Winter never left! The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones still has fans talking years after its controversial ending aired in May 2019.
Believe it or not, many of the leading characters who starred on the HBO series from the beginning made it to the end. Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister — despite the fate of most of their family members (R.I.P. Ned Stark, Khal Drogo, Tywin Lannister, etc.) — shined bright on the small screen for the show’s last six episodes.
“The last season of Thrones seemed to be designed to break us,” Kit Harington, who portrayed Jon Snow since the show’s inception in 2011, told GQ Australia in January 2019. “Everyone was broken at the end. I don’t know if we were crying because we were sad it was ending or if we were crying because it was so f–king tiring. We were sleep deprived.”
Emilia Clarke, who played Harington’s love interest, Daenerys, also opened up about the show’s conclusion while speaking to Us Weekly and other reporters at HBO’s Emmys afterparty in September 2018.
“Everybody has done a lot of crying filming the last season, so we’re all feeling very bittersweet and existential crisis-y, the usual,” she said.
Peter Dinklage, who played Tyrion Lannister, shared a similar sentiment after his acceptance speech for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series at the 70th Annual Emmy Awards.
“I had my last day on set back in July … and it was very sad,” he told reporters in September 2018. “This is not only a great TV show to be a part of, but it was an enormous family to be a part of.”
Season 8 of Game of Thrones premiered on HBO in April 2019 before saying farewell six episodes later in May of that year.
The show’s iconic characters hooked fans in with their extravagant costumes — and some viewers still don’t recognize the cast outside of Winterfell. Many actors donned wigs for years to better play their role, while other stars simply packed on the long coats and war garb.
Scroll down to take a look at what your favorites from the drama series look like both on and off screen:
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The U.K. native gained international acclaim for her portrayal of Margaery Tyrell on the HBO series, earning nominations for two Screen Actors Guild Awards in 2014 and 2015.
She was later cast as Cressida in the final two installments of the Hunger Games franchise and starred in Hozier’s 2015 “Someone New” music video. In April 2021, Dormer revealed that she and partner David Oakes welcomed a baby girl three months prior. “It’s the perfect thing to do during [the coronavirus] pandemic,” she joked on the “That’s After Life” podcast.
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Jon Snow, the bastard brother of the Stark clan, spent all of season 2 in the frigid hinterlands defending The Wall — which meant that Harington had to shoot in, well, frigid places … like Iceland!
“It’s a big show over there. So all the background artists are keen to be [on it]. They grew their beards for months so they could be part of the Wall crew,” he told Us at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ An Evening With Game of Thrones in March 2013.
Back in the real world, Harington married former Game of Thrones costar Rose Leslie, who played Wildling Ygritte, in June 2018. The pair welcomed their first child, a boy, in February 2021.
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On Game of Thrones, Clarke donned a long platinum wig that gave her an otherworldly look, which was perfect since she portrayed a queen (a.k.a. Khaleesi) and the Mother of Dragons.
When the cameras weren’t rolling on the set of the HBO drama, the actress went back to her brunette roots, which she had when playing Qi’ra in 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story. She was also seen with short blonde locks while portraying Kate in 2019’s Last Christmas.
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Dinklage’s character outwitted and outsmarted anyone in his path on the hit HBO fantasy. But Tyrion Lannister saved much of his disdain for his royal family — particularly sister Cersei. Off screen, though, according to Entertainment Weekly, Dinklage and Lena Headey, who plays Cersei, share a strong bond that belies their on-screen rivalry.
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As Cersei Lannister, the ruthless queen who was in love with her twin brother, Headey was both terrifying and terrifyingly relatable. She told Us in March 2013 that fans generally tell her, “‘You’re a real f–king bitch.’ And I take that as a compliment.” Outside of Westeros, the Bermuda native has an even edgier look, usually keeping her dark brunette locks in a short and wavy style.
