Choosing acting talent for a cast as large as the one in Game of Thrones is a daunting task. It’s hard to imagine the show if the creators chose someone other than Peter Dinklage to bring to life Tyrion Lannister. Or if they had stuck with Tamzin Merchant, who played Daenerys Targaryen in the original (unaired) pilot, instead of putting Emilia Clarke in the role.
What made casting even more difficult is the show’s length. Over the span of eight seasons, certain characters are bound to have some major developments. And the younger characters are going to grow up.
Co-creator and showrunner David Benioff discussed those struggles during a SXSW Q&A in 2017. "[Arya and Sansa] start so young, but we knew if the show worked, [the characters] were going to go to extremely dark places, so it was a tricky thing, casting people and just hoping they would blossom into the women that they've become," Benioff said.
Ultimately, according to Benioff, it was Arya who ended up being the hardest character to cast—which is fitting, as she is often the most hard-headed character on the show.
"I remember we probably looked at 300 girls in England and could not find the right Arya," Benioff said. “We just could not cast her. We were sitting in this hotel lobby in Morocco—the only place we could get wireless—and looking at casting videos.”
The role ended up going to now-21-year-old Maisie Williams, who started playing Arya at the age of 12.
“There was a little thumbnail picture of Maisie Williams,” Benioff continued. “There was just something about that little tiny thumbnail face that just seemed right. She looked about 7. Like she was 12, but going on 7. So we clicked on the audition video and waited about 40 minutes for it to download. When we saw that audition video she was just f***ing awesome.”
In the years since Game of Thrones made its original premiere, Williams has made an indelible impression on both viewers and her co-stars. Sean Bean, who played Arya's dad in season one, believes that Ned Stark's youngest daughter may be the only character to make it out of the series finale alive. Williams herself has described Arya's final scene as "beautiful."
Game of Thrones will begin airing its final season on HBO in April 2019.