Casting Speculation

Catelyn Stark, Lady of Winterfell

It’s been a while since I’ve done a casting post. For this post, we are going to stay in the North, but head back to the Stark family. Catelyn is one character that shouldn’t be too hard to cast. She is your fairly standard “motherly” character, at least for the first season or so. A relative unknown seems like the best choice for Lady Stark. That is probably one of the reasons why there hasn’t been as much discussion over who will play Cat, as opposed to someone like Jaime or Sandor. Even so, it is still fun to take a look at some of the potential names being thrown around.

Sonya Walger – Walger, in contrast to some of the other actresses on this list, is primarily a television actress. She has had parts in Lost, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the HBO series, Tell Me You Love Me. Her resume seems like it would be a good match for the type of actress they would be looking for, but in my opinion I don’t think she is attractive enough for Catelyn. I guess it is up to the producers whether they think she has the right look though.

Saffron Burrows – This model-turned-actress has a diverse credit list of TV and film work. Most recently she starred in the short lived NBC series My Own Worst Enemy. As far as her film work goes, she appeared in Troy, giving her a Benioff connection. One possible problem with her casting though, she recently landed a role in a CBS pilot. That would most likely rule her out, unless that pilot goes nowhere.

Natasha McElhone – Another actress that seems comfortable in both films and television. The London-born McElhone’s big roles include turns in The Truman Show and Ronin. On the small screen, she has a connection to the BBC, starring in their television movie The Other Boleyn Girl. Unfortunately it is her current role on Showtime’s Californication that may cause her to be out of the running.

Connie Nielsen – This Danish-born actress is probably best known for her role as Lucilla in Gladiator. She certainly has the look and seems a competent actress. Looking at her credit list, however, she doesn’t have too much TV work. She seems to prefer feature films. But, as their tagline says “It’s not TV, it’s HBO.” Assuming she is willing to do it, I think she could be a good fit.

As I said, the competition for Catelyn isn’t as exciting as some of the other roles up for grabs. It does get quite a bit of screen time, but doesn’t have the depth of character that other roles would seem to have. Still the role is a prominent one, so they may go with a bigger name than I expect.


  • Doesn’t have “depth of character”?

    Winter, are you kidding me? Catelyn Stark is one of the most interesting characters in the books, in this guy’s Humble Opinion.

    Her arc, comprising the loss of everything she holds dear, including her husband, her family, and ultimately her own life, is a fantastic display of strength in the face of overwhelming adversity. Her subsequent resurrection and bloody vengeance only further complicates an already deep and well-orchestrated arc – Zombie Catelyn running around, hanging Freys, isn’t interesting to you??

    C’mon pal.

    Come on. ;-)

  • I’ve never been a big fan of Catelyn. I just don’t think she has the depth or conflict of character like some others do. Like I said, her main motive seems to be protecting her children. I kinda look at her as a less-crazy version of Cersei.

    Her recent “transformation” certainly adds another layer to her character. I’ll grant you that. But I still don’t find her character to be all that interesting.

    Of course, this is just my opinion and I could be dead wrong.

  • Catelyn is an amazing character.

    “but in my opinion I don’t think she is attractive enough for Catelyn.”

    Whaa!? Sonya is gorgeous.

