The Actor Who Almost Played Game Of Thrones’ Illyrio (& Why He Passed)

zaib055June 18, 2022

Game Of Thrones’ Illyrio Mopatis played a small but key role in kicking off the show, and here’s the actor who very nearly played the part.

Here’s the actor who passed on playing Game Of Thrones‘Illyrio Mopatis, and why. Despite their popularity with readers, fantasy novels were rarely treated with much respect by major studios before Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings movies. This trilogy showed it was possible to bring these fantastic worlds and creatures to life and still have audiences fully engaged with the story and characters. George RR Martin’s epic A Sing Of Fire And Ice books debuted in the ’90s, but given the sheer wealth of material they contained, a movie adaptation didn’t seem feasible. Even followers of the books were skeptical a TV series could do justice to the source material, but they were quickly proved wrong when it arrived in 2011.


Game Of Thrones brought the iconic characters, shocking twists and gory carnage of Martin’s world to vivid life. It soon became one of the biggest TV series in history, with later series often featuring battle sequences that put blockbuster movies to shame. Unfortunately, part of Game Of Thrones‘history is that once it caught up with Martin’s books and had to create original storylines, the quality faltered dramatically. It also felt with the last two seasons that it was racing to the end, with long-brewing character arcs being truncated or outright dropped. Game Of Thrones final also proved immensely disappointing to many viewers.

Related: Game Of Thrones’ Failed Pilot Would’ve Actually Made White Walkers Better

Time will tell if prequel series House Of The Dragon – which details the downfall of House Targaryen – will go some way towards redeeming the reputation of the franchise. Another well-recorded part of Game Of Thrones lore is that the pilot episode was badly received and has – to date – never been released. Thanks to extensive reshoots and recasting, the first episode was salvaged and set Game Of Thrones up for success. It also introduced the character of Illyrio Mopatis, who played a small but vital role in the overall series. Illyrio is the Magister of Pentos who is housing Daenerys Targaryen and her brother Viserys. He is also responsible for setting up the former’s marriage to Khal Drogo and gifting her three dragon eggs. Illyrio is played by famous British character actor Roger Allam, but in the unaired pilot, he was portrayed by Ian McNeice.

doctor who ian mcneice winston churchill

From Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls to UK comedy-drama Doc Martin gold TV series Rome, McNeice has appeared in a huge variety of projects. He also played Illyrio in the Game Of Thrones original pilot, but when it came time for reshoots, the actor had to pass due to a commitment to appear in Doctor Who as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for a few episodes. Given that Daenerys was also recast – with Tamzin Merchant playing the role in the pilot before Emilia Clarke took over – it would have been possible to reuse any of McNeice’s original footage.

Allam did a fine job playing Game Of Thrones Illyrio, though it would be interesting to see footage of McNeice – especially the scene where George RR Martin had his cut pilot cameo – playing the role. Sadly, Illyrio only appeared in two episodes total, and essentially disappeared from the narrative aside from a handful of references in later episodes. It’s a shame Ian McNeice didn’t reappear on later seasons of Game Of Thrones as a different character either, but he’s one actor who’s rarely out of work.

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