91st Academy Awards - Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Feb 2019
Credit: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Every day the final season of Game of Thrones grows nearer, and with it the end of a pop culture era. In a new essay for The New Yorker, star Emilia Clarke (who plays one of the show’s main characters, Daenerys Targaryen) reveals that she almost didn’t make it to see the show’s completion. For the first time, Clarke has come clean about surviving two aneurysms over the course of working on Game of Thrones.

The first came in February 2011, after Clarke and her co-stars had finished shooting season 1. While working out with a trainer, Clarke writes, “I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain.” Overwhelmed by violent nausea, she soon realized that something had gone wrong with her brain: “To keep my memory alive, I tried to recall, among other things, some lines from Game of Thrones.”

After being rushed to a hospital, Clarke was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH): “a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain. I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture.” She underwent brain surgery, which appeared to fix the problem. But, Clarke writes, “this would not be my last surgery, and it would not be the worst. I was 24 years old.”

Clarke was back on the set of Game of Thrones little more than a month after surgery, which meant her recovery was going a lot better than many SAH patients. But even so, she writes that filming season 2 and doing publicity for it was a nightmare: “If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die.”

Things got worse from there. While working in New York in 2013, Clarke went in for a brain scan and learned that she had a massive growth that needed treatment. She underwent another surgery, similar to the first, but this one failed. As a result, doctors had to immediately do an even more intense brain surgery that involved opening up Clarke’s skull.

“The recovery was even more painful than it had been after the first surgery,” Clarke writes. “I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced. I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium. These days, you can’t see the scar that curves from my scalp to my ear, but I didn’t know at first that it wouldn’t be visible. And there was, above all, the constant worry about cognitive or sensory losses. Would it be concentration? Memory? Peripheral vision? Now I tell people that what it robbed me of is good taste in men. But, of course, none of this seemed remotely funny at the time.”

Clarke finishes by writing that she is now at full health, and has gotten involved with the charity SameYou to help people recovering from brain injuries and strokes. Reflecting on her experience, she concludes, “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.”

Read Clarke’s essay in full at The New Yorker.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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