Emilia Clarke pens emotional essay about surviving two aneurysms while filming ‘Game of Thrones’

Emilia Clarke holding a print of the UK Mail postage stamp featuring Daenerys Targaryen in 2018.

Emilia Clarke holding a print of the UK Mail postage stamp featuring Daenerys Targaryen in 2018.

Here at Watchers on the Wall, we don’t often report on the personal lives of the cast and crew of Game of Thrones — we like to respect their privacy and focus on the art they create. However, Emilia Clarke recently opened up about a life-threatening situation she faced not once, but twice during filming of the series, and how it affected her professional as well as personal life. Have some tissues handy, readers, because this story is an emotional rollercoaster.

In an essay for The New Yorker, Clarke reveals that in February of 2011 — at only 24 years old and having just wrapped filming on the first season of Thrones — she suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain. She’d had an aneurysm that could only be relieved by emergency brain surgery. Doctors performed a three-hour-long procedure, inserting a wire into one of her femoral arteries and threading up through the body and into the brain, where it sealed off the aneurysm. Clarke spent a month in the hospital recovering from the surgery and its aftereffects, including a period of aphasia, a loss of the ability to speak and communicate — something that terrified her beyond belief.

“In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug,” she writes. “I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job — my entire dream of what my life would be — centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.”

It was the first time — but not the last — that Clarke would be in the hospital for a life-threatening aneurysm. Doctors had discovered a smaller one on the other side of her brain and were monitoring its status. In 2013, she went for one of the regular brain scans prescribed by her doctors, and they found the other aneurysm had grown. They recommended another simple operation — except this one was derailed by complications.

Clarke writes that she woke up in agonizing pain, only to be told that there was a massive bleed inside her brain and they needed to perform a much more invasive surgery to avoid catastrophic consequences. So the doctors opened up her skull to operate.

Clarke in Season 2, which she says was the hardest season to film and participate in press for after her first aneurysm surgery.

Clarke in Season 2, which she says was the hardest season to film and participate in press for after her first aneurysm surgery.

The essay has a happy ending, of course — she writes that she’s now “at one hundred percent” — but it’s a story of raw emotion, of hope and despair and everything in between, written in Clarke’s own words and coming from her own heart. I don’t want pull too much more from this essay, because the story is hers alone to tell.

That said, in an accompanying interview from The New Yorker Radio Hour, Clarke talks a bit more about not just the surgeries themselves, but how they affected her experience in the early seasons of Thrones. She says she “didn’t want to cause any trouble” for the show, mostly because she was a young actor given a great job — and she didn’t want to lose it.

“I was a young girl who was given a huge opportunity,” she tells host David Remnick. “I did not, for any reason, want to give anyone a reason to think I was anything other than capable of fulfilling the duties they had given me. And I didn’t know what the show was at that moment. All I knew was I had a job.”

She also says that Season 2 was the worst for her, battling constant pain and fatigue even as the show was exploding in popularity across the world. She says she would often bring a “morphine bottle and a straw” to press events and photo shoots. HBO was enormously supportive, she says, arranging for photo shoots in which she “would just lie down” and making sure there was a separate area for her to rest. The interview is short, only about 17 minutes long, and it’s worth it to hear Emilia speak about the experience.

Needless to say, the essay and interview are hard to take in. But they’re a wonderful example of strength and resolve, and proof that Clarke, like her counterpart Daenerys, knows that the lessons of staying strong when faced with darkness and fear are lessons worth learning.

54 responses

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    1. I’m happy Emilia was able to survive and overcome this and is able to tell her story. What a scary situation. I have a friend who recently lost a family member to a brain aneurysm. Scary stuff.

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    2. Blood of my Blood….

      Just goes to show you that you really never know what other people are going through….

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    3. The bit about her saying that if she was going to die, she might as well do it in a TV interview had me laughing and sobered at the same time. She’s incredibly lucky, and a fighter. Even more amazing that they kept it under wraps.