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Sansa Stark once had to endure late former fiancé Joffrey’s verbal lashings and the constant threat of violence. Seasons later, she had to face the wrath of now-late husband Ramsay Bolton. Not much fun — but the actress did manage to find joy on the set. For instance, she adopted Zunni, the dog who played her direwolf, Lady. “I want to paint her nails, but my mom said that’s animal cruelty,” she told Us at the show’s season 3 premiere.
The actress’ real love life has gone much more smoothly. She secretly married Joe Jonas in May 2019 in Las Vegas two months after starring in the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” music video, alongside her fellow “J sisters” Danielle Jonas and Priyanka Chopra.
The couple welcomed their first child, daughter Willa, in July 2020. Their second baby arrived in July 2022.
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As Arya Stark, Williams gave her tomboy character charm, moxie and, as Entertainment Weekly called it, “a devastating dead stare.” How did she do it? “I’m really good at convincing myself somebody’s killed my dad and sometimes I get myself really annoyed,” she revealed. When she’s not changing faces on the small screen, she still finds herself hanging out with Turner.
“Sophie and I are the tightest of friends when sitting across from anyone,” the actress told EW in March 2019. She later served as one of the Barely Lethal actress’ bridesmaids when she wed the DNCE crooner in a second ceremony in France in June 2019.
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A person doesn’t get much more messed in the head than Jaime Lannister, the blood-thirsty, incestuous twin brother of Cersei — which is why it’s astonishing that the actor who portrayed him so convincingly is actually a well-rounded, balanced, normal dude. The actor is a father of two who enjoys downward dogging with his yoga enthusiast wife and cyclo-cross biking during his downtime.
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As young Bran Stark, Hempstead-Wright barely cracked a smile. Why would he? He was paralyzed, more than half of his family diedd, including his parents, and his other siblings were planning to fight in a war. Ahead of the series’ end, one of the show’s youngest-ever stars admitted to feeling sentimental about his time on the HBO show.
“I think it’s difficult with a show as massive … as Game of Thrones to make everybody happy with the ending, but in my opinion, and I think the opinion of everybody on the show, we’ve wrapped up in the most satisfactory way,” Wright explained to Us at Emmys 2018. “It’s bittersweet. There’s lot of layers to the ending.”
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Is he good, is he bad, does the scary scar exist in real life? Sandor Clegane, nicknamed The Hound on the hit series, was known for his brutality in service to the Lannisters. Offscreen, the Scottish actor sports well-groomed facial hair, shorter hair than his character, and even a nice smile!
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The 6-foot-3 actress, who played the sword-wielding woman warrior Brienne of Tarth, told Digital Spy that her agent had reservations about her taking the unattractive (and stereotypically masculine) role. But Christie herself had no such hesitations. Having been bullied for her height when she was a teen, she hoped the role would “challenge some prejudices.”
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Bradley played the intelligent and sensitive member of the Night’s Watch and Jon Snow’s best friend, Samwell Tarly, on the series. In real life, he is no cowardly lion. The actor boasts many actings credits, which include TV series Borgia and the big-screen adaptation of Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley.
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She’s a long way from the Iron Islands! Whelan, who played Princess Asha Yara Greyjoy on the show, typically looks and acts rough and tough as the commander of her own longship. Whelan is actually a comedian in real life, and an actress who’s starred on other series such as Horrible Histories, The End of the F***ing World, Upstart Crow and Gentleman Jack.
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Carice van Houten
Van Houten will forever be remembered for this scene: As the mysterious pregnant priestess Melisandre, she lies down on the floor of a cave, completely nude, and proceeds to push out a “baby” of smoke and shadows. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, but it turns out that the Dutch actress had to be convinced of the show’s merits.
“I called my friend Seth Meyers,” she told The Los Angeles Times. “I asked him, ‘What is this? Is it good?’ He said, ‘Are you crazy? Say yes!'” The actress went on to star in the miniseries Temple and Red Light.