Spoilers for the Game of Thrones series finale follow below.
The Game of Thrones finale was surely one of the most highly anticipated television events of this century thus far, but fans of the show had already been rocked a few episodes back by what felt like a sudden turn towards the dark side for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). In the penultimate episode, “The Bells,” Dany broke bad fully, laying waste to a surrendered King’s Landing and killing every man, woman, and child in her way. And in the finale, well, Dany gets stabbed in the heart by her beau, Jon Snow.
Heading into the finale, many assumed Dany had to die, but it was up in the air as to who would do the killing. After giving a very Hitler-esque speech about her impending world domination (or at least, visually it was made to look Hitler-esque), Dany retired to the Throne Room alone where she’s met by Jon Snow, who begs her one last time to be merciful. She claims she is being merciful, but then goes on and on about all the people she’s going to set free—which to Jon means she plans on going city-by-city and burning them to the ground if they don’t bend the knee. So he stabs her right in the chest, and she dies in his arms.
It’s a pretty intense conclusion to the story arc of the Mother of Dragons, and one that—like a lot of Season 8—felt rushed. Not just to fans, but to Clarke herself, who gave a couple of interviews about the finale and was fairly candid in her responses. Speaking to EW, Clarke says when she got to her death scene in “The Iron Throne,” she had to take a long walk:
“I cried,” Clarke says. “And I went for a walk. I walked out of the house and took my keys and phone and walked back with blisters on my feet. I didn’t come back for five hours. I’m like, ‘How am I going to do this?’”
But the actress says she had a feeling Dany was going to die all along:
“I thought she was going to die,” she continues. “I feel very taken care of as a character in that sense. 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…”
As for actually filming the scene, Clarke tells the New Yorker she wanted to leave fans with the impression they got from Daenerys in the first season:
“I wanted to play a game with what the scene was about. It’s not that I wanted to show her as “mad,” because I really don’t like that word. I don’t enjoy fans calling me “the Mad Queen.” But she is so far gone in grief, in trauma, and in pain. And yet our brains are fascinating in the way that they find a fast route to feel O.K., whether you’re relying on a substance or you’re mildly deluded.
If you see abuse in someone young, they often are able to mentally leave the room. I wanted Daenerys to be there. I wanted to show her as we saw her in the beginning: young, naïve, childlike, open, and full of love and hope. I wanted so much for that to be the last memory of her.”
But that doesn’t entirely mean Clarke 100% agrees with the direction of Dany this season, and when asked by EW about Jon Snow’s actions—i.e. the fact that he murders her—Clarke has a pretty rational suggestion for an alternate course of action:
“Um, he just doesn’t like women does he?” Clarke quips. “He keeps f—king killing them. No. If I were to put myself in his shoes I’m not sure what else he could have done aside from … oh, I dunno, maybe having a discussion with me about it? Ask my opinion? Warn me? It’s like being in the middle of a phone call with your boyfriend and they just hang up and never call you again. ‘Oh, this great thing happened to me at work today —hello?’ And that was 9 years ago…”
And Clarke admits to EW it was a struggle to wrap her head around Dany’s turn:
“You’re about to ask if me — as Emilia — disagreed with her at any point,” Clarke intuits. “It was a f—king struggle reading the scripts. What I was taught at drama school — and if you print this there will be drama school teachers going ‘that’s bulls—t,’ but here we go: I was told that your character is right. Your character makes a choice and you need to be right with that. An actor should never be afraid to look ugly. We have uglier sides to ourselves. And after 10 years of working on this show, it’s logical. Where else can she go? I tried to think what the ending will be. It’s not like she’s suddenly going to go, ‘Okay, I’m gonna put a kettle on and put cookies in the oven and we’ll just sit down and have a lovely time and pop a few kids out.’ That was never going to happen. She’s a Targaryen.”
As for why Dany decides to burn King’s Landing to the ground, Clarke broke it down for EW:
“She genuinely starts with the best intentions and truly hopes there isn’t going to be something scuttling her greatest plans,” she says. “The problem is [the Starks] don’t like her and she sees it. She goes, ‘Okay, one chance.’ She gives them that chance and it doesn’t work and she’s too far to turn around. She’s made her bed, she’s laying in it. It’s done. And that’s the thing. I don’t think she realizes until it happens — the real effect of their reactions on her is: ‘I don’t give a s—t.’ This is my whole existence. Since birth! She literally was brought into this world going, ‘Run!’ These f—kers have f—ked everything up, and now it’s, ‘You’re our only hope.’ There’s so much she’s taken on in her duty in life to rectify, so much she’s seen and witnessed and been through and lost and suffered and hurt. Suddenly these people are turning around and saying, ‘We don’t accept you.’ But she’s too far down the line. She’s killed so many people already. I can’t turn this ship around. It’s too much. One by one, you see all these strings being cut. And there’s just this last thread she’s holding onto: There’s this boy. And she thinks, ‘He loves me, and I think that’s enough.’ But is it enough? Is it? And it’s just that hope and wishing that finally there is someone who accepts her for everything she is and … he f—king doesn’t.”
Indeed, he stabs her in the heart. Clarke tells the New Yorker what was going through Dany’s head when she decided to burn King’s Landing to the ground:
“We wanted very much to show this moment of humanity and choice, a real person deciding to do the thing that they know will only harm themselves, but they can’t help it. I think it’s an incredibly human trait. We all have that thing, whether it’s binging on chocolate or drinking seventeen bottles of wine or having an affair. Whatever it is, everyone’s got this dark part of themselves that no one really likes inhabiting. It’s something we all really struggle with.”
Clarke admits that having read the final season scripts, she became self-conscious about fans turning on Daenerys given how her story arc plays out in Season 8. And fittingly, she ends her interview with EW thusly:
“But having said all of the things I’ve just said…” Clarke says. “I stand by Daenerys. I stand by her! I can’t not.”