Game of Thrones’ greatest strength may well be its casting, especially of teenagers. As a show largely about children becoming young adults, any mistaken casting for one of the young protagonists could have ruined the show. Instead, it did well with all of them, and utterly brilliantly in a few cases.
But as GoT heads toward its conclusion — and continues killing off its characters — its budding stars will be heading out into the wider movie and television world. But which of its kids is most likely to dominate our screens for the next decade? Let’s rank ‘em!
10. Jack Gleeson
One of the defining images of the first four seasons of Game of Thrones is King Joffrey slouched on his throne, sneering at all those below him. Gleeson played the villain with superb poise, exuding a terrifying love of violent punishment with hints of a scared little boy underneath. By all accounts, Gleeson is a great guy — but also by all accounts, he’s not especially interested in being a celebrity. His post-Thrones career has consisted of going to university to study theology, and putting on a play called Bears in Space in Dublin with his buddies.
Where he’ll be in 10 years: Causing double-take after double-take at academic conferences.
9. Iwan Rheon
There’s a bit of a villain problem with Thrones characters. Ramsay Bolton, like King Joffrey, is so utterly despicable that it’s hard to see his actor as anything but evil personified. Which is a shame because, as he proved in Misfits, Rheon can be charming and heroic alongside creepy and vile. But typecasting may hurt him.
Where he’ll be in 10 years: Having retreated to the theater to avoid an onslaught of villain roles, Rheon wins massive plaudits for his turn as Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello.
8. Isaac Hempstead Wright
The quietest of the main Stark kids, Wright has been hampered by the show getting rid of almost all depth to Bran Stark’s story. Yet he’s been solid in the role, and seems to have a delightful time as an ambassador for the show outside of acting. I don’t see Wright taking a conventional approach to his career post-GoT, and that’s fine by me.
Where he’ll be in 10 years: Starring alongside Kristian Nairn in a meta faux-reality series about his inability to star in a conventional TV series, thanks to only being known as Bran and Hodor.
7. Emilia Clarke
Clarke was one of Thrones’ earliest breakout stars, with Daenerys’ steely gaze, emotional vulnerability, and straightforward good looks all giving her the chance to be Hollywood’s next big actress. Unfortunately, her big push in that direction, playing Sarah Connor in Terminator: Genisys, didn’t turn out so well. We’ll see if her future, more varied projects land anywhere
Where she’ll be in 10 years: The first actress on call for every sci-fi movie looking for geek cred, i.e., the new Lena Headey.
6. Richard Madden
Thanks to the Starks’ bad luck at family gatherings, Madden (Robb Stark) was the first major youngster to be free to make his career. He quickly landed a major starring role: Prince Charming in Disney’s live-action Cinderella remake, which proved a success. The question for Madden going forward: will he land more diverse parts, or will he be content to look handsome in vaguely historical outfits?
Where he’ll be in 10 years: After cashing in on his looks for years, Madden attempts to reclaim his critical cachet by joining the cast of Fargo Season 12.
5. Kit Harington
Jon Snow hasn’t done so well when he’s been called upon to do comedy or romance, though in fairness, much of that was the writing, particularly in GoT’s second season. But he has been a monumental success when called upon to be an action hero, as demonstrated in Season 4’s “The Watchers on The Wall” and Season 5’s “Hardhome”. Harington’s film career has followed this path as well, with roles in Pompeii, Seventh Son, Brimstone. It’s a good, solid look for Harington.
Where he’ll be in 10 years: The Expendables 7.
4. Maisie Williams
Everything I said up top about Thrones’ casting is exponentially bigger with Williams, whose Arya Stark has regularly been one of the very best things about the series, depicting a charming young girl and murder machine simultaneously. Whether her appeal will work outside of geek television remains to be seen, but as a recent well-liked appearance on Doctor Who shows, that should be more than enough to sustain a long, beloved career.
Where she’ll be in 10 years: The first woman Doctor Who.
3. Alfie Allen
When Allen was cast, he was best-known as Lily Allen’s pot-smoking little brother from the song “Alfie” on her debut album. After the second season of Game of Thrones, Allen’s tragic turn as the pathetic, murderous, out-of-his depth Theon Greyjoy gave him an entirely new reputation as one of the best actors in the ensemble. This may have backfired slightly, as the requirements of keeping him around led to some of the show’s weakest storylines, but he’s always been great. He’s had a quiet career outside of Thrones thus far, though he did have a big role in the cult action flick John Wick, but it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes from here.
Where he’ll be in 10 years: Beloved character actor, guaranteed to add dangerous nervous energy to any film.
2. Sophie Turner
Turner has been a marvel Isaac Hempstead Wright Game of Thrones, her acting skills growing in complexity in parallel to Sansa Stark’s depth. And she’s been rewarded with arguably the biggest role of any Thrones actor: Jean Grey, the Phoenix, in X-Men: Apocalypse. Grey will be a completely different sort of challenge than Sansa: the former’s problem is too much power, the latter, not enough. But if Turner pulls it off — and there’s no reason to think that she can’t — she’s set to have an essential role in a huge blockbuster series for years to come.
Where she’ll be in 10 years: Coming off X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga with her pick of any role in Hollywood.
1. Natalie Dormer
Putting the 33-year-old Dormer on this list with significantly younger actors may be slightly unfair, but her character, Margaery Tyrell, is supposed to be a teenager. Dormer was already primed to bust out as a star after her turn as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors, but her joining Game of Thrones cast coincided with the show’s explosion in popularity, and her presence at the heart of much of the best storytelling.
This has led to Dormer becoming one of the hottest actresses in Hollywood. While she’s normally played sexy, dangerous women, she’s been looking to push out of that niche. The most famous example is The Hunger Games’ Cressida, whose haircut alone became a cultural phenomenon. It’s hard to see anything stopping Dormer from riding this wave.
Where she’ll be in 10 years: Picking up her Best Actress award for a starring role in a beloved His Girl Friday remake.