  • I tend to agree with Sub here. If you really want to break it down, Catelyn is the direct catalyst of the entire war. Yeah, Jaime threw Bran off the tower and Little Finger, Varys and others are playing their Game of Thrones well before Cat takes Tyrion hostage, but she makes the first direct out in the open move that starts all the dominoes falling.
    Also, Cat is a major PoV up through the Red Wedding. Its through her eyes and her eyes only that we see what is happening in the Riverlands.
    The trouble with Cat’s character is that her depth stays within her. Her actions are rather bland on the outside, but looking inside of her head we find a huge range of emotions. Her range include the cordial coolnees of hosting the Lannisters at Winterfell. The near madness she goes through at Bran’s bedside. The futile determination of warding off Bran’s would-be assassin. The desperate choices to fly to King’s Landing and to take Tyrion hostage. The perilous journey to the Vale and the subsequent let down that occurs from this choice. The anxiety of Ned’s capture and grief of his death. The initial hesitancy and later pride of watching her eldest son become the King in the North. And that’s all just in the first book!
    The problem is that she experiences most of this simply standing by while other characters around her act on the events. It will be very difficult for an actress to portay all of Cat’s inner turmoil without the luxury of self-reflection that the book media allows. It will take a gifted lady to capture Catelyn Stark properly if its even possible in a live-action adaptation.

  • @lordnedshead: totally agree with you there. But have in mind that the actress will need a HUGE hand from the script. Even early on they will need to give her a few extra lines or even scenes not in the books. I think the character is good but, as you said, much goes on “inside her”. The script needs to help the actress out in portraying all that. If you leave it to the actress and just follow the action not even the best of the best will bring this one to live as it should be.

  • Ah! But there’s the rub! Its going to be a real tightrope walk for the writers to bring out her thoughts without making them sound cheesy or unnatural. Not an impossible task, but a daunting one.

  • Connie Nielsen and Saffron Burrows are probably more appropriate for Cersei than for Catelyn. Both have that icy cold beauty – they look like supermodels. Nielsen might be too old, too – though she’s so beautiful and still looks quite young so she could pull it off – and she only has to for 3 years (after that…she’s going to be under rather a lot of makeup). But again, I don’t think either is the right type.

    McElhone is on Californication so that pretty much definitely excludes her unless that show gets cancelled very soon or has been and I just didn’t hear about it. But my understanding is that it’s doing well. She would be perfect for the role, though.

    Sonya Wagler is an interesting idea. She’s very good (I remember her mostly from “Sleeper Cell”) and maybe could play the type. Not sure if I see her as Catelyn, I’d have to think about that.

  • I still think Tricia Helfer would make the best Catelyn. (not the platinum blonde 6, but the one that was abused on the Pegasus.) She showed a masterful range as an actress with that addition, and the “inner turmoil” would be something she could chew up the scenery with… ESPECIALLY in her anti- Jon moments. (No one in the comments seems to remember the vitriol and betrayal she reserved for the ‘bastard’.)

  • This is why I think Molly Parker would be a good choice. She can do an amazing job of expressing inner turmoil while outwardly maintaining an icy aristocratic composure. She also has the Tully look and has worked on an HBO series before. I’m a little surprised she hasn’t gotten more attention here.

  • I’ve actually pegged Tricia Helfer for Cersei.

    If I had to pick one of the four mentioned, I’d go with Sonya Walger. I’ve followed her through quite a few different shows and I think she could easily portray the amount of range required by the character of Cat. But as I said elsewhere, I also believe that they should cast whoever is best for the role, even if it’s an unknown actor. It worked great for Rome, and I think it could work here as well. As long as the actors are cast right, it won’t matter who is behind the character.

  • What? Sonya Walger not attractive enough? You must be out of your mind!

    And as a huge fan of Californication, I certainly hope that Natasha will be unavailable.

  • Of those four, Sonya Walger is the best choice.

    Which is interesting as I was thinking the other day that Henry Ian Cusack (her onscreen love Desmond in LOST) has got a great look going for Ned. Providing they don’t get killed off soon, I think both actors may be too busy with LOST Season 6, which will film from August 2009 through to late March/early April 2010, overlapping the production of A GAME OF THRONES (and also ruling out Josh Holloway for Jaime).

