Emilia Clarke is known for playing one of the strongest, steeliest characters on Game of Thrones, but perhaps there is no one more resilient than the actress herself. Although she had previously denied it in the press, Clarke is now opening up publicly about her experience with surviving two near-fatal aneurysms while filming early seasons of Game of Thrones. In an essay in The New Yorker, Clarke wrote about the stressful road to becoming the successful actress she is today, and detailed what she now considers to have been warning signs that she would suffer brain damage in the future.
At 24 years old, the actress had just landed the part of Daenerys Targaryan on Game of Thrones, and to cope with the stress of becoming a highly public figure and the premiere of her first major television series, she began working out with a trainer. One day in February 2011, while doing a planking exercise, Clarke said, she “immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain” and crawled to the locker room, where she remained violently ill until an ambulance was called and brought her to a hospital in London.
After an MRI, doctors informed her she had experienced a near-fatal aneurysm, and she later underwent a minimally invasive three-hour operation. “The surgeon introduced a wire into one of the femoral arteries, in the groin; the wire made its way north, around the heart, and to the brain, where they sealed off the aneurysm,” Clarke wrote.
During her recovery in the intensive care unit, the risk of brain damage was high, and at one point the actress forgot her full name. “Nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic,” she said of her symptoms of temporary aphasia. “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,” Clarke revealed.
She later learned that she had suffered a smaller aneurysm while in the hospital, and just before the production of season two of Game of Thrones, the actress found herself experiencing intense pain and fatigue. “I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die,” she admitted. When doctors operated on her second brain growth, she experienced a “massive bleed,” and they then proceeded to conduct another immediate, invasive procedure through her skull, which was successful and has left the actress at “a hundred percent” cognitively and sensorially.
Having survived the life-threatening brain injuries, Clarke revealed that those close calls have inspired her to codevelop SameYou, an organization that provides treatment for those recovering from brain injuries and strokes.