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    4. Oh, Emilia! 💔💔💔. I’ve seen the effects that aneurysms and subarachnoid hemorrhages can have, and they’re both devastating and terrifying. It sounds like she went through absolute hell, and very few people knew it. To endure everything she went through … all while continuing to work on such a physically and emotionally demanding show … and still emerge from her ordeal as supernaturally bright, resilient, and positive as she has proven herself to be is an accomplishment that I really can’t quantify. She’s so brave. ❤️❤️❤️

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    5. Holy cow! <3 <3 <3 Emilia! Just, wow. What a badass. <3 <3 <3

      I sincerely hope she is now getting some extremely well deserved rest.

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    6. Holy crap. Wow. Damn. As The Bastard said above, you never really know what other people are going through…

      I thought three surgeries this past November was enough to send me to the psych ward. Yet, even with multiple brain surgeries and a near-death experience, Emilia managed to come across as a walking ball of sunshine in like everything she did and successfully worked an incredibly demanding job without a hint of anything having been wrong – much less this. So much respect!

      Ten Bears:
      …And despite that harrowing experience, she was always full of laughter and sunshine.

      Yup!!!!

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    7. Wow. We are so lucky to live in a time of modern medicine… but that must also so often be matched with true grit. She is a warrior, for sure, to have lived through all of this and keep it all private. So glad she’s okay.

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    8. She has always come across as a very lovely person, I really hope this is all in the past and behind her now, and that she is able to have the happy life she deserves.

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    9. Wow, I don’t care for her GOT character all that much but I’ve always liked Emilia who seems to be the polar opposite of Dany in real life. Hard to imagine all she has suffered and really respect her decision to make this public, whilst of course wishing she doesn’t suffer any potential repeat.

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    10. It’s a testament to her skill as an actress that this really never came through at all. Her Season 2 performance does not show any of this.

      Nor do any of her interviews or public appearances. She’s always seemed extremely energetic, relaxed and happy.

      To be dealing with so much at such an age, during your first job, working on an extremely popular show, must have been terrifying, but she handled it very impressively.

      I’m glad all this happened years back and that she’s since been doing very well.

      When I first saw the headline, I thought maybe this was something she’d gone through recently. Good to know she’s made a fully recovery.

      Also, this is a f*cking scary story.

      When a healthy woman in her mid twenties can suffer a life threatening stroke, it really makes you appreciate how lucky we are to be okay at a given moment. Because it can sure change fast.

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    11. I hope she will be alright now. It must have been hard for her to play to be so funny and keep on acting while feeling terrible.
      Emilia is such a great person, I really love when she’s doing interviews, she’s always so funny. Also loved the Omaze clips she made. She really should do more movies like ‘Me before you’, because no-one can play it that good as she did. I also like her as Daenerys, some of here scenes are my favourite scenes of the whole series. Although I think she shouldn’t do action movies in the future, her strength in acting is elsewhere.

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    12. After going through all of that, she has come out on the other side such a positive, generous human being. All the best to her, I hope she never has to go through something like that again.

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    13. I liked Emilia more than Dany from the start – and I do like Dany very much. Emilia as a person seems so kind-hearted, so sweet and she has that rare gift to brighten up the screen when she appears, even in a plain interview. I am trully happy that she’s with us and she was able to battle through this health issue, and for portraying Dany in the way she did – GOT wouldn’t be what it is without her and all the other cast. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been, a young girl going through all that, with such professionalism and such inner strengh! I think that she surpasses Dany and her dragons – she’s the coolest girl. 💖💖💖

      Reading Kit’s interview and now Emilia’s, I’m thinking that both of them for different reasons, have brought that very special, personal thing to the characters they play, something of their own qualities, a touch of their inner struggles and personal experiences and it is that which makes the portrayal of their characters so human, so relatable and so ‘real’ no matter how scifi the story is. 😎😍

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    14. She ‘s awesome in so many ways..her joie de vivre is contagious ..knowing what she has been through, it is even greater than what it seems..

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    15. Ser Not Appearing in this Series,
      It’s likely she’ll have to make a brain scan every year for the rest of her life (at least recommended by her doctor/s). You probably can imagine how nervous she must be during that time of the year. In the meantime you are prone to forget it for the time being. I can imagine, because I have to go make a brain scan every year (I skipped some, but I also never had an aneurysm…the article scared the shit out of me and I’m going this year. 🤞)

      Btw:

      inserting a wire into one of her femoral arteries and threading up through the body and into the brain,

      This sounds scary, but it isn’t (although you have to lie down for 24h after because of it, incl. peeing in a bedpan, or you will bleed out from the punctured artery.). They also do this for angiographies, where you are awake and you feel how they pump the contrast agent directly into your brain (it’s warm).

