Emilia Clarke: ‘With the amount of my brain that is no longer usable, it’s remarkable that I am able to speak’
The ‘Game of Thrones’ star suffered two aneurysms during the shooting of the first season of the series
Emilia Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones, has experienced her own battles. She wrote about them in a March 2019 piece published in the New Yorker, in which she revealed that she suffered two aneurysms in early 2011, after the first season of Game of Thrones. In a recent interview for the BBC One’s Sunday Morning program, the actress once again spoke about the incident from a decade ago. She explained that she is missing “quite a lot” of her brain: “The amount of my brain that is no longer usable —it’s remarkable that I am able to speak, sometimes articulately, and live my life completely normally with absolutely no repercussions.”
“I am in the really, really, really small minority of people that can survive that,” added the actress. “There’s quite a bit missing! Which always makes me laugh. Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second it’s gone. So the blood finds a different route to get around, but then whatever bit is missing is therefore gone.”
In her 2019 essay, the entertainer revealed the stress she experienced after Game of Thrones transformed her overnight from a complete unknown to one of the most famous faces on television. At first, she did not know how to manage her success: “I was terrified. Terrified of the attention, terrified of a business I barely understood, terrified of trying to make good on the faith that the creators of Thrones had put in me. I felt, in every way, exposed. In the very first episode, I appeared naked, and, from that first press junket onward, I always got the same question: some variation of ‘You play such a strong woman, and yet you take off your clothes. Why?’ In my head, I’d respond, “How many men do I need to kill to prove myself?’” The situation was aggravated by her realization that she had become a role model for young girls, who would “dress in platinum wigs and flowing robes to be Daenerys Targaryen for Halloween.”
During a session with a personal trainer, the actress began to feel pressure in her head. Minutes later, she passed out in the locker room. “A fog of unconsciousness settled over me. Because no one knew what was wrong with me, the doctors and nurses could not give me any drugs to ease the pain. Finally, I was sent for an MRI, a brain scan. The diagnosis was quick and ominous: a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain. I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture,” the actress wrote. She had to go into emergency surgery.
As Clarke confessed, the worst part was experiencing aphasia, a language disorder characterized by the inability to communicate through speech. “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.”
Luckily, the doctors managed to diagnose the problem in time. The actress was able to recover before starting to shoot the second season of the successful HBO series. “It was like, ‘I just had a little thing. It’s fine. I’m fine,’” she laughed. “Six weeks after that I was back at work.” she recalled on the CBS Sunday Morning program in 2019. “And yes, I really was much better. Six weeks later I was on set.” Two years later, though, she had to have surgery for another aneurysm. The recovery process from the first operation was “difficult, but the second one was much harder,” Clarke confessed. “I definitely went through a period of being down, putting it mildly. But then you go on set and you play a badass and you walk through fire, and that became the thing that just saved me from considering my own mortality.”
Since then, Emilia Clarke has combined her acting career with her philanthropic work by founding a charity, SameYou. The organization provides treatment to people recovering from brain injuries in the United Kingdom and the United States.