‘GoT’ Star Emilia Clarke Opens Up About the Private Health Struggle that Almost Ended Her Life

We know Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen, a fierce warrior with tenacity to rival any man. Well, it seems in real life Clarke isn’t that different.

In a poignant personal essay in The New Yorker, the 32-year-old actress opened up for the first time publicly about enduring two brain aneurysms in the early days of GoT.

Clarke’s painful battle began just as her career was starting to take off. After a lifelong desire to act, she’d nailed the part of Dany and was doing what many TV actresses do—work to get in shape. Only, when she began a sequence of planks with her trainer, a headache she’d been ignoring suddenly became cripplingly painful.

As she wrote, “Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain—shooting, stabbing, constricting pain—was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”

She was right. Her brain was damaged—she’d endured an aneurysm (a subarachnoid hemorrhage), which is often fatal. But she’d made it through. What proceeded was a three-hour brain surgery and when she recovered, she couldn’t remember her name because of aphasia. A little more than a month later, she returned to Game of Thrones and embarked on the press tour like an utter badass.

But her “the show must go on” mentality was taxing. As Clarke explained, “On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled. Season two 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.”

After wrapping season two, she underwent another brain surgery. She not only survived, but she also she thrived.

Now, as Game of Thrones comes to a close years later, Clarke is dedicating herself to helping others affected by strokes and brain injury with her new charity SameYou.


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Lex is an LA native who's deeply obsessed with picnics, Slim Aarons, rosé, Hollywood history and Joan Didion. She joined PureWow in early 2017.