  • Catelyn is very deep character like ALL the charaters in the seris. Also, Sonya Walger is VERY atractive. A character doesn’t have to be bat shit crazy like Sandor or Jaime to be deep. Although, I do like the crazy characters the best! Especially The Hound :)…and Tyrion…and Jaime

  • I’ve seen a lot of things said about the character Catelyn that spans the spectrum, but lack of depth is maybe the oddest. She’s one of the most layered and complex characters, “just a mom” sells her very short, but like another commenter said, she has to keep it all inside, the throughline of her life story is the diminishing of her self expression. The actress who plays her will most need A) range, B) gravity, and C) subtlety. She’ll have to be able to convey a variety of emotions — and none too simple — with just a look, a facial tick, body language, etc.

    Of course they could externalize some of her monologues, like her thoughts about Jon Snow could come out in a conversation with Brynden Tully when she reaches the Eyrie, after she’s met Mya Stone; that could help exposit necessary information for the mystery of Jon’s parentage, and then could connect to whatever reason Martin had Jaime and Brynden mention Jon Snow in their chapter in Feast.

    Sonya Walger is attractive, but not in the patrician way Catelyn is. That said, I like her a lot and wouldn’t mind watching her for three seasons at all. I’m iffiest about McElhone here on this list, she is not a bad actress and definitely has the physique, Tully shoulders and high cheekbones and stuff (they can dye hair and use colored contacts), but Catelyn is a bit of a good soldier/trooper/team player type and I don’t get that vibe from her.

  • I like the idea of Molly Parker proposed above by one of the Anonymous posters – she was very good on Deadwood and is definitely the right type for the role.

  • I think Penny(Walger) on Lost may already be dead. Of course dead on that show doesn’t mean off the show.

  • Gillian Anderson would be great. Technically a wee bit old for the role (she’s 41 now), but she could pull it off – she looks amazing. She might actually be too expensive though – X-Files made her a very big star – and who knows if she wants to go back to series TV. She’d done kind of a lot of if and I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s done with it by now. Series TV is a lot of work.

  • Personally I think Connie Nielsen would be perfect for it.

    She has the right look, and near enough the right age to pull it off and she’s a talented actress.

  • Another actress to consider is Rosamund Pike, she’s probably softer than Catelyn but looks pretty elegant and most of all sounds very elegant and sensitive without being frilly or cutesy.

  • Actually, I don’t see any of these actresses as Cat. For one thing, I think Cat needs to be brunette. Most importantly, the actors playing Cat and Ned need to have chemistry together. Only an audition will reveal if they generate sparks or not.

  • Hair color is the easiest thing for an actor to change. Oh, and if memory serves Cat is described as having auburn hair. As for chemistry between actors – well, that goes for any actors you are casting, especially two who are supposed to be romantically involved. That doesn’t preclude speculations about who might fit the role.

  • For me, Catelyn is very much a stock “stupid mother” character. She is to blame for a lot of things because she’s so easy to lead emotionally that it overshadows any intellectual development on her part. Should be easy to cast because of the lack of visible emotion.

  • Cat definately makes her errors, but she’s so much more than a “stupid” mother. I’ve always seen her as a good compliment to Ned. Somewhat wise, cunning and generally decent, but with the tragic flaw of trusting too much to honor.

  • A good compliment to Ned?

    Hard to make that point when they spend all of 10 pages together before he’s axed.

  • You don’t neccesarily need to see them interact with each other to compare them with one another. I think Cat’s motives at heart are noble. Her execution leaves a bit to be desired though.

  • Cat doesn’t trust honor too much, that’s Ned. Cat trusts reason and moderation too much, she underestimates how ruthless people are. She was a lot savvier than Robb or Ned, and comes from a position of far less power than many other characters so her choices are always between bad options. Just my $0.02!

    I like the Diane Lane idea (though not a realistic suggestion ), but at the same time the suggestion seems to play on the maternal type role. I think you guys are trying to make her look too much like a mom, someone said Burrows or Neilsen are the least appropriate for Cat but I think the opposite. If you go by the features she’s actually given in the books, she has fine high cheekbones, a handsome and strong face, etc etc, she’s not supposed to look motherly (whatever that even means), she’s supposed to look regal.

