After Game of Thrones’ eighth season, the hit HBO series will come to an end. Fans of the show have been addicted to the cinematic-quality series since 2011 and, for many, it’s hard to imagine it ending. That’s the case even for the actors. "Ending Game of Thrones is ending 10 years of my life," Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, told the New Zealand publication Stuff, "and that has been 10 years of blockbusters." She continued, saying, "That’s what Game of Thrones is, it’s epic and it’s huge. My plan after this is to downscale."
Although we don’t know exactly what the future holds for Clarke, we do know we’re going to miss the cast in its entirety, of course, but especially the Mother of Dragons. After all, we’ve been watching Clarke quite literally transform from a brand new actress into a seasoned star over the course of a decade. Plus, she had already started transforming well before we watched her big television debut. Here’s just how much she’s changed.
An "idyllic" childhood
Long before Clarke became the Breaker of Chains, she was living a very simple life in Oxfordshire, a town about an hour’s drive northwest of London. "You know, I grew up with a stream in the garden and with fields everywhere. We used to go mushroom-picking. There were ducks," the star told Rolling Stone. "It was idyllic on every level."
Yet and still, Clarke and her older brother left their Thomas Kinkade-esque English countryside home to attend a private boarding school in Oxford. "It was a fancy school," the actress said of St. Edward’s School, "And we weren’t that fancy." During her time at the boarding school, she said she tried to fit in and become "everyone’s friend." Though, she never did end up fitting in. Unlike her classmates who had dreams of becoming professionals, like lawyers, and were interested in sports, Clarke was more interested in the arts.
Showboating her acting chops
"Nearly all I thought about was acting," Clarke wrote of her childhood in an article for The New Yorker. While her mom worked in marketing, Clarke’s father was a sound designer and worked on several plays in the theatre district of London.
Even before Clarke started attending school, her transformation as an actor was already taking shape. When she was just 3 years old, she accompanied her dad to work and became "entranced by backstage life." And, when Clarke’s father took her to see Show Boat for the first time, her infatuation with acting only grew. "Although I was ordinarily a loud and antsy child, I sat silent and rapt in the audience for more than two hours," Clarke revealed. "When the curtain came down, I stood on my seat and clapped wildly over my head." From then on, acting was Clarke’s main focus.
At 5 years old, she got her first lead role in a school play. Still, Clarke’s dad wasn’t on board with her acting ambitions. "He knew plenty of actors and, to his mind, they were habitually neurotic and unemployed," she wrote. Thankfully, that is not who his daughter became.
She’s always been "terrible" at doing her hair
Although you’d never know it, Clarke swears she’s "terrible at doing [her] own hair." When speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, Clarke admitted she’s never had the skill for it — and she has come to accept that she probably never will.
"I had a book of hairstyles when I was aged nine that my mum got me, that was like ‘how to do a French braid’ and months and months I poured over that book — and I can’t do it," the Game of Thrones actress confessed. If you’re thinking there’s no way that she can be completely awful at doing her own hair, she might just be able to convince you otherwise. She went on to add that she ends up burning her face or ears when attempting to curl her hair. Yikes. "I’m hopeless," she continued. Thankfully, the star has a team to help her while on set and prior to award shows.
She was "hardly a prodigy"
Okay, so she couldn’t never do her hair, but Clarke was still a natural at acting, right? Not quite. She admitted in The New Yorker that she was "hardly a prodigy." The young Clarke forgot her lines in that very first play and ended up staring into the audience. "In the front row, the teachers were trying to help by mouthing my lines," she wrote. "But I just stood there, with no fear, very calm. It’s a state of mind that has carried me throughout my career."
Of course, Clarke persisted. She would go on to star in several school productions and even auditioned for the West End production of The Goodbye Girl. Spoiler: she didn’t get the part. Once Clarke graduated, she applied to several prestigious art schools, but each rejected her application. The actress revealed that she eventually reapplied and was finally accepted into the Drama Centre London. Though, she admitted she only just barely made it. "I got a phone call saying, ‘This girl broke her leg. The place is free if you want it.’" Although she was accepted, she claimed she was "never the favorite."
She followed her mom’s skincare advice
It’s hard to imagine Clarke not being a favorited actress in drama school, but the star revealed in The New Yorker that all of "the ingénue parts" went to "the tall, willowy, impossibly blond girls." Clarke, on the other hand, was cast to play "old ladies and bedraggled prostitutes." Although she would get to play the willowy blonde eventually, Clarke’s natural look is much more subdued.
