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In a personal essay for The New Yorker published this week, Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke revealed that she suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm shortly after filming the show’s first season at the age of 24 and then another a few months later.

Clarke details all the stress she was feeling as anticipation for the show’s premiere was heating up and she put pressure on herself to deliver on all the hype. She said she spent a lot of time in the gym trying to work through that stress and it was there that it eventually all came to a head.


Emilia recalls how in February 2011, she was training in the gym when she was hit with a skull-splitting headache and nausea. She was rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with “a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain.”

“As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter,” Emilia writes. “For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required 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 details her three-hour “minimally invasive” brain surgery, her panic at the subsequent aphasia she suffered, her stay in the ICU and her recovery process. A month after she was admitted, Emilia was walking out of the hospital and back to her press tour, however, that wasn’t the end of her struggle.

“I was deeply unsure of myself. I was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die,” she said. “I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming. I sipped on morphine in between interviews. The pain was there, and the fatigue was like the worst exhaustion I’d ever experienced, multiplied by a million.”

Shortly after filming GoT season two, a scheduled brain scan revealed that another once-dormant aneurysm on the other side of her brain was threatening to rupture, prompting doctors to perform preventative surgery. The minimally invasive procedure went awry, however and the doctors had to remove sections of Emilia’s skull until she looked, “as though [she] had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced.”

Clarke assures that she’s now “a hundred percent” and “healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes.” She admits that it’s been important to her to keep this story from the public up until now, but with GoT ending, she felt compelled to tell it as part of the launch of her charity SameYou which offers resources to patients recovering from brain injuries.