Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, Destroyer of the Realm — doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?
A seemingly heroic character (and fan-favourite feminist icon) throughout much of ‘Game of Thrones’ turned out to be an arch-villain, ready to take over the world in the name of “liberation.” It was a move that stunned, confused and enraged critics and fans alike, largely because her perspective wasn’t shown.
Why did she incinerate scores of defenceless people? Had she gone insane? Were her mental faculties affected by poison? Was she really that upset that the people of King’s Landing didn’t give her a crowd-surfing reception, as she had received in Yunkai? Or that they didn’t overthrow Queen Cersei on her behalf?
The show’s answer, provided in the finale, was that we are all complicit for Dany’s actions. We who cheered her on as she did awful things to awful people, like crucifying slave masters and incinerating Dothraki khals. Emilia Clarke wondered why she was directed to act a little colder, a little harder during those moments — where was Dany going with this?
Clarke discussed coming to terms with Dany’s tyrannical turn in the show’s final episodes during a brief phone call from London, where she hosted a ‘Game of Thrones’ finale party for her SameYou neurorehabilitation charity.
Q: How was your finale party?
A: I had a screening of it with lots of friends and loved ones and some very delightful charity winners, because I did this Omaze thing, raising money for my charity. That was the purpose of it, and then I was like, ‘Well, if we’re going to have a screening, I might as well invite everyone I know and love.’ So I did! [Laughs.] So it was really magic to have people there, and have my besties hold my hand as we watched it. And also, finally, I got to say all of the things that I’ve not been allowed to say to anyone I know for such a significant amount of time. ‘What a [expletive]! I can’t believe he killed me.’
Q: What was it like to see that great and terrible image of the wings behind Dany’s back?
A: They had hinted to me that was what they would do, with the dragon wings. But as with everything, I had no idea that it was going to look the way that it looks. Your imagination is nothing compared to the incredible people who do our special effects work. It’s ridiculous. It’s mind-blowing. It’s incredible. I don’t think I’ll ever get such a good entrance to a scene ever again! It was a relief to have it out and done, but I must admit, it feels very surreal.
Q: How so?
A: There is a sort of closure that you can only get when your character is dead. And so watching her death was cathartic, in some really weird way, because it’s like I now move on from the show, knowing that the character had a beginning, middle and an end. That’s helpful in the process of trying to comprehend what this has been, which I won’t fully comprehend until I’m 92, if I live that long. It’s too vast.
Q: A lot of people are struggling to comprehend it. A lot of people are upset.
A: I can’t even comprehend what it’s like for the viewers, because I’m only just realising what Daenerys was for me, and everything that was wrapped up in that. And obviously, you’re living with the character for 10 years, you want her to go out with a win! You want her to be right! You want all the soul and heart you poured into her to have a good end. If you asked any member of the cast, they would say they want that for their own character. You can’t help but take on your character’s hopes, dreams, wishes, desires, all of it.
Q: How did that change once you knew? Once you saw the scripts for the final season?
A: I can say that it was a huge shock when I first read the script. Truly massive shock. Didn’t see it coming, that’s how naive I was. I didn’t even see the death. I literally read past it three times and I’d be like, ‘Wait! Did I choke or something? Did I fall over?’ I was just rolling right through it going, ‘And then what? And then what?’ [Laughs]
Miguel Sapochnik, who directed Episode 5, and David and Dan, we discussed it all at great length. I started to see that Dany was backed into a corner, and really had no way out, other than the way out that she found, that they wrote. And I think that’s really integral to me being able to show her, to give her the most truthful response to the words that she’s given, the actions that she has. And then during the shoot, I kept this diary, because I needed to track where she was at each moment, since we shoot out of order and she changes so dramatically. I kept having to just double check where we had got her to at that point. It’s like she’s on a cliff edge with each of these moments — Missandei, Rhaegal — and each one is like a finger being pulled from the ledge, and she’s only got one finger left, and then it’s free-fall. Episode 5 is free-fall.
Q: A dragon alone in the world is a terrible thing. Where do you think Drogon takes her body?
A: Hawaii! [Laughs] The selfish part of me is like, he’s taking her to the most beautiful place you can find, and he lies there with her and protects her until the very last. I think there’s always been a beautiful, fantastical element with Daenerys, and the paradise that she thought she was walking toward, the paradise that she thought she was capable of creating, I think there’s some kind of poetic justice that he’s taking her to a physical paradise. Or Hawaii! Put her on top of a mountain. Stuck her in a tree. Maybe he ate her! [Laughs] I hope not!