Emilia Clarke, aka Daenerys Targaryen, is one of the most iconic faces on television right now, and has been crushing it professionally since Game of Thrones debuted in 2011. But it turns out the 32-year-old is even stronger in real life than the character she plays on television. In an essay for The New Yorker published on March 21st, Clarke revealed that she has lived through two brain aneurysms, writing, “I’ve never told this story publicly.”
Clarke detailed that her first aneurysm occurred on February 11th, 2011, after Season 1 of Game of Thrones had wrapped filming. She was 24 at the time and working out with a trainer when she felt a “bad headache” coming on. Clarke said it eventually felt like an “elastic band” had snapped inside her head. She later vomited and came in and out of consciousness on the gym’s bathroom floor.
The actress was rushed to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage—a type of stroke—which was caused by an aneurysm (aka a bulge in an artery) that burst. To seal the ruptured artery, she underwent surgery, after which doctors found another aneurysm—which they warned Clarke could “pop” if it got too big. Recovery was extremely difficult, and the actress described the toll it took on her while filming.
She also noted that the stroke initially affected her ability to speak, and she knew that if she couldn’t speak, she couldn’t work…just as her dreams were finally starting to come true.
She eventually regained her ability to speak within a few weeks. Clarke underwent surgery for the second aneurysm in 2013, but the procedure failed, and she had to have another, more invasive surgery to correct it. Thankfully, she survived, but the experience still had a profound impact on her. After another grueling recovery process, she decided to keep her health battles a secret—even denying she had surgery when directly asked by reporters.
The actress also revealed that she has helped develop a charity, called SameYou to benefit young adults dealing with brain injuries and strokes.
Now, Clarke’s Game of Thrones costar Lena Headey (who plays Cersei Lannister on the series) has shared a touching and supportive response to Clarke’s post.
We’re in awe of Clarke’s strength and so grateful that she’s using her harrowing experience to help others. Above all, we’re glad she decided to finally share her story.