Game of Thrones fan favorite Emilia Clarke played the incomparable queen of dragons on the hit show, but privately, she struggled with very serious health scares.
Not once but twice — first in 2011 and then again in 2013 — Clarke underwent emergency, life-saving surgery for ballooning blood vessels in her brain. The 35-year-old actress was just 22 when she experienced her first aneurysm; and the ordeal left her crippled with fear for many years.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Morning, Clarke recalled: “It was just the most excruciating pain, huge vomiting, trying to regain consciousness; I kept asking myself all these questions. I hilariously kept saying lines from the show in my head [to keep from passing out].”
Luckily, playing Daenerys Targaryen gave her purpose, she said, and helped her focus on something other than the pain.
“I was 22 [when I had the first aneurysm] but it was helpful having [the show] to sweep me up and give me that purpose,” she remembered. “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 [without lingering effects].”
Emilia Clarke laughs at how much of her brain is ‘missing’
Whenever the brain is deprived of oxygen for any length of time, serious health complications typically follow.
“Because strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone,” she said. “And so the blood finds a different route to get around but then whatever bit it’s missing is therefore gone. There’s quite a bit missing, which always makes me laugh! It kind of shows how little of our brains we actually use.”
After two emergency surgeries at such a young age, Clarke wondered to herself if another aneurysm (perhaps fatal) was just a matter of time.
“I had the consistent fear that I was going to have another brain aneurysm,” she admitted in a separate 2020 interview. “I spent a lot time just being like: ‘Am I gonna die? Is that gonna happen on set?’ Because that would be really inconvenient. And with any kind of brain injury it leaves you with a fatigue that’s indescribable. I was trying so hard to keep it under wraps.”
Brain aneurysms develop as a result of thinning artery walls. Aneurysms often form at forks or branches in arteries because those areas of the vessels are weaker. Although aneurysms can appear anywhere in the brain, they are most common in arteries at the base of the brain.