  • I agree with Anon above. Just want to add that Cat’s “powerless” position leaves her to a situation where she can’t think things over with others, she can’t get a wider perspective or good feedback. She must act with her own judgement only or she can’t act at all. Sometimes she acts too rashly (like in Tyrion’s case), but sometimes she manages to make “a right decision” (like in Jaime’s caise), but then the big game trambles it underfoot.

    Of those four actresses, Saffron Burrows is my favourite. Gillian Anderson would be a nice choice as well.

  • Gillian Anderson would be my pick, definitely. She looks very much the way I always pictured Catelyn, and she’s a fantastic actress. She could easily pull off the range of emotion that would be needed.

    As Brude says, though, I dunno if she’d be willing to do another TV series. Keeping my fingers crossed though.

    I don’t get the ‘no depth of character’ thing. Catelyn is by far the most realistic character in the series, in my opinion.

  • I never had a problem with Catelyn either, although i started to wonder why after reading the vehement online tirades against her.
    I do agree that she may be tricky to portray without the interior thoughts. Then again that is a problem for many of the characters I suspect. Jaime, Tyrion and Jon should be ok as they are fairly active. Oddly the non POV characters are going to be easiest to adapt as we’ve never been in their head and so judge them almost entirely on their actions eg Hound, LF, Varys, and initially Jaime.

    In an ideal world we’d get Gillian Anderson.

  • That’s an absolutely terrible photo of Saffron Burrows… But she’d look great in the role. Not really too familiar with her as an actress though.

    Sonya Walger is way too mopey-looking to be Catelyn.

    Connie Nielsen could definitely work.

    Catelyn is to blame for one hell of a lot in the books, and she acts as catalyst for many events. Had it not been for her Ned would’ve, at very least, gotten a bit more mileage.

    She’s merely a slightly less insane Lysa. She’s impulsive (oh look its Tyrion hi hello let’s go to the Vale, my daughters and Ned? In King’s Landing? No worries!), stupid (Tyrion, freeing Jaime could have been excused had it not been for the outstanding record of past stupidity) and cruel (to Jon Snow).

  • Arresting Tyrion was not a matter of impulse, she didn’t want to arrest him, she wanted to go back and gather evidence. But he saw her and that right there forced her hand. Martin took the whole chapter to establish how thoroughly unlikely it was that she would be recognized, and then Tyrion arrives at the inn and the thoroughly unlikely happens. Word is going to get back to King’s Landing no matter what, but this way she has a bargaining chip which she only loses because of Lysa. When she rejoins the northerners they are actually hoping she still has him. The last thing she wanted to do was act at the time, but she was forced into it by coincidence.

    She is no more to blame than many other characters, and other characters’ decisions certainly affect her interests, but she is resented for having any impact on the story at all since it is supposed to belong to conventional heroes like Ned or Robb.

    As for Jon Snow, in fifteen years that was the only instance she lashed out like that, in a time of intense grief. Jon regularly ate with his siblings, played with them, was clothed as they were, shared a room, all under her roof. She does her best to deal with a situation that is forced on her without any choice in the matter, and you simply can’t force yourself to love someone if you don’t. Under those circumstances she did the best thing she could, which is to avoid him. She even thinks how Benjen could be a father to Jon, and there is no trace of malice when she thinks about Jon and his mysterious mother in her prayers. It’s clear that her words to him were very singular and aggravated by circumstances, and while it’s not fair to Jon, and while she never loved him, it’s hardly proportionate to characterize her as cruel.

  • Being recognized didn’t force her to capture him, did it? Acting as she did, was impulsive. She certainly did not think it through, and it directly lead to many deaths and war. Catelyn has built a track record of making many bad decisions.

