The actress writes in The New Yorker that after her first season of playing Daenerys Targaryen on the HBO hit, she was struck with a brain aneurysm while working out at a North London gym. She quickly was transported to a local hospital, where doctors diagnosed a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or a stroke caused by bleeding into the space around the brain. “As I later learned,” she writes, “about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter. For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is require to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed. If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery. And, even then, there were no guarantees.”
Clarke goes into detail about how, as the stroke happened, she tried to “will away the pain and nausea” by remembering lines from her freshman run on Thrones. During her post-surgery recovery, she recalls, she feared the worst when a bout of aphasia — a side effect from her brain trauma that made her unable to speak coherently — seemed to jeopardize her future as an actress.
She adds that she told the show’s Powers That Be about her condition upon returning to film Season 2, and that she “sipped on morphine” in between publicity interviews to keep pain at bay.
“I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die,” she writes. “On the first day of shooting for Season 2, in Dubrovnik, I kept telling myself, ‘I am fine, I’m in my 20s, I’m fine.’ I threw myself into the work. But, after that first day of filming, I barely made it back to the hotel before I collapsed of exhaustion.” She also calls Season 2 of the juggernaut series “my worst.”
After Season 3, Clarke says, a routine scan showed that another aneurysm in her brain was growing and needed to be removed. She wound up having two surgeries to rectify it, and the month that she spent in the hospital afterward was so horrific “that I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail. My mind has blocked them out. But I do remember being convinced that I wasn’t going to live.”
Clarke says only one outlet ever asked about her health scares, and she denied them. “But now, after keeping quiet all these years, I’m telling you the truth in full,” she writes. “Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone. Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive.”