Emilia Clarke Tells The Story Of How She Survived Two Brain Hemorrhages

"I've never told this story publicly, but now it's time."

In a first person account published by The New Yorker, Emilia Clarke tells the story of her battle to survive, all while becoming an international star with the Game of Thrones series. Her role in GoT was almost her very first job. She explains how her mindset after filming ended for Season 1 wasn't as triumphant as that of her character, Daenerys Targaryen.

"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?'"

On February 11 2011, Emilia Clarke was at the gym where she was working out "to relieve the stress". That's where she suffered her first aneurysm. She didn't feel good, asked to stop, and collapsed in the changing rooms. 

"For a few moments, I tried to will away the pain and the nausea. I said to myself, 'I will not be paralyzed.' I moved my fingers and toes to make sure that was true. To keep my memory alive, I tried to recall, among other things, some lines from Game of Thrones."

She was eventually rescued and taken to hospital. After a brain scan, she received the result: "I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture." As she learned later, one third of victims die instantly or shortly after. The risk of a second, fatal aneurysm was high. To improve her chances of survival and to reduce the potential after-effects, she had to undergo brain 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, "the pain was unbearable" and the actress was suffering from aphasia, a condition whereby victims are no longer able to communicate, as a direct consequence of her brain injury. After a month in hospital, Emilia Clarke ended up surviving with all her faculties intact, a miracle she's well aware of. But she didn't have too long to rest: the actress went on to give interviews for Game of Thrones, then before long, she was filming for Season 2. 

But the nightmare continued: not long after, the doctors found another, smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain, which could "pop" at any time. The stress was unbearable. The actress recalls filming for Season 2 as terribly difficult. "On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled. 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."

Emilia Clarke lived with this sword of Damocles hanging over her head until Season 3 of Game of Thrones, when she was informed at a medical check that her aneurysm had grown and doubled in size. She had to have another operation. And it didn't go well. 

"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."

Until then, the actress had only had microsurgery. This time, parts of her skull had to be replaced with titanium. "I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced." She spent another month in hospital and often "lost all hope". Terrible anxiety, panic attacks, fear that the story would come out in the media when she wasn't ready to talk about it... Emilia Clarke went through some very dark days, but got better and went on to film later seasons of Game of Thrones against all the odds.

"But now, after keeping quiet all these years, I’m telling you the truth in full. Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone. Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive."

Emilia Clarke has now decided to speak out on the topic to help people who have suffered from brain damage and strokes through the association she has created, SameYou, in the United States and the United Kingdom. She ends her story with the following words:

"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."


Article translated by: Eleanor Staniforth

By Marion Olité, published on 25/03/2019