    And as for Jon Snow, we don’t know exactly what happened in the years leading up to these events, if this were the first such occurrence or not. She was certainly, at very least, cold to him his entire life there. Even considering the particular circumstances, it was a cruel thing to do, and there hasn’t been any hint that she felt the slightest bit of remorse. If anything the fact that her children, including Bran with the possible exception of Sansa, loved Jon as a brother should have had an effect on her, especially when he was reaching out to her.

    I don’t resent her for having an impact, and I quite dislike Robb actually, but there are hardly conventional heroes in this story. I resent her for playing such a pivotal role and repeatedly doing the wrong thing where sense could have prevailed.

  • What about Rhona Mitra? She has done a lot of TV even though she seems to be doing mostly film lately.

  • Rhona Mitra ?…good idea…she might ready for a breakout role…but your right, she’s doing mostly film work…doesn’t hurt she is gorgeous !!!

  • Dana Delany is a bit old, but she could pull off a middle-aged mother of five. Also, her work on Desperate Housewives shows she can portray a character who has lost everything.

  • why hasn’t anyone mentioned annie wersching:

    and i also think connie nielsen from her role in gladiator fits the stoic, internalizing female character that would work for catelyn. plus, i believe she had a fur overcoat in gladiator, which brings winterfell to mind. easy sell.


  • I imagined Famke Janssen as Catelyn Stark. It’s because of the auburn hair she had as Jean Grey in the X-Men movies.

  • Yeah actually being recognized did force her to arrest Tyrion. From her POV he is a very dangerous man who has proven himself capable of acting heinously in opposition toward her house. She’s wrong, but she doesn’t have Tyrion’s POV chapters to do a character check. The whole chapter in Littlefinger’s brothel sets up how dangerous it is for her presence there to be known and the whole chapter that culminates in her arrest of Tyrion establishes how coincidental the meeting was. There’s only one way her arrest seems legitimate and that’s if she does it right there, as if that was her purpose for being there. And that’s not to mention the fact that Tywin’s retaliation was not legal, it’s just that Tywin doesn’t care. But if he was acting as he should have he would have gone to King Robert first and obtained permission to retaliate (as the river lords do in one of Ned’s chapters).

    Catelyn’s a classically tragic character but people don’t want to accommodate that because she gets on the wrong side of their precious male characters. Advising Ned to go south wasn’t anything that she could have foreseen in resulting in his death, arresting Tyrion was forced by her situation, and while you could make a case that releasing Jaime was a lamebrainer (I would disagree, but whatever), she’s no worse than Ned and Robb.

    And as for Jon, yeah she was never warm to him, but she didn’t *treat* him cruelly. Her words came out in a moment of great stress and yes, if you read the book, she does feel regret about it.

    Everyone’s obviously free to prefer who they want but I’ve never understood the point of exaggerating situations or expecting characters to see the future to suit one’s biases.

  • Martina Gedeck from "The Lives of Others" would be a Catelyn Stark. When reading ASOFAI series, I always picture Catelyn as looking like Martina Gedeck. Does she speak English?

  • I have to second Martina Gedeck again because she COULD capture the inner turmoil of Catelyn Stark. "The Lives of Others" was entirely in German. Gedeck was able to convey fear or warning with a look or a touch. If Gedeck speaks English she could bring this to AGOT.

    BTW why all this hating on Cat Stark? She is a well drawn and believable character. In Fantasy literature, characterization of female characters often falls short. They are either of epic goodness or more evil than Lucifer. Except for GRRM, most fantasy writers haven't advanced beyond Walt Disney. I include JRRT with the culprits. I applaud GRRM for his fine characterizations of Catelyn, Cersei, Sansa(yes, her), Arya, and Brienne.

    I'm also a student of history. Catelyn Stark seems to be parallel to Cicely Neville in the War of Roses period. I'm by far not the first to say that the entire Stark Clan=House of York and Lannister=House of Lancaster.

  • She looked to be fairly intelligent until she acted, at which point she was revealed to be a dumb bint. I think that says a lot about Cat.