      Doctors performed a three-hour-long procedure, […] where it sealed off the aneurysm.

      This is the wild part for me. And the second surgery of course.

      Let’s hope she’ll never have to experience something like this ever again. Now her positivity is even more incredible to me. I wish you good health, Emilia!

      PS: And yes, her charity is worth a link. 🙂
      https://www.sameyou.org/

      PPS: Seems likely now it was Emilia who is the actress that fainted from exhaustion in that one scene of S8, right? Low blood pressure and all?

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    16. Nick20,

      Life can be scary. Anything can happen and many times we are unprepared. I admire Emilia, she’s a strong person, especially for one so young!

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    17. My admiration for her strength and positivity known no bounds. That was also fantastically written. I teared up several times.

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    18. Ten Bears:
      …And despite that harrowing experience, she was always full of laughter and sunshine.

      Right?!!
      It’s very good to hear that she is “100%”…stress is not conducive to brain healing (that’s an understatement), and the stress of being such a critical character on GOT…wow.

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    19. All I can think of now is that while she was screaming, WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!?!?!'” full out, she could possibly have had a second aneurysm burst! You would never know anything was wrong by watching her in the show. What a trooper. She is an inspiration, and I wish her nothing but good health and a great career going forward.

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    20. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to soldier through filming, doing press and interviews with this hanging over you. Emilia, you truly are the Mother of Dragons!

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    21. Chilli,

      “I also like her as Daenerys, some of here scenes are my favourite scenes of the whole series. Although I think she shouldn’t do action movies in the future, her strength in acting is elsewhere.”

      ________
      A: Comedy. Musical comedy. Romantic comedy. Screwball comedy. Physical comedy. Ensemble comedy. Any kind of comedy.

      She’s got a weapons-grade great sense of humour, impeccable timing, and an infectious laugh. She doesn’t take herself too seriously. She isn’t afraid to act goofy. It’s all so endearing, it almost makes me wish she didn’t have to play Daenerys so straight and serious.

      P.S. She was really good in a supporting role as Jude Law’s estranged daughter in “Dom Hemingway.” She played a singer. The movie was sort of a “black comedy”, and though her part wasn’t “funny”, it showed she can sing.

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    22. So Emmy nom-season started already? Harrowing story, but the timing is a little bit odd.. why now before S8? Why not after?

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    23. Nick20,

      I too find it incredible that in S2 Emilia showed no outward signs of what she was going through. If she hadn’t written this essay, none of us would have been any the wiser.

      A thing like that takes real courage. She really is – ‘The Mother of Dragons”

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    24. Such an amazing and inspirational woman.

      Incredible she got through all that while being on the worlds biggest tv series and stress of becoming famous.

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    25. As much as I disagree with Daenerys as a character, I have to say that Emilia is still one of my favorite of the cast. Her enthusiasm for the show, and her lighting up the room with her smile made it clear how wonderful she is as a person.

      Emilia Clarke, queen of the smiles, long may she bright us with her laughter.

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    26. This showcases Ms Clarke’s character, force of will and heart, battling through that and keeping herself (all the traits that make her unique and special) intact. It’s a sobering experience to come close as she did with the dark side of life, and still keep the brightness of life shining. I know from experience, it happened to me several times (the reaper calls) before I was 25, she maintained herself better than I did after the 1st and 2nd time. That’s why she succeeded and flourishes as a person.

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    27. Enharmony1625:
      “…Emilia, you truly are the Mother of Dragons!”

      ________
      She’s my Khaleesi. From this day, until her last day.

      PS: I don’t think I could hold it together and put on a happy face for the public if I had to go through violent painful headaches, and then two femoral artery threading procedures, followed by brain surgery. I’d be all “woe is me, this sucks, this isn’t fair, I’m only 24, I just got a once in a lifetime career opportunity.”

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    28. And yet she is still so full of life, happiness, and warmth. Just listening to her interviews makes one laugh and smile. Such a beautiful person inside and out.

