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Emilia Clarke reacts to Daenerys Targaryen’s fate: ‘I didn’t see this coming’

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“I really just had to ... wrestle with how I could make good on what they had written”

emilia clarke as daenerys targaryen in game of thrones series finale Helen Sloan/HBO

Emilia Clarke read the scripts for Game of Thrones season 8 nearly two years ago. In a new interview with The New Yorker, she says the final episodes, including the brutal, twisty, emotional series finale, subverted all expectation.

“I took a very long walk around London in a daze, not quite knowing how to digest the news,” Clarke says in the Q&A. “I hoped for some juicy things to get into, as I always do for each season, but I didn’t see this coming.”

“This” being a massive moment in Game of Thrones history, both for Daenerys and Westeros as a whole. And according to Clarke, the challenge of performing that moment didn’t subside until much into filming.

[Ed. note: this post contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones through the series finale.]

Halfway through “The Iron Throne,” Game of Thrones’ final episode, Jon Snow confronts Daenerys — his lover, his confidante, and his leader — over the devastation of King’s Landing. After soaking up the ash-covered aftermath and speaking to a fed-up Tyrion, the secret heir to the Targaryen throne decides there is only one choice: queenslaying. Jon takes a knife to Dany’s chest, lays her down for one more startling moment of romantic connection, then watches Drogon torch the Iron Throne into a melted puddle of tyrannical goop. Dany, after an eight-season campaign, ended the series on the death list.

“I really just had to sit there and wrestle with how I could make good on what they had written,” Dany tells The New Yorker of the surprising choice, and the controversial turn of events that made it possible. “Because that’s her. They are the writers. They have made this woman, and I’m going to take on what it is and try and interpret that to my best ability ... [So] I did what any actor is told to do and would do. You have to agree with your character. If you don’t agree with your character, then you shouldn’t take the job.”

Game of Thrones season 8 episode 6 - Jon Snow holds Daenerys’ dead body HBO

Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode proved polarizing and controversial for the dedicated audience. Many didn’t see how the once heroic Dany could transform into an innocent-killing tyrant overnight. But, at least by processing the moments through a psychology built up over years of playing the part, Clarke suggests that it does all make sense in the end.

“Even for a part that I’ve given so much to and I’ve felt so much for, and for a character that’s seen and lived through so much, I don’t know that there was any other way. But it was a shocker to read.”

In the interview, which is filled with anecdotes about how Clarke played the big death scene, the actress also explains how creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff compared Daenerys’s arc to an infamous film character: Lawrence of Arabia.

“I watched Lawrence of Arabia, and I was, like, Great, cool. He’s brilliant. He survived, and it’s wonderful. But then you remember how that movie ended, with Lawrence’s disintegration. I didn’t quite put those two things together. Or maybe I didn’t want to see it coming because I care about Daenerys too much.”

The classic tale of power, corruption, and the notion of a “savior” has some major parallels to Daenerys, and may be even clearer now that the series is over and available to watch as one big movie. Whether the audience can track the dramatic milestones is another issue entirely, but from the macro standpoint, Clarke feels satisfied.

“I feel very taken care of as a character in that sense,” the actress said in another post-mortem interview with Entertainment Weekly. “It’s a very beautiful and touching ending. Hopefully, what you’ll see in that last moment as she’s dying is: There’s the vulnerability — there’s the little girl you met in season 1. See? She’s right there. And now, she’s not there anymore.”

Gut reactions to the series finale will come and go. The legacy of Game of Thrones will be defined by watches and rewatches. The only thing everyone seems to agree on now? That the real person who “killed” it in the end was Emilia Clarke.

Read the full interviews over at The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly.