The ubiquitous presence of inhibitory interneurons in the thalamus of primates contrasts with the sparsity of interneurons reported in mice. Here, we identify a larger than expected complexity and distribution of interneurons across the mouse thalamus, where all thalamic interneurons can be traced back to two developmental programmes: one specified in the midbrain and the other in the forebrain. Interneurons migrate to functionally distinct thalamocortical nuclei depending on their origin: the abundant, midbrain-derived class populates the first and higher order sensory thalamus while the rarer, forebrain-generated class is restricted to some higher order associative regions. We also observe that markers for the midbrain-born class are abundantly expressed throughout the thalamus of the New World monkey marmoset. These data therefore reveal that, despite the broad variability in interneuron density across mammalian species, the blueprint of the ontogenetic organisation of thalamic interneurons of larger-brained mammals exists and can be studied in mice.