When Game Of Thrones debuted on HBO in 2011, the series – based on the epic fantasy novels A Song Of Ice And Fire by George RR Martin – featured a lot of new faces. One of those fresh talents was Emilia Clarke.
Practically fresh out of acting school, Clarke was entrusted with the role of Daenerys Targaryen who would become one of the main characters on the show. Not to mention, the strongest, accumulating titles such as Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, the Mother of Dragons, the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea and the Breaker of Chains.
At a meeting with Clarke in London, the 32-year-old actress acknowledges that Game Of Thrones has definitely changed her life. Since appearing on the TV series, the actress has gone on to participate in big franchises including The Terminator and Star Wars. She headlines Paul Feig’s rom-com next, Last Christmas, which features our own Henry Golding and Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh.
“Lord knows what I’d be without Daeny, where I’d be, what I’d be doing,” says the Londoner, conveying a cheerful and warm disposition during this interview on a chilly February morning.
“I had absolutely no idea what it was I was walking into … I had no idea about anything when I started the show. Nothing, not the industry, acting, TV, society, politics, nothing! I was 22.
“The journey of Daenerys is the biggest gift an actor could be given, because you get a chance to flex every kind of muscle,” continues Clarke, who recently shared in a first-person essay in The New Yorker that she’s weathered two life-threatening brain haemorrhages since 2011.
Despite her health issues while making Game Of Thrones, Clarke (full name Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke) has never failed to lend her character gravitas. And she did this for all of Daenerys’s struggles and triumphs, immortalised as some of the best episodes in the series.
But Clarke, projecting that famous English trait of self-deprecation, says that it was more of a case of “fake it till you make it thing”.
“A lot of Daenerys scenes have been in front of a lot of people, saying big speeches. So on a very practical level, me as Emilia, having to get up and speak in front of 300 extras, in a fake language, really requires a lot of strength, a lot of cojones, you know what I mean? “And Daenerys has asked me to do that at each turn. I walked through fire; legitimately walk through fire.
“As an actor, I am definitely one to do as you’re told. So when they ask you to walk through fire, you do it … and there is part of you that goes, ‘I just did that. That’s cool. That’s really cool’,” relates Clarke, whose thick eyebrows are as expressive in person as they are on her Instagram postings.
Feeling the heat
There is no denying the reach of Game Of Thrones has gone beyond television. Its influences is felt in fashion (John Varvatos’ menswear), accessories (Urban Decay’s six-piece makeup collection), drinks, video games, board games and various everyday items you can name.
On TV itself, it has elevated the fantasy genre to a more serious status – a genre TV execs once perceived was only appealing to 12- to 15-year-old boys.
Game Of Thrones proved with every season, that TV can be a medium for great storytelling, and there is no need to compromise on the quality of its backdrop, costumes, actors, visual effects and action sequences.
Series that followed Game Of Thrones, like Vikings, Outlander and The 100 are proof of how this fantasy drama has somewhat shaped the landscape of television.
On April 15, HBO will premiere Game Of Thrones’ eighth and final season – comprising six episodes, with the running time of each episode between 58 and 82 minutes.
The finale (airing May 20) is written and directed by showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss, the two men who took on the mammoth task of adapting the complex novels for TV in the first place.
Clarke confesses she’s fine with the series coming to an end.
“I am a big fan of television shows finishing even when you’re ready for more, and are still as engaged with it as you were from the beginning,” she says. She reasons that if the show goes on for too long, it would become a disservice to the characters and to the writing.
“Of course you want very much for everyone to be happy (with the ending). But for the final season of any show, there’s going to be disappointed people, upset people. There’s going to be fights within friendship groups; there’s going to be whose side are you on? All of those things. Which I feel is the show anyway – who do you back the most? and – this is the final bit of it.”
Game Of Thrones, in the simplest summary, is about nine powerful families eyeing the Iron Throne to become the ruler of all the lands in Westeros.
But a running narrative has been of the oncoming winter and the creatures called the White Walkers that thrive in the cold. Led by Night King, White Walkers are zombie-like beings that have been kept at bay from the general population by an unscalable wall.
In the last episode of Season Seven, Night King – with the turned dragon, Viserion – destroyed the wall, marking the start of the Great War between the living and the dead. Also, the long and dreaded winter is here.
When we last saw Daenerys, she was heading to Winterfell alongside Jon Snow (Kit Harington) to fight against this unstoppable enemy.
Meanwhile, at Winterfell, Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly have discovered the truth behind Jon’s parentage, which might disrupt his newly-formed romantic relationship with Daenerys. Or not.
When asked what happens to Daenerys next, Clarke sighs and replies: “Walking into Season Eight for Daenerys is much like for everyone else, kind of like walking on eggshells.
“I was sent the script, for all the episodes of Season Eight, and I read it in an afternoon. And I just left my house with my keys and walked about three hours around London, aimlessly wandering. It’s so epic, there’s a lot that happens.
“Daeny and Jon, I just, she, erm … ,” Clarke fumbles, and pauses.
“It’s the most contemporary kind of relationship that she’s had in the show. They are incredibly similar; they have so much that connects and binds them. And I think that he brings out an honesty in her that she hasn’t experienced before.
“That’s an interesting kind of relationship, I think.”
Walking on sunshine
While Clarke is secretive about the plots, she shares that she was “super emotional” on the last day of filming as Daenerys.
“That was the day I realised that alcohol can also be a depressant,” she starts.
“(The last day) was also magical. The crew from other stages had come in because they knew it was my last scene… When wrapping any movie, I would never stand up and say anything but for this … I started to say something, and literally couldn’t get through the first sentence without bawling my eyes out.
“My brother, who was in the crew, recorded it, and when I heard it back, oh my god, I can’t hear anything I’m saying because I’m crying too much.
“Every time it was a character’s last day, we’d have dinner and get drunk.
“That was the day, I was nursing a glass of wine and going, ‘I don’t feel any happier. I’m feeling very sad.’
Clarke reiterates her gratitude for being part of the show: “Game Of Thrones has opened a lot of doors that would’ve been firmly shut to me otherwise.
“Not only has it allowed for some doors to open, now, when I walk into a room, they see me as this strong female protagonist, which gives me goosebumps. It’s mad!
“Never in a million years would that be the case. That, feels very, very, good.”
The final season of Game Of Thrones premieres April 15, at 9am, and repeats at 10pm, on HBO (Astro Ch 411). Catch up on all the episodes of Game Of Thrones via Astro On Demand . For more information, go to astro.com.my/hbogameofthrones.