"I was really lucky; my mum always drilled it into me to cleanse, tone and moisturise, wear SPF, and don’t wear too much make-up — and your skin will be good," Clarke told Harper’s Bazaar. The actress’ mom also encouraged her not to pluck her eyebrows, which is something she still avoids to this day.
"They’re virgin brows," she told the publication. Clarke said she only plucks a few stray hairs — to avoid a unibrow — and brushes them. Very occasionally, she’ll use a gel to hold them in place. Although she’s happy with her brows now, she admitted, "But I was the ugly unpopular kid for ages when everyone else [at school] didn’t have eyebrows and I did. My mum was like: trust me!"
She wasn’t always into the no makeup look
Despite developing a good skincare routine when she was young, Clarke’s makeup regimen has transformed over the years. "You know when you’re a kid you just whack [makeup] all on. It was a little like ‘here’s my face,’ and then, ‘Oh, my neck is a different colour’," she revealed to Vogue UK. While her mom schooled her in many beauty basics, Clarke still had a personal love of bronzer. But that’s not to say her mom didn’t try to help her make the best of it. Clarke revealed, "She was not afraid to be like, ‘Darling, if you’re going to put bronzer on, rub it in.’"
In the years since, Clarke has become a bigger fan of minimal makeup, but admits she "simply cannot live without mascara." Though her mother doesn’t have to worry about her daughter’s unblended bronzer these days, the star sends selfies to her mom before heading to red carpet events in the hopes of getting "the mum seal of approval." As a beauty marketer, Clarke’s mother certainly knows her stuff.
She has always been "super girly"
Though she would eventually depict a fierce, serious female warlord on screen, Harper’s Bazaar dubbed Clarke herself as "super girly." It’s true that the actress loves more feminine styles and brands. In an earlier interview with the publication, she explained, "When I was 11 or 12 or something, people would say, ‘Do you promise? Cross your heart, hope to die?’ I would be like, ‘I swear on Chanel.’" To her friends, that meant she was definitely serious.
As it turns out, playing dress up was — and still is — one of her favorite things. The star further revealed that she has quite a bit of pink in her wardrobe. She mentioned one of her then-current faves: "Pink Céline shoes, super pretty, they go with everything." But that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to get dirty. Those beautiful shoes ended up getting "covered in mud and s***" after the star wore them on a walk through Hampstead Heath, a London park.
From a "short, dark-haired, curvy Brit" to Daenerys Targaryen
In 2010, Clarke, despite never having landed a major leading role, auditioned for the role of Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones. "The part called for an otherworldly, bleached-blond woman of mystery," she revealed in The New Yorker. "I’m a short, dark-haired, curvy Brit." Regardless, she studied the lines she’d need to audition. And, as she revealed, they were "very strange lines." The first lines she had to learn were from the scene in Season 1, Episode 4 in which Daenerys’ brother Viserys attempts to hit her. The other lines came from the Season 1 finale, "Fire and Blood," where Daenerys walks into a fire and — spoiler! — comes out unharmed.
After reading for the series in London, she was called to Los Angeles, California to read once more — this time before the series’ creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss as well as HBO execs. There, she was reminded of all of the women with whom she attended drama school. "I tried not to look when I spotted another actor — tall, blond, willowy, beautiful — walking by." Nevertheless, the brunette Brit got the part.
You can never have too many wigs
Although Clarke auditioned without bleached blonde hair, the creators had no intention of having Daenerys become a brunette character. The HBO series is based on the books by George R.R. Martin and, in those books, Daenerys is described as having long, silvery hair. This would mean Clarke would not only have to don a wig, but a bald cap too. Game of Thrones hair designer Kevin Alexander explained to Time that a bald cap had to be used because a regular mesh cap would show Clarkes’ brunette roots.
Alexander revealed that deciding on the perfect color for Daenerys’ hair was difficult because "everyone had an opinion." It took at least two months and six or seven wigs to settle on the right shade of blonde. Now, Clarke has a total of four wigs, which have even been named: Dany, Diva, Candice, and Blondie.
Clarke would stay committed to her natural dark hair until the final season of Thrones. "F*** it, it’s the last season," she said of her thought process to Vanity Fair. "I’m going to dye my hair blond."
People have a lot of opinions about which body part?!
