The Surprising Backstories Behind These Celebrity Cameos on Game of Thrones

Ed Sheeran, Rob McElhenney, an MLB star and a lot of rock stars have made brief appearance on the HBO fantasy hit over the years

By Tierney Bricker Apr 22, 2019 11:00 PMTags

A girl has no name...nor do most Game of Thrones extras, even if they are a celebrity. 

While it's rare to see a famous face pop up among the Wildlings, Wights and other Westeros occupants on the HBO fantasy hit, GOT actually has had a few notable celebrity cameos over its eight seasons. No, it's not a Glee-level of guest stars (Can any show ever be, really?), but there have been quite a few blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances, including two comedy superstars in the final season premiere.

But the true key to landing a coveted guest spot on Game of Thrones actually appears to be quite simple: be the member of a famous band, as it seems showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss like to call in favors for their favorite musicians to make secret appearances. 

The Surprising Backstories Behind These Celebrity Cameos on Game of Thrones

It's how Ed Sheeran landed his controversial guesting gig in 2017 that nearly broke the Internet, as one of the show's young stars was a massive fan of the "Thinking Out Loud" singer. 

As we head into the final four episodes ever of Game of Thrones, we're looking back on all of the surprising celebrity cameos over the years and how they came to be on TV's most secretive show...

Ed Sheeran

The singer's season seven was the HBO hit's biggest and most controversial celeb cameo, with fans questioning the purpose of the "Shape of You"'s appearance as a Lannister bannerman who sings a song for Arya when she spends some time with his fellow troops. 

When they announced Sheeran's appearance, the showrunners explained it was actually a gift for Williams, who is a huge fan of his music. "For years we were trying to get Ed Sheeran on the show to surprise Maisie and this year we finally did it," Benioff said at SXSW.

He later explained further, "Ed Sheeran has got a beautiful voice, and we knew that he was a fan of the show, and we knew that Maisie [Williams, who plays Arya Stark] was obsessed with we always thought it would be fun to try to get him into a Maisie scene at some point." 

Still, fans didn't exactly love the scene, trolling so hard that Sheeran deleted his Twitter account soon after the episode aired. (He denied that the negative response caused him to do it, writing on Instagram, "why the hell would I worry what people thought about that. It's clearly f--kin' awesome.") 

But the episode's director Jeremy Podeswa defended the Grammy winner, telling Newsweek, "He came into this with only lovely intentions to come and do a good job and sing well, so I think that's the only drag. If people didn't know who Ed was, they wouldn't have thought about it twice. The hoo-ha seems to be from things that are outside of the world of the show. In the world of the show, he did a lovely job, and he looks like he belongs in that world."

In the season eight premiere, viewers learned the fate of Sheeran's unnamed character: He's still alive! But his face  was "burned right off" and had no eyelids after he came across one of Dany's dragons. 

"Thanks @GameOfThrones, I knew I was a survivor," Sheeran wrote in his Instagram Story after the reveal. 

Florence and the Machine

So technically, Florence Welch never appeared on-screen, but she was tapped by the showrunners to record a version of "Jenny of Oldstones" to play over the end credits of the final season's second episode. The haunting song, which was sang earlier in the episode by Podrick (Daniel Portman), tells the sad tale of a woman who had a doomed love affair with Prince Duncan Targaryen. 

But Welch told The New York Times she had no idea how GOT would even be using her version of the song. 

"To be honest, they keep such a tight ship on Game of Thrones, they didn't tell us what the visual would be," she said. "We weren't told what's going to happen in the episode. We weren't even told what the episode is called. It was all so top secret, so cloak-and-dagger!"

Given how symbolic the song is, and how much it potentially foreshadows the ending of the series, Welch admitted she's "Glad" she hadn't known how important "Jenny of Oldstones" was before recording it. 

"I would have been like, '[Expletive], we need fanfares, and you're going to have to get a dragon on here somehow,'" she said. "I might have—as I can do sometimes—overblown it. So I'm glad I didn't know then, but I'm glad to know now."

She also revealed the showrunners had actually approached the band in season two to perform "The Rains of Castamere," which they declined, with The National then being tapped to take over. "I'm glad that they came back to me. I feel really touched to be on the last season, to be the last singer," Welch said.

Benioff and Weiss' persistence paid off, with Welch's take on "Jenny and the Oldstones" earning praise and causing lots of chills ahead of the big battle episode.  

"We've always been huge fans of Florence's music," the showrunners told The New York Times. "So the opportunity to hear her otherworldly voice on our show was always at the forefront of our minds. We're still pleasantly shocked that she agreed to sing ‘Jenny of Oldstones,' and we're in love with the result."

Rob McElhenney

The It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia co-creator and star made a brief but memorable appearance in the season eight premiere as one of Euron Greyjoy's lackeys. Spoiler alert: it does not end well for him when Theon decides to save Yara. 

"Don't blink," McElhenney, a longtime fan of GOT, captioned an Instagram photo of his unnamed character with an arrow through his eye. 

"They gouged my eye out!" he said in a behind-the-scenes video about the premiere episode. "They gouged my f--king eye out! They can put it back in, right?"

The actor actually has a long-standing friendship with the Game of Thrones showrunners, with Benioff and Weiss actually penning an episode of the beloved FXX comedy in 2013. And it seems like McElhenny's brief cameo (with no dialogue!) was repayment (An eye for an eye-kind-of-deal, maybe? Too soon?) for their quick guest appearance on Always Sunny, with the duo playing Bored Lifeguards No. 1 and No. 2 in a 2017 episode. 

Martin Starr

The Silicon Valley star was another blink-and-you'd-miss-him cameo in the season eight premiere, playing another Greyjoy soldier who is brutally murdered during Theon's rescue mission.

