and Alfie Allen has done a great job making us both hate and empathize with him at various points. The two look pretty similar for the most part but Allen looked a bit young to be the prince of the Iron Islands when this photo was taken at a screening of “Transformers” in 2007. This was four years before he’d debut on “Game of Thrones” and Allen was 21 years old at the time.
Carice van Houten — Melisandre
Like her “Game of Thrones” character Melisandre, Dutch actor Carice van Houten is a gorgeous woman — but unlike her, she’s not a witch who gives terrible advice to the men who worship her. Another drastic difference between these two is the fact that van Houten doesn’t have fiery red hair and she isn’t constantly wearing that color, either. In fact, the 42-year-old actor looks like a very pleasant person who happens to be a brunette when she’s not on the set of the HBO series. Another fact that may surprise you is that “Game of Thrones” is only one of a handful of English-language projects van Houten has ever acted in during a career that’s spanned more than 20 years.
Isaac Hempstead Wright — Bran Stark
One of the actors we’ve seen grow up with the series, Isaac Hempstead Wright was only 10 years old when “Game of Thrones” debuted in 2011. Now a 20-year-old man, he’s spent half his life playing Bran Stark but doesn’t seem to have too much in common with the enigmatic character. For one, Wright has the use of his legs, unlike his character, who was paralyzed after being shoved out of a window in the first episode. Wright also smiles every once in a while, which is more than can be said for the deadly serious Bran! It’s also unclear if Wright is able to control people’s minds in real life but we’re going to guess no.
John Bradley — Samwell Tarley
Among all the characters on “Game of Thrones,” Samwell Tarley might be the one that’s easiest to root for. He just seems like a legitimately good guy in a world where pretty much everyone is a jerk. British actor John Bradley seems equally likable and actually looks a good bit like the character he plays. But Bradley shared one photo on Instagram in October 2017 that made him look nearly unrecognizable from how he appears on the series. There’s no clunky armor or khaki-colored robe to be seen and he looks trim enough to be a ranger in the Night’s Watch! Who knew Samwell could smolder?
Conleth Hill — Varys
Talk about a transformation! Varys, aka “The Spider,” is equally known for his conniving mind as he his for his round, hairless head. In real life, this Northern Irishman has a luscious head of hair — and can clearly rock a good mustache to boot, as seen in this shot from a 2008 Tony Awards event. The shaved head and face that Hill dons in “Game of Thrones” makes his actual looks unrecognizable for fans of the series, which is apparently fine by the actor.
Liam Cunningham — Davos Seaworth
No joke, Liam Cunningham makes a serious case for the most handsome guy in the entire “Game of Thrones” cast when he’s not in character. It’s not that Davos Seaworth is a bad looking guy, but when you see Cunningham with his clean-shaven, flawless jawline, you realize what that scraggly, white beard has been covering up all these seasons! On the show, Davos is a traveler who leads a no-frills lifestyle. In real life, Cunningham looks like a classic, English tough guy who can also be a gentleman, as seen below in his tux at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006.
Hannah Murray — Gilly
Hannah Murray has been acting since she was a teen, which she was when the below picture was taken at the 2007 NME Awards. At that time, Murray was starring in the British teen series “Skins,” which helped her land the role of Gilly in “Game of Thrones” in 2012. Gilly has become a fan-favorite on the show, especially because of her enduring relationship with Samwell Tarly. That character has brown hair that’s quite plain but, as you can see, Murray has been known to be a blonde in real life.
Rory McCann — Sandor Clegane (‘The Hound’)
It could be argued that no actor looks more different from their character than Rory McCann, who plays Sandor Clegane, aka “The Hound.” On the show, McCann has unkempt hair and a disfigured face. But in real life, Clegane’s face is rather handsome and he keeps his hair ready for the red carpet, as you can see from this shot taken at the 2015 SAG Awards. “The Hound” also has one of the most grim attitudes of anyone in “Game of Thrones” — which is saying something — thus making it shocking to see him giving a goofy grin and a thumbs-up to the camera. It’s also jarring to see him in a suit that’s not made of armor.