      And I’ve always said…. Emilia possesses the most important quality that makes her the perfect Daenerys: Screen Presence and charisma. When shes on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her. Doesn’t matter who she is performing with, she takes the entire screen. Its not something that can be learned. You either have it, or you don’t.

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    29. Also, I hope season 8 gives her some amazing scenes, so she can take home that emmy trophy for best actress that she rightly deserves.

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    30. All the hugs and love to Emilia ❤️

      SiriuslyStarTarg:

      Reading Kit’s interview and now Emilia’s, I’m thinking that both of them for different reasons, have brought that very special, personal thing to the characters they play, something of their own qualities, a touch of their inner struggles and personal experiences and it is that which makes the portrayal of their characters so human, so relatable and so ‘real’ no matter how scifi the story is. 😎😍

      Beautifully said.

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    31. I can’t believe she went through all that behind the scenes whilst filming, learning two new languages, all that traveling, promoting all while having a smile on her face. I mean I remember those videos from comic con and you never would of guessed that was going on but it does make sense now why she’s never gone back to comic con after that trying experience. Emilia really is a survivor and I’m so glad we’ve gotten to know her through Game Of Thrones.

      What’s horrible is I’ve seen people twisting her words bypassing all about her almost death experiences and saying “she went to a private school, how dare she try to act middle class”
      and can’t believe I read this “It is the timing of the story that is making people suspicious. The person playing the most iconic GOT character with a whole PR team behind her decides to drop this highly moving and powerful story just a few weeks before the final season. An article designed to get her sympathy from everyone. It feels like pre-emptive action against the backlash the actor will get when the character turns evil. People feel suspicious that it is a cynical manipulation.”
      What is wrong with people, Emilia is literally launching a charity and puts her personal story behind it and people all make it about hating a fictional character, absolutely disgusting

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    32. Well, that was something. At first it was difficult to believe that someone like her would have suffered such a freak condition which could’ve killed her at any time. She’s always seemed cheerful, outgoing, energetic, like someone without a care or worry in the world, & the picture of health…while for the past several years her seemingly constant joy must’ve in part been gratitude for the truly miraculous recovery! I fully understand the reason for having kept it secret, though. Think I’d have made the same decision in that position. Awesome that she pulled through with no lasting effects, and hopefully this charity can help increase the likelihood of that outcome for others with the same problem. And I imagine Dany’s S7 throne room speech to Jon was easy to deliver since the same spirit of perseverance, resilience, determination, and inner strength is strong in her.

      PPS: Seems likely now it was Emilia who is the actress that fainted from exhaustion in that one scene of S8, right? Low blood pressure and all?

      I thought the same, but then went, “Wouldn’t she have probably included it in the essay, as it would’ve apparently been the first symptom in years?” That anecdote just felt to me like a bit more of a surprise than it would’ve been in Emilia’s case, where the showrunners would have known the cause immediately…Idk though.

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    33. Mel,

      I have seen some of these comments, even one in this thread. If I’m sure of one thing it is that Emilia doesn’t need an Emmy to validate her. She isn’t some diva or elitist. Unless I have missed some huge story out there, she seems to be very real and genuine to me.

      Maybe, just maybe her story is coming out now because hollywood, and many fans, just lost Luke Perry to a stroke. I know he wasn’t in his twenties and may seem old to some at 52, but as a 47 year old he was very very young. Awareness, knowledge, and interest are all ways to shine a light on all kinds of issues. Without any of the three we have no progress.

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    34. Stimpy Stark,

      The thing is that it’s just so unbelievable. But if it’s true indeed, and she’s not the person to lie about such things, I really have the uppermost respect for her and what she’s been through. She’s one of the funniest persons I have ever seen in interviews. To do that with all that suffering, it’s just beyond words!

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    35. Roberta Baratheon:
      All I can think of now is that while she was screaming, WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!?!?!’” full out, she could possibly have had a second aneurysm burst! You would never know anything was wrong by watching her in the show.What a trooper. She is an inspiration, and I wish her nothing but good health and a great career going forward.

