Since its inception, Game of Thrones has had deep ties to real-life musicians. Kristian “Hodor” Nairn has a lengthy career as a guitarist and DJ. The Hold Steady’s version of the popular-in-Westeros song “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” appears in the Season Four episode “Walk of Punishment.” And Alfie Allen, who plays everyone’s favourite humbled eunuch Theon Greyjoy, is the brother of pop star Lily Allen.
But the show has gone beyond that, casting actual recording artists as regular cast members or occasional superfan guests for the benefit of eagle-eyed music fans. With season seven now finally underway, here’s a look at the show’s famous rock-star cameos, metalhead wildlings and musician-played recurring roles.
Ed Sheeran: “Dragonstone,” Season 7
As long rumoured, the “Shape of You” singer made a cameo on the penultimate season premiere, playing a Lannister soldier who sings a campfire song (unofficially titled “Hands of Gold”) for his mates as they take a break in the woods of the Riverlands. Their unexpected guest, who partakes of rabbit and huckleberry wine, is none other than Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). Show creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff announced in March that they had recruited Sheeran as a surprise for Williams, a Sheeran superfan. “For years, we tried to get Ed Sheeran on the show to surprise Maisie, and this year we finally did it,” Benioff said at a SXSW panel.
Animal Circus’s Joel Fry: Multiple episodes, Seasons 4 – 5
Animal Circus may be a relatively new band, but the bouncy, alt-pop combo has a readymade fanbase thanks to the membership of Joel Fry, the actor who played the recurring role of Hizdahr zo Loraq — a scion of the formerly slave-holding aristocracy of Mereen and, briefly, the betrothed of Daenerys Targaryen.
Coldplay’s Will Champion: “The Rains of Castamere,” Season 3
“The Rains of Castamere” is a folk ditty that’s threaded throughout Game of Thrones; the National even provides a version for the soundtrack of Season Two’s “Blackwater” episode. But in the infamous Season Three instalment that shares the song’s name, the tune is played by a fictional band that features Coldplay drummer Will Champion — a performance that plays in integral part in the events leading up to the bloody Red Wedding.
Dr. Feelgood’s Wilko Johnson: Multiple episodes, Seasons 1 – 2
Wilko Johnson, guitarist of the legendary pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood, was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, which interrupted his role of the executioner Ser Illyn Payne, the man known for removing Ned Stark’s head. Silent and grim, Johnson made the perfect Payne, even though he established his fame with his skills on the six-string axe rather than the sword.
Michiel Huisman: Multiple episodes, Seasons 4 – 6
The funky, Dutch pop band Fontane may not have been a household name, but it gave frontman Michiel Huisman some experience onstage before taking over the role of sellsword Daario Naharis from fellow actor Ed Skrein in Season Four. Acting may have since eclipsed Huisman’s music career — though his turn on HBO’s New Orleans drama Treme combined both nicely — but he also has a 2005 solo album under his belt, in case he ever decides to fall back on his first calling.
Mastodon, “Hardhome,” Season 5
With its shared love of swords and magic, Game of Thrones and heavy metal are a match made in heaven, as evidenced by this Season Five episode. In it, members of the renowned Atlanta metal band Mastodon make guest appearances as feral, bearded, north-of-the-Wall wildlings. Apparently, not a whole lot of makeup was required.
Molotov Jukebox’s Natalia Tena: Multiple episodes, Seasons 1 – 3 and 6
Her fame already established by her role in the Harry Potter series, Natalia Tena played an edgier role as Osha, a wildling who winds up loyal to House Stark. That fierce spirit also shines through in her band Molotov Jukebox, a Latin-tinged, gypsy-punk outfit in which Tena sings and plays accordion.
Of Monsters and Men: “The Door,” Season 6
The most recent guest appearance by musicians went down in what’s arguably Season Six’s most devastating episode. Not only did fans learn the story behind Hodor’s name, they were given a peak of the popular Icelandic folk-pop group Of Monsters and Men, who appeared as travelling musicians — part of the theatre troupe that Arya becomes entranced by while in Braavos.
Iwan Rheon: Multiple episodes, Seasons 3-6
The loathsome Ramsay Bolton has been played with such scenery-chewing villainy by actor Iwan Rheon that hopefully it won’t hinder the appeal of his solo music career. His debut album, Dinard, came out last year — he previously played in a band called the Convictions as a teen — and it’s a work of earnest folk-rock, far more sensitive than his portrayal of Ramsay would have ever implied.
Raleigh Ritchie: Multiple episodes, Seasons 3 – 6
Jacob Anderson plays the Unsullied soldier Grey Worm with such stiff-upper-lipped stoicism, it’s hard to imagine him existing outside of Game of Thrones, let alone cutting loose. But that’s exactly what he does under the pseudonym Raleigh Ritchie, Anderson’s indie-R&B alter ago. Not that he’s above inviting his co-star Maisie “Arya Stark” Williams to appear onstage with him, which he did during his performance at Glastonbury in 2014.
Robson & Jerome’s Jerome Flynn: Multiple episodes, Seasons 1 – 6
Long before his charismatically roguish role as the mercenary Bronn, Jerome Flynn was part of the pop duo Robson & Jerome. They may have been a flash in the pan, but it was a big flash: Their cover of “Unchained Melody” moved over a million units in the UK in 1995, becoming the country’s best-selling single that year.
Sigur Rós: “The Lion and the Rose,” Season 4
Of Monsters and Men aren’t the only Iceland band to have appeared on the show. Like Will Champion before them, members of spacious, Reykjavík-based ensemble Sigur Rós provided music for a wedding celebration — in this, the doomed union of Margaery Tyrell and Joffrey Lannister. The song in question was, in a bit of foreshadowing, “The Rains of Castemere.” If you ever hear it at a wedding, run.
Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody: “Walk of Punishment,” Season 4
Among the many nomadic musicians in the lands of Westeros and beyond is an unnamed troubadour who leads Roose Bolton’s men in a singalong of “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” The actor playing that troubadour is plenty qualified — he’s Gary Lightbody, frontman of Snow Patrol, whose way with the ubiquitous tune shows he definitely stuck with the right day job.
Carice Van Houten: Multiple episodes, Seasons 2 – 6
Van Houten’s sensuously sinister turn as the shadow-birthing priestess Melisandre is magnetic enough without knowing she can sing as well. But in 2012, the Dutch actress poured her appeal into a solo album titled See You on the Ice. Winter may be coming, but at least with Van Houten, it’ll have hooks.
Winnet’s Thomas Brodie-Sangster: Multiple episodes, Seasons 3 – 4
Aside from this turn as the adorable moppet in Love Actually, Brodie-Sangster is probably best known to Thrones fans as Jojen Reed, Bran Stark’s confidante and the brother of Meera. But he also plays bass in the theatrical-minded, jazz-and-showtunes band Winnet with his mom, dad, and sister. His real-life sister, that is.