On Thursday, the New Yorker published a personal essay by Emilia Clarke, the famed actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones. Clarke writes, in compelling, thorough detail, about her private, grueling battle with life-threatening brain aneurysms, which set in after she filmed the first season of the show.
Clarke's health problems first emerged when she was 24. She recalls the exact date—February 11, 2011—and the crippling headache that came on at the beginning of a session with a personal trainer. She writes that, almost immediately, she realized she had sustained brain damage, and was taken to the emergency room in Whittington, England, in immense pain. An MRI revealed she'd had a subarachnoid hemorrhage—a life-threatening stroke—and needed immediate brain surgery to seal off the aneurysm.
"I remember being told that I should sign a release form for surgery," Clarke writes in the New Yorker. "Brain surgery? I was in the middle of my very busy life—I had no time for brain surgery."
Two weeks after the surgery, Clarke wrote that she was unable to remember her own full name, and felt "blind panic" at the thought that she might not be able to recall lines in order to do her job. She was suffering from aphasia, a type of language impairment.
"I knew I was faltering," Clarke writes. "In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job—my entire dream of what my life would be—centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost."
After about a week, the aphasia passed. A month later, she was already back on set. But the hospital had informed her there was another smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain that could potentially "pop" without warning. She was constantly exhausted and in pain throughout the filming of season two, and during a publicity tour in London, she needed to take morphine between interviews.
"On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled," Clarke writes. "Season 2 would be my worst. I didn’t know what Daenerys was doing. If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die."
In 2013, Clarke's routine brain scans revealed the second aneurysm had doubled in size and needed to be operated on immediately. But the surgery was unsuccessful, and required an immediate, invasive second surgery through her skull. She spent a month at the hospital in order to recover, and struggled with "terrible anxiety" and panic attacks.
Clarke writes that, thankfully, she has since made a complete recovery.
"I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes," she writes. "I am now at a hundred per cent."
It's staggering to think that Clarke managed to push through filming a show as intense as Game of Thrones—complete with stress-inducing battle sequences, sex scenes, and 55-day shoots—all while grappling with a potentially fatal condition. That's to say nothing of the strength it takes to keep something like that to yourself.
"But I survived," she writes in the New Yorker. "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."
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