Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen on HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones, revealed today that she nearly died from two brain aneurysms in between seasons of the show.
Clarke wrote in an essay for The New Yorker, that at the beginning of 2011, while working out, she felt as “though an elastic band were squeezing my brain.” Clarke crawled to the bathroom and was sick with a “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain” in her head.
A fog of unconsciousness settled over me. From an ambulance, I was wheeled on a gurney into a corridor filled with the smell of disinfectant and the noises of people in distress. Because no one knew what was wrong with me, the doctors and nurses could not give me any drugs to ease the pain.
An MRI revealed a brain hemorrhage, an aneurysm and an arterial rupture.
I remember being told that I should sign a release form for surgery. Brain surgery? I was in the middle of my very busy life—I had no time for brain surgery. 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 twenty-four years old.
When she woke up from her surgery, she had trouble speaking, remembering who she was and her lines from the show.
One night, after I’d passed that crucial mark, a nurse woke me and, as part of a series of cognitive exercises, she said, “What’s your name?” My full name is Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke. But now I couldn’t remember it. Instead, nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic. I’d never experienced fear like that—a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn’t worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn’t recall my name.
Clarke returned to work a few weeks later but was told there was a second aneurysm on the other side of her brain, and it could “pop” at any time.
Even before we began filming Season 2, I was deeply unsure of myself. I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die. Staying at a hotel in London during a publicity tour, I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming. I sipped on morphine in between interviews. The pain was there, and the fatigue was like the worst exhaustion I’d ever experienced, multiplied by a million. And, let’s face it, I’m an actor. Vanity comes with the job. I spent way too much time thinking about how I looked. If all this weren’t enough, I seemed to whack my head every time I tried to get in a taxi.
After season two of the show wrapped, Clarke worked on a play in New York and decided to get another brain scan. That revealed some very bad news: the growth had doubled in size and needed to be operated on.
I was promised a relatively simple operation, easier than last time. Not long after, I found myself in a fancy-pants private room at a Manhattan hospital. My parents were there. “See you in two hours,” my mum said, and off I went for surgery, another trip up the femoral artery to my brain. No problem.
Except there was. When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. The procedure had failed. I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.
Her recovery was painful and for the most part, Clarke kept her story quiet until now, deciding to tell the world and form a charity for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.
In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent. Beyond my work as an actor, I’ve decided to throw myself into a charity I’ve helped develop in conjunction with partners in the U.K. and the U.S. It is called SameYou, and it aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke. I feel endless gratitude—to my mum and brother, to my doctors and nurses, to my friends. Every day, I miss my father, who died of cancer in 2016, and I can never thank him enough for holding my hand to the very end.
There is something gratifying, and beyond lucky, about coming to the end of “Thrones.” I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next.