Jack Gleeson — Joffrey Baratheon
The last time “Game of Thrones” fans saw Joffrey Baratheon, his skin was a little off-colored, so it’s good to see actor Jack Gleeson back to a normal shade here. Joffrey, the young and ruthless king, was known for his blonde hair and horrible personality, which are two things apparently not shared by Gleeson. The 26-year-old Irish actor is apparently a joy to work with and has much darker hair in real life. He was just a teen when he first played Joffrey in 2011 but, as you can see, he’s all grown up in this picture from April 2019.
Jacob Anderson — Grey Worm
The Unsullied soldier Grey Worm is one of the most serious characters in “Game of Thrones” and it appears that actor Jacob Anderson is pretty serious in his own ways — including in his career as an R&B musician under the name Raleigh Ritchie. In the show, Grey Worm is almost never seen out of his armor and always has a clean-shaven face, but Anderson lets his facial hair — and the hair on top of his head — grow a bit when he’s not shooting the series. It’s also impossible to imagine Grey Worm rocking a mock turtleneck or anything as effortlessly stylish as Anderson’s entire look below.
Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson — Gregor Clegane (‘The Mountain’)
OK, so there’s no way you’d recognize Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson from his role as Gregor Clegane, aka “The Mountain.” In the show, his face is almost never seen, especially in the later seasons, when he’s more monster than man. But Björnsson is well known as a competitive weightlifter, which totally fits with that character, which might be the most intimidating in the whole series. When he’s not wearing a massive suit of armor and literally crushing people’s heads, Björnsson is actually a very handsome guy who can really fill out a fun-colored suit.
Diana Rigg — Olenna Tyrell
On “Game of Thrones,” Olenna Tyrell is a sharp-tongued old woman — but actor Diana Rigg was one of the ultimate sex symbols of the 1960s. Her work as Emma Peel in the British series “The Avengers” is legendary, as was her performance as a Bond Girl in 1969. These days, Rigg is 80 years old and Olenna represented a very different kind of character, maybe even tougher than those roles she played as a young woman. Below, you can see Rigg at her most fetching on the set of “The Avengers,” roughly 50 years before she’d first appear on “Game of Thrones.”
Gemma Whelan — Yara Greyjoy
As a big fan of Yara Greyjoy, seeing the actor who plays her completely out of character really blew my mind. Of all the tough women on the show — and there are too many to count — Yara is one of the most hardcore, living her life on the high seas as commander of her own ship. She always looks in need of a bath and wears the type of clothes you’d expect to see on a warrior. But Gemma Whelan, the 37-year-old Brit who plays Yara, couldn’t possibly look any different from the character. Whelan looks more like a friendly drama teacher than the type of person who would ransack your village!
Kristian Nairn — Hodor
What “Game of Thrones” fan doesn’t have a soft spot in their heart for Hodor? The loyal, hardworking servant of the Stark family has given us some of the show’s most unforgettable moments. In real life, actor Kristian Nairn is legitimately a huge guy, standing 6 feet 10 inches, but that’s where the similarities with Hodor end. As you can see below, Nairn, who is also a professional DJ, has a tattoo on his face, wears several piercings and has cool glasses and even hipper hair. He does share Hodor’s beard and friendly demeanor, however.
Michelle Fairley — Catelyn Stark
One of the most regal leading ladies in all of “Game of Thrones,” Michelle Fairley has the perfect look to portray a highborn lady like Catelyn Stark. The character’s long, red hair was one of Catelyn’s signature aspects, so it feels strange to see a photo of Fairley with dark brown locks. But that steely stare seems to be the same whether you’re looking at the lady of Winterfell or the Northern Irishwoman who plays her.
