On HBO’s Game of Thrones, the role of Daenerys Targaryen is played by English actress Emilia Clarke. But believe it or not, the title of “Khaleesi” originally belonged to someone else.
In the original pilot for Game of Thrones, Daenerys was actually played by another English actress, 26-year-old Tamzin Merchant. She also appeared on Showtime’s The Tudors as Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard. After the pilot for Thrones was filmed in 2009, the show went in a different direction and replaced Merchant with Clarke.
In a New York Times profile of Clarke, the actress said that she got a life-changing call “out of the blue” to portray Daenerys.
“I had never heard of the books,” Clarke said of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which Game of Thrones is adapted from. “And so I spent 48 frantic hours Wikipedia-ing… This is going to sound odd or bizarre. But just from those few lines I felt I understood the character. She’s a young girl trying to do good and to realize her own capabilities.”
Clarke has played Daenerys ever since the show’s debut on HBO in 2011. Back then, she spoke to The Huffington Post about about her first day on set as the heir to the Iron Throne.
“It was on a horse!… It was petrifying. It was so scary. I can ride, I’ve done some riding before because I grew up in the countryside,” she said of the experience. “But riding on camera is just something totally different. And riding on camera with 60 other horses is crazy… My favorite thing to do is have new experiences and learn from them. After that, you’re like, ‘Cool, bring on the acting!'”
Daenerys Targaryen wasn’t the only role re-cast after the pilot, either. The role of Catelyn Stark was originally held by Zero Dark Thirty actress Jennifer Ehle, who dropped out of the project a month before Merchant was replaced. Stark is now portrayed by Michelle Fairley.
Re-casting actors from TV pilots isn’t an entirely uncommon practice. My favorite example hails from the Whedonverse. In the original and unaired pilot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the part of Willow Rosenberg was originally played by actress Riff Regan. If that casting choice had stuck, we may have never been introduced to Alyson Hannigan, and How I Met Your Mother would be a very different show.
Can you see anyone other than Emilia Clarke in the role of Daenerys Targaryen? By the way, Game of Thrones returns for a highly-anticipated season three on March 31, 2013.