Emilia Clarke Says Playing Daenerys Targaryen on 'Game of Thrones' Literally Saved Her Life

The 32-year-old actress explains how her character's strength helped her get through real life-threatening health issues.

Emilia Clarke says she owes her life to Game of Thrones.

Specifically, to Daenerys Targaryen, the beloved character she portrayed on all eight seasons of the popular HBO series. In a new interview with Variety, the 32-year-old actress opens up about how playing the strong, powerful Khaleesi helped her get through the real-life struggles she faced following two brain aneurysms and surgeries.

"I always say that Daenerys literally saved my life, because it puts you in quite the headspace when you've had a brain injury," Clarke shares in her Variety Studio: Actors on Actors interview with Regina Hall. "Walking in her shoes, I just put so much more into each season because it really was life or death. I felt so powerfully that she was saving me. I could only see her."


Although the show is now over and (spoiler alert!) Daenerys was tragically killed by Jon Snow (Kit Harington) in the series' finale episode, Clarke says the spirit of her character will live on through her, forever. She admits she has been having some difficulty, however, coming to terms with the fact that GoT is over for good.

"I didn't take anything from the set and I deeply regret it and I'm very annoyed and I'm really hoping that the showrunners will give me a dragon egg," she jokes. "Having it come to its final moment feels utterly surreal and completely bizarre and so much life has happened in the 10 years."

"At first it was an existential crisis," she adds. "Who am I? Where are my dragons? It felt really, deeply emotional... You saw everyone's truthful fragility as it ended… When it did finally end, it broke everyone."


Clarke revealed her near-fatal health scares for the first time in March, in a candid interview with The New Yorker. She told the outlet she suffered her first aneurysm in 2011,  just after filming had wrapped for season one of Game of Thrones.

"I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on," she remembers. "I was so fatigued that I could barely put on my sneakers. When I started my workout, I had to force myself through the first few exercises."

"Then my trainer had me get into the plank position, and I immediately felt as though an elastic band was squeezing my brain. I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t," she adds. "I told my trainer I had to take a break. Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain -- shooting, stabbing, constricting pain -- was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged."

Clarke recalls later going in for an MRI, where she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain. She then secretly underwent her first brain surgery. 

"I was in the middle of my very busy life -- I had no time for brain surgery," she remembers. "But, finally, I settled down and signed. And then I was unconscious. For the next three hours, surgeons went about repairing my brain. This would not be my last surgery, and it would not be the worst. I was 24 years old."

Hear more in the video below.