"In the first episode, a couple of our friends from the comedy world were in a scene," Benioff said in a behind-the-scenes video, with Weiss joking, "there are a lot of people on set, kind of like a giant game of Where's Waldo?"

Gary Lightbody

Lightbody left the rest of his Snow Patrol band mates behind when the lead singer popped up in season three to play a musician traveling with Roose Bolton's men. 

After filming his appearance, Lightbody took to Facebook to spill the fun casting news along with a photo from the set: ""So I did my scene this morning for Game Of Thrones. I looked like this. Can't say much just it's no pivotal role. Fun!"

And Lightbody is actually responsible for Sheeran's guest appearance, with the "Perfect" singer revealing in an interview, "I was on tour with Snow Patrol in 2012, and I think the first season had just come out. Gary Lightbody said, 'Watch the show! I'm going to guest star on it.' As soon as I watched it, I was like, 'Can you make me an extra at some point?' So Gary put in the word for me then, and I got an email for this season."

Sigur Rós

The Icelandic band had the distinct honor of being invited to season four's royal wedding between Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell, which also ended up being (spoiler alert!) Joffrey's funeral. 

Sigur Rós performed their rendition of "The Rains of Castamere," which was originally recorded by The National; their version also played over the end credits. 

"It felt like a natural thing to make our version of 'Rains of Castamere,'" bassist Georg Hólm wrote in a statement. "We probably managed to create the gloomiest version so far. It is maybe not the happiest wedding song, but we think that it fit the scene very well."

But the band's lead singer wasn't exactly prepared for the long hours it takes to film GOT, especially a scene as important as Joffrey's demise; during their SXSW panel, the showrunners revealed Jónsi Birgisson actually wanted to leave after filming his close-up, but had to stick around to serve as a background actor for the remaining days of filming. Weiss said, "He was a super good sport about it." 

Brgisson's boredom wasn't uncommon among the show's many musically inclined guest stars, as Weiss said, "A lot of [music artists] say they would they would like to [be on the show], and then we tell them [shooting a scene] is so boring. 'You're gonna hate this — you're going to be sitting around three days for 12 hours a day.'" 

Of Monsters and Men

In season six, the indie folk band played as traveling band in Braavos, something the Icelandic group was more than excited to do. 

"We'd asked our manager a long time ago to ask them if we could be extras in it while they were shooting in Iceland, but nothing really happened, and our touring schedule was pretty crazy at that time anyways so we sort of just disappeared," guitarist/co-vocalist Ragnar "Raggi" Þórhallsson told the Wall Street Journal. "But apparently they noticed our interest and the ball started rolling. I'm pretty sure our manager just kept asking and asking and finally they must have given in."

Before their cameo, the band did not try to hide their love of the series, with lead singer Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir telling Interview magazine, "Oh my god, we love it. We're all obsessed with Game of Thrones."

Will Champion

Coldplay's drummer didn't have to rehearse all that much ahead of his season two a drummer. 

But Champion ended up being invited to perform at one of Game of Thrones' most infamous events: the Red Wedding, and his drummer character is revealed to actually be a hired assassin for the Freys. (We're still not over the Red Wedding, TBH.) 

Alas, there were no lingering hard feelings after Chamption's onscreen betrayal, as the cast teamed up with Coldpay for Red Nose Day to do Game of Thrones: The Musical.  


Another band, another cameo!

The metal group's members Bill Kelliher, Brent Hinds and Brann Dailor briefly appeared as Wildlings in season five, with Dailor revealing it was Weiss' love of heavy metal that got them on the show. 

 "When we found out that Dan [Weiss] was a big fan of the band, I was like, 'I knew that guy was a metalhead!'" he told the Wall Street Journal

Like other musicians who've appeared on the show, their appearance was brief but their day of filming was long. "You just kind of sit and wait for your part, and they put us up front and basically had Bill and Brent lay down in the mud," Dailor said of their 14-hour work day on GOT. "I got stabbed in the stomach and my throat slit. They just kept doing that over and over again. I decided after six or seven times that it wouldn't be a bad way to go."

But it wouldn't be the last time the group appeared even though their character died, as their Wildlings were revealed as Wights two seasons later. 

While Dailor, the band's drummer, popped up in the season seven premiere in one of Bran's visions, Hines and Kelliher rose again in the season seven finale, as Wights who are at the wall when the Night King finally brings it down.

After his second appearance, Dailor write on Instagram, "You guys!! I was on TV last night!!! The newest episode…is centered around my character, I guy who walks very slow, oops, hope I didn't spoil anything for anyone."

No word yet if we'll see them fight alongside the Night King as the series comes to an end.

Noah Syndergaard

Ah, the rare non-musician guest star! The Mets pitcher's throwing arm was put to good use when he played a spear-throwing general of the Lannister troops in a season seven episode. Sadly, his spear proved no match against a dragon, and he was burned alive with the rest of the soldiers. 

"Take that you mean Dothraki," Syndergaard tweeted after the episode aired, revealing his character's quick demise. He then added, "To my sides defense....they had a FRICKEN DRAGON!!!"

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, the MLB star called the experience "a dream come true. I think it's the greatest TV show of all time, so just to say I was in Game of Thrones is an unbelievable feeling." 

When he filmed his one-day cameo in Spain in 2016, he actually brought his parents with him, revealing, "if it wasn't for my mom, I wouldn't be a fan of the show. She's actually the one that got me on it...which is kind of awkward to watch with your mother." 

Game of Thrones' author George R.R. Martin is a huge Mets fan, and blogged about Syndergaard, whose nickname is "Thor," popping up in Westeros. "By Odin's beard! This is too cool. Thor himself turned up in Spain, to do a cameo on GAME OF THRONES. Loved hearing that he's a fan of the show. After all, I've been a Mets fan since 1962."

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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