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The Best Performances From The 'Game Of Thrones' Cast

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 8, 2014 at 3:46PM

Oh, “Game of Thrones,” we’ve missed you so. But now that, as of Sunday's season opener, we are back in the warm embrace of a new season of the HBO phenomenon (which has officially been renewed for two further seasons), we’ve also found ourselves plunged back into the midst of one of the biggest ensemble casts on TV, and occasionally snapping our fingers at the screen going “Him! Him! That guy! Wasn’t he in that thing with the other guy from whatjacallit?” It’s one of the great joys of this exquisitely made show that the cast is so rich and deep and full of “that guy” character actors, but it can also be a bit of a pain when their other credits don’t come readily to mind, or when they’re rendered so unrecognisable under prosthetics, accents and/or exotic costumes that you simply can’t place them.
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Game Of Thrones Feature

Oh, “Game of Thrones,” we’ve missed you so. But now that, as of Sunday's season opener, we are back in the warm embrace of a new season of the HBO phenomenon (which has officially been renewed for two further seasons), we’ve also found ourselves plunged back into the midst of one of the biggest ensemble casts on TV, and occasionally snapping our fingers at the screen going “Him! Him! That guy! Wasn’t he in that thing with the other guy from whatjacallit?” It’s one of the great joys of this exquisitely made show that the cast is so rich and deep and full of “that guy” character actors, but it can also be a bit of a pain when their other credits don’t come readily to mind, or when they’re rendered so unrecognisable under prosthetics, accents and/or exotic costumes that you simply can’t place them. In an effort to combat that irritation, we’ve compiled this handy list running through the main credits of the main cast members of “Game of Thrones” so you can commit this all to memory and then concentrate on more important stuff, like theorizing about who Jon Snow’s mother was and marveling at the cut of the Khaleesi’s desert chic dresses.

Of course, the other great thing about this huge cast is just how many actors it has given a start to, so there are quite a few main cast members who simply don’t have enough of a prior career to warrant an entry below, like Richard Madden (Robb Stark), Maisie Williams (Arya Stark), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark-Lannister), Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon) and John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) among others. And so, if when the closing credits roll, you’re dying for a bit more Samwell or desperate to see what Arya did before, you’re fresh out of luck. However in the vast majority of cases, there are other films and TV shows you can check out if you’re a particular fan of one of the performers, and we make our own suggestions for where to start below. Spoilers, for up till the end of Season 3 probably abound, so if you're not caught up to there yet, come back to us when you are.

Peter Dinklage
Role in “Game of Thrones”: Tyrion Lannister, aka “The Imp,” son of Tywin, brother to Jaime and Cersei, despised and derided due to his dwarfism but a canny operator with a surprisingly wide decent streak (for a Lannister) nonetheless.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Him From? Dinklage is probably the breakout star of “Game of Thrones,” as it has provided him with one of the most nuanced and engaging characters he’s ever played, but he’s been around a long time, and been a tremendous asset to almost everything he’s appeared in. Chief among those is “The Station Agent,” Tom McCarthy’s lovely, deeply indie indie about the hesitant friendships that spring up amongst an unlikely trio of misfits. TV-wise, sci-fi show "Threshold" and a recurring role on "Nip/Tuck" followed. But he’s also reliably onscreen every December in newly-minted Christmas classic “Elf” in a terrifically terrifying turn as tyrannical superstar children’s book author Miles Finch. Less illustriously, but more recently, he showed up in Sundance also-ran “Low Down” and the glancingly released “Knights of Badassdom,” while later this month he can be found amid another massive ensemble in “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
Fans Should Check Out: Definitely “The Station Agent” has given him his best movie showcase so far, though the ghoulish might want to check out notorious WTF movie “Tiptoes” in which he plays the friend of lead dwarf played by Gary Oldman (perhaps the film would be less distasteful if those roles had been reversed, though perhaps not). Meanwhile, here’s a terrific clip from the very enjoyable inside-baseball pic about an independent film production, “Living in Oblivion,” by Tom di Cillo, in which Dinklage questions his role as a dwarf in a dream.

Sean Bean
Role In "Game of Thrones": Eddard Stark, the Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and, when the season begins, the newly-appointed Hand of the King. A noble man and good, albeit tough, father, but brash and not great at playing the game.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Him From? Bean was pretty much the biggest name in the show when it launched, essentially playing the lead character and fronting much of the ad campaign. A RADA-trained RSC veteran, he first reached stardom in the U.K. thanks to the long-running "Sharpe" series of costume dramas, becoming familiar in the U.S. thanks to villainous roles in "Patriot Games" and "Goldeneye" in particular. Other notable roles include "Ronin," "Anna Karenina," "National Treasure," "North Country," "Troy," "The Island," "Silent Hill," "The Hitcher," "Black Death" and "Percy Jackson," but probably his most widely seen-role is that of the noble but weak Boromir in "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring," whose treachery, and subsequent heroism, provides the emotional climax to the first film in Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogy. Famously, Bean dies in almost everything he appears in.
Fans Should Check Out: It seems a fair assumption that anyone who's seen "Game of Thrones" saw "Lord of the Rings" long ago, but it's worth checking out Bean's performance again: it's a reminder of what a fine actor he is, and his death is one of the most moving scenes in the trilogy. But if you want to see Bean's range, we'd recommend the "Red Riding" trilogy, in which he plays an incredibly evil business developer, or recent TV drama "Accused," in which he played, with enormous sensitivity, a cross-dressing English teacher, and picked up a BAFTA nomination for his trouble.

