The show’s success lies in the ability of its cast to relflect and refract their source material.
There are a lot of reasons why Game of Thrones has been such a wildly successful television show. Viewers tune in to see if their favorite character will get killed off. Others are so engrossed in the war for Westeros that they just need to stick around to see who ends up on the Iron Throne. A few might even check back in for the multitudes of sex scenes or beheadings that this series is notorious for. There are countless reasons that Game of Thrones has held such a grip on its audience, but there is one central factor that is the source of the show’s appeal: its casting.
If you’ve read the Song of Ice and Fire novels, this point might ring a little more poignantly than if you haven’t. Sure, the show’s creators might have made some of kids a bit older than they are in the novels, but these details are trivial when looking at the general characteristics all of these actors have fleshed out of the written material so well. Every time I hear a casting announcement, I’m thrilled to see who the casting team has added to the ensemble. Whether it be the mute and minor Ser Ilyn Payne (beautifully portrayed by Wilko Johnson) or a more central character like Daenerys Targaryen (played by Emilia Clarke), these actors have been incredibly successful in bringing text to life. Sure, a foundational feature of acting is that an actor should become their character, but the cast of Game of Thrones obliterates the conception that there are even actors behind these characters—each actor is, almost to a fault, their character.
Try to imagine anyone else but Peter Dinklage playing Tyrion Lannister. The other week someone suggested that I try to imagine Warwick Davis in the part and I cringed in pain at the thought. The show might have been an utter disaster based on that one hypothetical change alone.
Some might despise her, but Cercei Lannister’s essence is perfectly captured by Lena Headley. I’ve been a big fan of the series since it started, but I lost a little of my enthusiasm for the main characters after trudging through the A Song of Ice and Fire novels. After a nice year break from reading or watching Game of Thrones, I got bone-piercing chills when I saw Cercei’s haunting glare in this season’s premiere. Lena Headley is both absolutely gorgeous and thoroughly frightening and it’s impossible to imagine anyone else taking on the part. The only other person I find even remotely acceptable in her role would be Charlize Theron, and if she were cast in the role I wouldn’t only detest Cercei Lannister’s character, I would despise her as Cercei too.
My two favorite tricksters, Littlefinger and Varys, played by Aiden Gillan and Conleth Hill, respectively, hide their true motivations behind unreadable smirks and jests that the two actors effortlessly produce. They’re most proficient and ruthless players of “the game of thrones.” Their characteristic riddles or monologues about true power is what separates the show from any other fantasy series to grace the screen.
Seeing different actors play off of each other is another great feature of this perfect cast. I’ve been waiting for years to see Jon meet Melisandre and just seeing the two on screen together was overpowering. Kit Harington and Carice van Houten handle the tension between Jon and Melisandre beautifully. You can feel Jon’s palpable mistrust of the fire-priestess and Melisandre’s almost playful curiosity of Jon without them uttering more than a few lines of dialogue.
“Are you a virgin?” She asks him in a rattling equivalent of an elevator.
“No,” is Jon Snow’s typically curt response.
“Good,” Melisandre purrs.
I wish I could go into detail about each and every remarkable cast member of the show—they all deserve credit for what they have brought to the show. These actors make even the most malicious and unredeemable villains of the entire series some of the most interesting and (in a way) admirable characters on screen. I didn’t think much of Roose Bolton when I read the books, but Michael McElhatton, with his harsh, intimidating growl and stone cold expression has brought out the subtle traits of the Northern villain beautifully.
Especially seeing the transition from the page to the screen, I can’t find a flaw with a single casting choice throughout the series. Looking forward, the Dornish are some of my favorite characters in all of Westeros and I can’t wait to see what justice the newest cast members of this season will bring to these hot-headed, mystical Dornishmen.
Featured Image Courtesy of HBO