Pilou Asbæk — Euron Greyjoy
Here’s one that will really throw you off! When you picture Euron Greyjoy, one of the brashest characters in the entire series, you have to think of his brown hair, thick mustache and overall unkempt pirate look. But as you can see, the Dutch actor Pilou Asbæk can pull off quite a different look away from the set. This photo was taken at the 2016 Oscars, when Asbæk was rocking a hair color that made him look more like a Targaryen than a Greyjoy.
Daniel Portman — Podrick Payne
Who knew Podrick was such a stud in real life? The dedicated squire to Tyrion Lannister is typically seen in the show as boyish and eager to prove himself to others. But as you can see from this photo taken in 2016 at a “Game of Thrones” premiere event, Scottish actor Daniel Portman has a very gentlemanly vibe. Gone are the oversized armor and clean-shaven babyface. Instead, he’s rocking a three-piece suit, some nice facial hair and perfectly coiffed hair.
Kristofer Hivju — Tormund Giantsbane
When you picture Tormund, the battle-hungry wildling who has become a close ally to Jon Snow, you have to picture his massive, untamed red mane and giant beard. That impressive facial hair has been part of Norwegian actor Kristofer Hivju’s real-life look for years, so it was almost impossible to find a photo of him clean shaven. But Hivju shared a throwback shot on Instagram in 2017 that shows him as a young man with only some faint facial hair. He didn’t clarify when the photo was taken but he practically looks like a kid who would likely not inspire much fear in any rangers of the Night’s Watch — although he still had great hair.
Mark Addy — Robert Baratheon
Here’s another guy it’s probably difficult for “Game of Thrones” fans to picture without a massive beard. As Robert Baratheon, the erstwhile king of Westeros, actor Mark Addy basically looked like a total slob, with long hair and a bushy beard. But for Addy’s other famous roles, like “The Full Monty” and “The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas,” he’s usually clean-shaven. This shot from that latter movie shows him as Fred Flintstone in 2000, 11 years before he’d wear the crown.
Tom Wlaschiha — Jaqen H’ghar
One of the show’s most mysterious characters, German actor Tom Wlaschiha brought to life the assassin known as Jaqen H’ghar, also called the Faceless Man. On the show, Jaqen had shoulder-length hair and was typically clad in long robes or armor as he mentored Arya Stark. As you can see from the shot below, taken in 2018, in real life, Wlaschiha has a much more casual vibe. He’s got those same piercing eyes but it’s hard to recognize him as Jaqen with short hair and a friendly grin.
Harry Lloyd — Viserys Targaryen
He played one of the most unlikable characters in all of “Game of Thrones” as Viserys Targaryen, brother of Daenerys but, as you can see from this 2018 photo, Harry Lloyd looks like a pretty nice guy in real life. The British actor, like the actor who plays his sister, is actually a brunette despite playing someone with platinum-blonde hair on the show. Lloyd is totally unrecognizable in this photo without his long, blonde locks and that facial expression that just made you hope he’d get his limbs torn off by Khal Drogo.
Nathalie Emmanuel — Missandei
Despite only being 30 years old, Nathalie Emmanuel has one of the strongest resumes of any actor on “Game of Thrones,” having started her career on the stage as a child. Before she landed the role of Missandei, one of Daenerys Targaryen’s closest advisors, she starred in a British soap opera called “Hollyoaks.” The picture below shows Emmanuel at the 2010 British Soap Awards, three years before she’d appear on the HBO series. As you can tell, she looks quite different, wearing her hair straight and also wearing bold makeup, two things that would probably clash with Missandei’s look and personality.
Jerome Flynn — Bronn
Bronn is another one of those supporting characters that gives “Game of Thrones” so much life and personality — largely thanks to the performance by Jerome Flynn. The 56-year-old Brit has been acting since the 1980s and has shown his range in a variety of roles. As Bronn, he mostly looks stern all the time, even when he’s saying something terribly off color to make Tyrion Lannister laugh. He also always has facial hair, which makes him unrecognizable in this photo from a 2003 talk show appearance. This was about eight years before he landed the role of Bronn and had to wipe that big grin off his face.