In a video interview for Rolling Stone‘s "The First Time" series, Clarke recalled the first time she ever looked up her name on a search engine. "The first time I googled myself was pretty much the last time I googled myself because I don’t do it any more — because it’s really bad," she joked. "Like, don’t do it. Don’t google yourself ever." The star continued, adding quizzically, "Um, people have a lot of opinions on my butt." We doubt Clarke could’ve imagined a day when that would become a popular internet query. The web is a strange place, no doubt.
So, what’s up with the butt obsession? Clarke didn’t reveal what exactly people were saying about her backside on the internet, but Rosie Mac, Clarke’s Game of Thrones body double, revealed on Instagram (via Express) in 2015 that she’d been doing a "butt work out" everyday. Identical, toned tushes are apparently important in a series that frequently bares all.
She doesn’t regret these scenes
Although Clarke has a body double, she made the decision to star in her own nude scenes. "…This is all me, all proud, all strong," she confirmed to Entertainment Weekly in 2016. "I’m just feeling genuinely happy I said ‘Yes.’ That ain’t no body double!" Still, Clarke said she wanted to remind everyone that it was a long time ago. "Taking off my clothes is not the easiest thing, but with the magic of the effects, I don’t have to do a Season 1 and go on a cliff and do it," she told Entertainment Weekly. "I’m in control of it." Part of Clarke’s control over her scenes entails having a closed set.
That said, her scenes have not been without criticism. The actress told Elle, "I get a lot of crap for having done nude scenes and sex scenes. That, in itself, is so antifeminist." Despite the criticism, the star was a fan of the 2017 love scene in which Daenerys takes more control of her sexuality. "It’s brilliant," she revealed. "I actually went up to [the show’s creators] and thanked them." She added that it was the scene she’d "been waiting for."
Clarke may just be stronger than Khaleesi
As Game of Thrones has progressed, Khaleesi has become significantly stronger. We didn’t know it at the time, but Clarke herself was going through a major transformation in the early seasons. In an article for The New Yorker, the star revealed that she had a brain aneurism when she was just 24 years old. After having a "minimally invasive" surgery to seal the aneurysm, Clarke began her recovery in the hospital. There, she experienced aphasia, a disorder resulting from brain damage that affects one’s ability to speak. This terrifying condition lasted for a week.
While in the hospital, Clarke was also informed by doctors that she had another, smaller aneurism on the opposite side of her brain. The plan, at that time, was to keep an eye on it. When doctors found it had gotten larger, they did a proactive surgery, but during the surgery she suffered a "massive bleed," which led to her having major brain surgery. Recovering was neither physically nor emotionally easy for the star and it’s nothing short of remarkable that she was able to do so while filming Game of Thrones and completing interviews.
Coming to terms with her fame
When interviewed for Rolling Stone‘s "The First Time" series in 2017, Clarke was asked when she first realized she was famous. "I still haven’t quite realized," she laughed. Instead, she relayed an anecdote about when her older brother first discovered she was famous, which was when her Game of Thrones character made it onto The Simpsons.
However, Rolling Stone contributing editor Alex Morris said the star has changed since he met her in 2013, when she was pretty much unrecognizable without the blonde wig. "She’d still seemed slightly in awe of the fact that she’d gotten the job at all, which was only her third acting role ever," he explained.
When he met back with the star in 2017, though, he wrote that it’d become obvious that she’d changed. She’d become more "Khaleesi-esque," according to Morris. "She has, after all, now spent the bulk of her adult life embodying one of our culture’s most striking images of female domination, while eloquently explaining her onscreen nudity in broadly feminist terms." Quite a transformation for someone to make by their 30th birthday, that’s for sure.
She’s gone back to her roots
Ahead of the 2019 Oscars, Emilia Clarke debuted her new hair. "Blondes have more fun eh?!" she captioned her Instagram photo. "Well I will see about that." The star’s hair was cropped short and back to a stunning brunette shade.
Before going back to her brunette locks, though, the star had been rocking her bleached blonde hair that, over time, was getting shorter and shorter. She told Harper’s Bazaar in September 2018 that she had to keep cutting it because her hair was practically "dying" from all of the bleach. She explained that she was actually attempting to grow out her blonde hair because of the damaging effects of bleach and because she had started to "miss having nice hair." She teased the idea of getting a pixie cut, but revealed that she probably wouldn’t.
When Clarke showed up on the red carpet in February 2019, she managed to pull off a familiar shade, but in a whole new way. No, it wasn’t a pixie, but we can’t help but wonder: will she attempt that look in the future? Hmm…