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03/07/2013 02:55 pm ET

'Game Of Thrones': Daenerys Was Originally Going To Be Played By Tamzin Merchant

It's hard to imagine anyone else playing Daenerys on "Game of Thrones" besides Emilia Clarke, but the 25-year-old British actress almost missed out on the role of a lifetime.

In HBO's “Game of Thrones” pilot, Daenerys Targaryen was played by Tamzin Merchant, who'd appeared as Henry VIII's fifth wife Catherine Howard on Showtime's "The Tudors." But after the pilot filmed in late 2009, "Game of Thrones" went in a different direction.

And that's when Clarke got a life-changing call "out of the blue," according to a New York Times profile on the actress.

“I had never heard of the books," Clarke admitted to The Times of George R. R. Martin's series. "And so I spent 48 frantic hours Wikipedia-ing ... This is going to sound odd or bizarre. But just from those few lines I felt I understood the character. She’s a young girl trying to do good and to realize her own capabilities."

Ever since that fateful phone call, Clarke says she dove into the world of Westeros and everything that came along with it. Just before the show made its debut on HBO in April 2011, Clarke talked to The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan about her first day as Daenerys on the "Game of Thrones" set: "It was on a horse! ... It was petrifying. It was so scary. I can ride, I've done some riding before because I grew up in the countryside. But riding on camera is just something totally different. And riding on camera with 60 other horses is crazy ... My favorite thing to do is have new experiences and learn from them. After that, you're like, 'Cool, bring on the acting!'"

What do you think? Could Tamzin Merchant have played Daenerys better than Emilia Clarke? Check out the actresses side-by-side below:

game of thrones daenerys

Daenerys isn't the only "Game of Thrones" character that was recast after the pilot: Catelyn Stark was originally played by Jennifer Ehle. The "Zero Dark Thirty" actress dropped out of the project a month before Merchant was given the boot and Michelle Fairley took on the role of Catelyn shortly thereafter. Check out the actress side-by-side below:

game of thrones daenerys

"Game of Thrones" Season 3 premieres on Sunday, March 31 at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.

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