Lena Headey
Role In "Game of Thrones": Cersei Lannister, the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, long trapped in a loveless marriage with Robert Baratheon, but secretly having an affair with her brother Jaime. Manipulative and icy, though in part because of the way she's been treated by those around her since she was small.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Her From? Headey got her start while still in her teens, with a major supporting role alongside Jeremy Irons and Ethan Hawke in "Waterland," followed by an appearance in the acclaimed "The Remains Of The Day," and the female lead in Disney's live-action remake of "The Jungle Book." Various costume dramas followed, before a U.S. breakthrough alongside Kate Hudson in "Gossip," and a few years later, the female lead in Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm" (Headey was forced on the director by Harvey Weinstein, who wanted to cast Samantha Morton). A couple of years later, she had her most prominent role to date as Queen Gorgo in "300" (which she recently reprised in the sequel), before playing the title role in "The Terminator" TV spin-off "The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Most recently, she played the villain in comic-book adaptation "Dredd," and reteamed with Hawke on sleeper horror hit "The Purge."
Fans Should Check Out: Again, her role in "300" is probably closest to the one in "Game of Thrones" (though the latter is infinitely richer). She's also very good in Scandinavian indie "Aberdeen" alongside Stellan Skarsgård, does a pretty good job in "Gossip," and is rather sweet and winning in underrated gay-themed rom-com "Imagine Me & You" opposite Piper Perabo and Matthew Goode.

Aidan Gillen
Role In "Game of Thrones": Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, the Machiavellian Master of Coin, who's come up from humble beginnings to become a powerful brothel owner and spymaster. Has long been in love with Catelyn Stark, Eddard's wife.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Him From? "Game of Thrones" marks at least the third seminal TV series to star the Irish actor: after early roles in "Circle of Friends," "Some Mother's Son" and "Mojo," Gillen came to fame as the lead in Russell T. Davies' groundbreaking British series "Queer As Folk." This led to a Hollywood break as the villain in Jackie Chan/Owen Wilson sequel "Shanghai Knights," before a Tony nomination for a Broadway run of Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" brought him to the attention of the producers of "The Wire," with the actor playing ambitious politico Tommy Carcetti from the third season onwards. Since then, he's returned to villainous duties with John Cena actioner "12 Rounds," Jason Statham film "Blitz" and IRA thriller "Shadow Dancer," as well as a brief appearance at the beginning of "The Dark Knight Rises." He also starred in the first season of cult Irish drama "Love/Hate," and will soon be seen among an all-star Irish cast in "Calvary."
Fans Should Check Out: Gillen proved a rather divisive figure in the Playlist office, with some staffers fans who believe he's terrible in "Blitz" and others believing he's terrible in everything but "Blitz." We'd point the doubters towards a trio of excellent, little-seen British indies: 2000's "The Low Down" (which co-stars future "Attack the Block" director Joe Cornish as himself), and 2010's "Treacle Jr.," both directed by Radiohead music video veteran Jamie Thraves, and last year's excellent "Mister John" (trailer below) from Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, an Antonioni-tinged Thailand-set drama with a titanic performance from Gillen.

Charles Dance
Role in “Game of Thrones”: The devious, tyrannical patriarch Tywin Lannister, now Hand of the King his grandson, who rules his House with a fist of iron and a heart of ice.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Him From? Dance, as you might expect, given his chilly gravitas and impeccable Received Pronunciation, is a Royal Shakespeare Company alum and a stage actor of repute, as well as appearing on screen since the 1980s. His first movie role was as an associate bad guy in Moore-era Bond “For Your Eyes Only” (a favorite of Robert Bresson’s, trivia fans), while he became a star in his native U.K. following his lead role in prestige TV miniseries “The Jewel In the Crown.” His innate Britishness made him a suitable villain when Hollywood was convinced that all superbaddies should speak in plummy tones, and so he played a demon in Eddie Murphy vehicle “The Golden Child” and the evil antagonist in John McTiernan’s recently reclaimed flop “The Last Action Hero.” He played expat again in “White Mischief” and took the key role of the doomed Dr. Clemens in “Alien 3,” and prior to decamping to Westeros popped up in movies like “Starter for Ten,” ”Michael Collins,” “Hilary and JackieOzon’s “Swimming Pool” and Altman’s “Gosford Park” and in U.K. TV shows like “Fingersmith,” “Bleak House,” “Trinity” and “Strike Back.” Ever regal, he was also the King in “Your Highness” and ancient vampire royalty in “Underworld: Awakening.”
Fans Should Check Out: Dance has long been a mainstay of U.K. film and TV but probably his defining early moment is with Raj-set TV miniseries “The Jewel in the Crown,” which was a prestige period drama back when those were rare TV events.

Emilia Clarke
Role in “Game of Thrones”: Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen, now head of her own ever-expanding army and with an eye on crossing the sea to wage a war to reclaim her birthright, the Iron Throne.
Yes, But Where Else Do I Know Her From? If there’s ever a case of an actor being “made” by a show, with “Game of Thrones,” Clarke is it. In fact, she’s so deeply associated with this, her first major role that we have to say every time we see a pic of her as a brunette (her natural color) we double take. She will, however, undoubtedly go on to a career outside of the beloved character she plays here though, having already laid the groundwork by playing Jude Law's daughter in “Dom Hemingway” recently and having netted the role of Sarah Connor in the upcoming “Terminator: Genesis.”
Fans Should Check Out: Slim pickings for pre-’Thrones' credits, though she does show up in Mat Whitecross’ “Spike Island.” Your best bet for another dose of Clarke is to head out and catch “Dom Hemingway” which is in theaters now, and which we liked quite a bit.

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Television, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones


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