Game of Thrones may well be the defining event TV show of this decade, and over the years many of its cast members have grown up right before our eyes.
With the final season of Game of Thrones heating up, many fans are now revisiting the show's key moments. We have all come a long way from the courtyard at Winterfell in that pilot episode, and it shows in the actors who have taken the journey themselves. The show's stars have become some of the most prominent celebrities in the world, and it is hard to imagine a time when they were just young kids on an HBO pilot.
The feeling is similar to that when the Harry Potter franchise finally wrapped up its eighth movie, and fans looked back fondly on Daniel Radcliffe's debut in that first film. Or how the cast of The Big Bang Theory has been building up to a heartfelt goodbye after 12 years on the air.
12-year-old Maisie Williams ( Arya Stark ), 13-year-old Sophie Turner ( Sansa Stark ), 23-year-old Alfie Allen ( Theon Greyjoy ),23-year-old Richard Madden ( Rob Stark ) and 23-year-old Kit Harington ( Jon Snow ) in 2009 before they actually appeared on screen in #GameofThrones pic.twitter.com/uhVgo7lCRQ— The North Remembers (@TheNorthRemem10) April 29, 2019
On Game of Thrones, however, the character evolution is more brutal, and its hard not to interpret the struggles of the characters in the growth of the actors. The Stark siblings spent years separated, and not all of them have come back together for this final season. In fact, many prominent characters are absent from this final War for the Dawn.
Those that are there are changed — hopefully for the better. Meanwhile, the stars who play them are on top of the world, with more opportunities than they can likely take advantage of.
Here is a look at how the cast of Game of Thrones has grown up from Season 1 to Season 8.
Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran Stark)
Isaac Hempstead Wright appeared to be one of the main point-of-view stars of Game of Thrones when the pilot opened, making it all the more surprising when he was thrown out of a window. His character, Bran Stark, may have changed more than anyone in the years since thanks in no small part to the ancient magic of the Children of the Forest.
The details of this magic are still unclear. Bran's storyline even went on hold for a full season as the showrunners were not sure how to show its development. However, the Bran that emerged from that cave — the Three-Eyed Raven — is a monotonous mage that not everyone is sure what to make of.
Wright has changed a lot as well, growing up before our eyes and finding ways to perform around his character's unusual development. Behind the scenes, it is clear that Wright is more prone to smiling than Bran is.
Maisie Williams (Arya Stark)
In the ways that are important, Arya Stark may have changed the least out of the all the main characters. She is still fearless, unrelenting and loyal, as she has proven in the last two seasons. Of course, what has changed is her level of hard-earned skill.
Arya has grown into everyone's favorite assassin. In portraying the character, Maisie Williams is methodical, showing how her years abroad have given Arya rigid posture and flawless body control, her hands forever held behind her back.
Williams, meanwhile, has become a beloved celebrity with a famously close friendship with co-star Sophie Turner. The two have been some of the most retrospective cast members in promoting Game of Thrones' final season.
Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen)
Emilia Clarke was 22 years old when she was cast as Daenerys Targaryen. She may look more different than any of her co-stars do off the screen, as she does not have Dany's signature silver-blonde hair.
As we recently learned, Clarke has been through a lot in her years on the show. She suffered two aneurysms without revealing them to the public. That has never distracted from the dragon queen's fierce portrayal on the show, and for that we should be grateful.
Kit Harington (Jon Snow)
The first season of Game of Thrones found Jon Snow a brooding teenage boy with little hope for the future. In response, the world of Westeros gave him plenty to brood about, and he rose to the challenge.
It is hard to imagine that the scraggly boy in that first season would become the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch in just five years, then the King of the North after that. He has been through more than most of the main cast, earning one prominent scar over his eye from a fight with a skin-changer and several more on his torso from Season 5's infamous mutiny.
Meanwhile Harington has found plenty of ways to show us that he is not as dour as his character. The actor co-starred in a sports mockumentary called 7 Days in Hell with Andy Samberg, and recently gave a great performance on Saturday Night Live. It seems clear that Harington will be big star for years to come.
John Bradley (Samwell Tarly)
In a recent behind-the-scenes feature, John Bradley talked about getting cast in Game of Thrones right out of drama school. He explained that he had been trained for the stage, with just three hours of camera training. His fourth hour in front of the camera was spent as Samwell Tarly.
Bradley is one of the most beloved performers on the show, bringing depth and sincerity to a character that easily could have become a joke. His delivery has guided some of this season's most important scenes already, including his conversation with Jon in the crypts in the season premiere, and Bran's revelation at the war council in Episode 2.
Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark)
Sophie Turner has turned out to be a fitting choice to play Sansa Stark. While Sansa dreamed of moving south to live with knights and ladies, Turner has grown up into the height of chic celebrity culture. She is now engaged to Jonas Brothers member Joe Jonas, famed for her wine-drinking prowess and a viral sensation on social media.
Thankfully, that road has been kinder to Turner than it was to Sansa, who has grown into a harsh but brilliant leader of Winterfell. These days, Sansa could not be more different from Turner in tone, making Turner's performance that much more impressive.
Turner has already found success outside of Game of Thrones in the X-Men franchise. Next month, she will take the lead in Dark Phoenix, which some expect to be the last X-Men movie before that universe is combined with Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe. Meanwhile, The New Mutants starring Williams is still stuck in production limbo.
Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei)
While many fans in the U.S. may have met her first as Missandei, Nathalie Emmanuel was a familiar face to viewers in the U.K. She had a starring role in the British soap opera Hollyoaks, where her character had some storylines nearly as grim as those that Missandei has been subjected to.
Emmanuel joined Game of Thrones in Season 3 as the translator and friend of Daenerys Targaryen. She turned her recurring role into a main one, becoming one of the most beloved characters on the show. She has also become a viral sensation as many fans wonder about her romance with Grey Worm.
Emmanuel has worked consistently in movies throughout her time on Game of Thrones, including a role in the Maze Runner franchise. Later this year, she will lend her voice to the Netflix reboot The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy)
Finally, it seems like a good time to look back on the surprising journey of Theon Greyjoy, played by Alfie Allen. The heir to the Iron Islands' Salt Throne, taken as a ward at Winterfell, was not exactly a likable character when we met him, but in all likelihood no one expected him to pay for his arrogance as harshly as he did.
Poor Allen has suffered through the loathing of fans over the years, as they project his character onto him. It doesn't help that he played an equally despicable young man in John Wick back in 2014. Still, he has grown up before our eyes too, and in the last two seasons he has given some of his most nuanced, stirring performances as Theon.
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.