Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, Queen of Dragons, true heir to the Seven Kingdoms and a heroine to millions of fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels. It would be a big part for any actress, but for Emilia Clarke it was also her first major role: a baptism of fire in more ways than one.
In the first season, Daenerys saw her brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd) crowned in molten gold, and her husband Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa) die not once but twice. Then, in the final scene of the series, she walked naked from her husband’s burning funeral pyre, three newly hatched dragons snapping at the air around her.
In season two, Daenerys is trying to guide her scaly children, along with her small band of Dothraki warriors, across an enormous desert.
Clarke talks to Ed Cumming about how her own development has matched her character's.
What's Daenerys's situation in the new series?
She's in a very frustrating place. At the end of the first season she had a kind of spiritual peak with the birth of her dragons, and now she's back down to earth, having to deal with the practicalities of everything to come. It's difficult for her.
What similarities do you see between her and yourself?
We both started out as naïve young girls with plenty to learn. Season one was sometimes petrifying and terrifying and horrifying. Dany was with me and helped me to step away from myself. I feel like I’ve learned a huge amount. I think we're similar in that we try not to make the same mistakes twice. Not to sound too much like an obnoxious actor, but the character never really leaves me. I've read all the books many times over, so I sometimes find it easier being on set, because it can be hard to get out of character.
Fantasy fans are a notoriously obsessive lot. Had any proposals?
Ha! Nobody's proposed yet, no. Nobody's gone down on one knee. But my biggest aim in the first season was to keep the fans happy. I knew that Dany was a loved and hated character in the books, and I wanted to be true to everyone's imagination of her while also being true to my interpretation. If I've managed that, then fantastic. But I don't really look at stuff online. At the start I was looking and found something which wasn't very nice, so now I leave it all. If there's something that people are desperately happy with or unhappy with, you tend to hear about it anyway.
Has life changed for you?
My life is unrecognisable compared to what it was - Game of Thrones has opened doors that were never there before. But it can be dangerous to see it in those terms, I think. It's best to take it as it comes and work as hard as you come, and hopefully the other things fall into place.
Do the actors talk to George R R Martin?
Yeah, he’s around. We can talk to him whenever we want. but on the whole he lets us get on with it. If we were doing anything really wrong I think he’d let us know, but he’s happy I think. But at the moment he’s writing so we don’t want to disturb him. (lol good joke Emilia)
Who's your favourite character?
In season one it was Arya (Maisie Williams), and this time I think Brienne (Gwendolen Christie).
What’s the role of women in Game of Thrones?
You’re still in an environment where men dominate, and it’s strange to see a strong woman. Dany's fortunate in some ways in that most of the strong men in her life have died so it’s just her. But with Cersei you see this huge struggle with the fact that her son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) is turning into a stronger male person but she’s still a woman. It’s an interesting powerplay. The women have the harder path, so they're more interesting than the men who are born into it.
How much is the TV series loyal to the books?
They’re completely loyal character for character, but you get to some points where George Martin’s imagination is too huge, and even Peter Jackson’s budget couldn’t handle it. It’s difficult to keep everyone happy – Game of Thrones is definitely adapted for the screen, but it’s also fundamentally loyal to the books.
What makes Game of Thrones so captivating?
It goes further than any other fantasy. It’s got things that everyone can relate to. It has realistic families, and real things that are hard to watch and make it impossible for children to watch. It's weirdly addictive - it leaves you wanting more but still has substance. Also they hire incredibly talented people to make it - as long as I keep my eyes closed during my bits, I know it's going to be ok!