On Thursday, the New Yorker published a moving essay by Emilia Clarke about nearly dying, twice, after shooting the first season of Game of Thrones.
For my non-GoT heads out there, I got you—Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen, or the princess with the long blonde hair who’s often called Khaleesi or the Mother of Dragons (shouting optional). Clarke writes about her lifelong dream of becoming an actress (she was cast in school plays as early at 5 years old), and how auditioning and getting a part in an HBO series changed her life. Though, not necessarily in a good way, at first. “I was terrified,” she writes, “[...] of trying to make good on the faith that the creators of ‘Thrones’ had put in me.”
While working out with a trainer, Clarke suffered a potentially fatal stroke called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, passing out in the bathroom and vomiting bile before being taken to the ER. A third of people who get SAH die, Clarke learned, but doctors were able to seal off the aneurysm with a “minimally invasive” surgery (which means they didn’t have to go through her skull) and Clarke recovered.
She was told, however, that she’d “had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of my brain, and it could ‘pop’ at any time.” Still, she went to shoot Season 2 of Thrones. And yet, she writes:
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 had a brain scan and suffered another aneurysm—and her doctors did operate on the bleed “through [her] skull.” Miraculously, she was able to keep both incidents from the press until now. Clarke describes her second recovery as painfully bleak (“I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail,” she writes. “My mind has blocked them out.”) and says now she’s started a charity to help people recover from brain injuries and strokes.
Did Clarke need Game of Thrones to wrap up before she felt like she could say anything? (She told the show about her first surgery, but denied it happened with a reporter once called her about it.) Writing an essay about two secret, near-death experiences feels unexpected and rather deliberate in this day of celebrities on Instagram Live and screenshots-cum-press releases. Clarke writes that now, she has “healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent.” Which is great! Maybe she needed all this time to process it, to feel like these experiences were squarely in the past, before she could publicly admit that they happened.