[Spoilers for Game Of Thrones season 8, episode 6.]
Emilia Clarke doesn’t like being called the “Mad Queen.” In a pair of new, reflective interviews with The New Yorker and Entertainment Weekly, the actress behind Daenerys Targaryen sought to explain her own justifications for what many fans deemed to be an abrupt, unearned heel turn, as well as how she’d like people to remember the character. Surprise, it’s not as a fire-happy lunatic.
“I wanted to play a game with what the scene was about,” she said of episode five’s mass fire-bombing of King’s Landing. “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’s 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.”
That brings her to her final scene, the one where Jon Snow gores her next to the Iron Throne. “It’s a very beautiful and touching ending,” she said. “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…”
Both profiles capture Clarke’s shock at the turn of events—“it was a fucking struggle” to read the scripts, she said—and her worries of how perceptions of the character would evolve in the public eye. Hilariously, Clarke channels this anxiety through a friendly encounter with Beyoncé, who told Clarke she thinks she’s “brilliant” on the show.
“I see this vision, this angel, this incredible woman float towards me,” Clarke said. “I can’t quite control myself. And Beyoncé says to me, ‘Oh, my goodness, it’s so wonderful to meet you. I think you’re brilliant.’ I just couldn’t handle it! I was on the verge of tears. I could see myself reflected in her eyes. I could see her go, ‘Oh, no. I misjudged this. This girl is crazy and I’m not going to have a real conversation with another celebrity. I’m having a conversation with a crazed fan who’s looking at me like a rabbit in the headlights.’ Which is exactly what I was. I said, ‘I’ve seen you live in concert and I think you’re amazing and wonderful! Wonderful!’ And all I wanted to scream was ‘Please, please still like me even though my character turns into a mass-killing dictator! Please still think that I’m representing women in a really fabulous way.’”
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Ultimately, though, Clarke won’t condemn her character. “I stand by Daenerys,” she said. “I stand by her! I can’t not.”
She bid adieu to the show on Instagram last night. “Finding the words to write this post has left me overwhelmed with how much I want to say but how small words feel in comparison to what this show and Dany have meant to me,” she wrote. “The mother of dragons chapter has taken up the whole of my adult life. This woman has taken up the whole of my heart. I’ve sweated in the blaze of dragon fire, shed many tears at those who left our family early, and wrung my brain dry trying to do Khaleesi and the masterful words, actions (and names) I was given, justice.”
Just don’t call her “Mad Queen” if you see her in the wild. Don’t ask her not to kill you, either. “And now the favorite thing is ‘Oh, don’t kill me!’” she said. “Oh, O.K. I won’t tip over a candle just yet. Don’t worry. You’re safe.”