      ______

      Nobody goofs on Emilia Clarke for her signature line “Where are my dragons!” better than Emilia herself. I always enjoy this little montage…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDPLsIpCCB8

      Some highlights:
      “Where are my dragons!”
      (0:01)
      Where is my wig!”
      (0:06)
      “Where is my orange mocha frappacino!”
      (0:08)
      “Where are my kale chips!”
      (0:13)
      “Where is my accent?”
      (0:16)
      “Where are my Spanx?”
      (0:46)
      “Where is my cleavage?”
      (1:09)
      “Where is my butt plug?”
      (1:26)

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    36. Ten Bears,

      I love that so much. And I forgot how much I swooned over her clothing in that shoot. I can’t wear those kinds of dresses or I look less romantic and more Hyacinth Bucket, but she’s fantastic.

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    37. Chilli,

      Chilli, I agree it is pretty wild. One of my friends suffered a stroke and it really affected him. I love him like a brother, but he has really struggled since, but he is a hero to me. I know Emilias’ was an aneurysm, but that leads to a stroke if not caught. I myself suffered a pulmonary aneurysm due to a blood clot related to complications from back surgery. It doesn’t affect the brain, but is just as scary and can be fatal.

      I too was lucky enough to realize something was wrong immediately and got treated right away. I don’t know if that is the key or not. My dads best friend was in Vegas having a great time, went up to his room to change, told his wife he had a bad headache, and that was it. I think every case is unique.

      I just can’t see the upside for her making this up. There are tons of ways to garner attention to causes, and I believe all any GOT star would have to do is just show up and speak out to get our attention. I don’t think embellishing a story would help them. In this day and age although medical files are private, in the USA anyway, I cant speak for all countries but think it is in many, you could still fact check some of her story.

      Who knows crazier things have happened, but I do believe this and echo your sentiment, pure respect. I have that same respect for my friend and for anyone that continues to push on. It is one of the best parts of the human spirit and I am amazed and humbled when I see it.

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    38. I just love her! Beyond impressed that she went through all that and managed to pull of the gruelling filming demands that are expected of GOT actors (and put on her iconic sunny smile for promotion while feeling like she’s at death’s door).

      Emilia is my favourite of all the actors on thrones. Not necessarily her performance (I’ll admit to not being blown away by her for the first few seasons – not that I thought she was bad, but that she wasn’t one of the best – though now I rate her as one of the best) – but her personality. I watch her interviews and media much more so than any of the others. She is an inspirational person and just cheers me up with one smile. Glad she came through it all with her positivity and humour in tact.

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    39. Cliohna: In the meantime you are prone to forget it for the time being. I can imagine, because I have to go make a brain scan every year (I skipped some, but I also never had an aneurysm…the article scared the shit out of me and I’m going this year.

      The morbid joke among cancer survivors is that you finally beat cancer by dying of something else. Aneurysms are in the same category: like cancers, some people have a much higher chance of getting them than do others regardless of their lifestyles.

      At any rate, Clarke put in a great performance in Season 2. That was a key point in her character’s evolution, as she goes from the the scared girl doing something (i.e., trying to reclaim a throne) simply because she is supposed to to starting to think about what she could do once she fulfilled her obligations to her family. The “softness” of the character pretty greatly receded that year. Yes, props go to the directors as well, but in the end, she executed.

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    40. Thankful she shared her story. As a cancer survivor, I hated all the attention and didn’t want to defined by it. Can you imagine all of the tabloid and media coverage she would have had and the stress it would have piled on her while going throughall of that crap?

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    41. Che:
      I just love her! Beyond impressed that she went through all that and managed to pull of the gruelling filming demands that are expected of GOT actors (and put on her iconic sunny smile for promotion while feeling like she’s at death’s door).

      Emilia is my favourite of all the actors on thrones. Not necessarily her performance (I’ll admit to not being blown away by her for the first few seasons – not that I thought she was bad, but that she wasn’t one of the best – though now I rate her as one of the best) – but her personality. I watch her interviews and media much more so than any of the others. She is an inspirational person and just cheers me up with one smile. Glad she came through it all with her positivity and humour intact.”

      ____

      Is there an antonym for Schadenfreude? I’m trying to think of a word that means you’re happy for someone else’s success. That’s how I feel about the GoT actors getting substantial paydays from HBO. (I’m sure we’re all aware that most actors toil in obscurity, waiting for the big break that never comes; and even well-known performers live from role-to-role. I saw a documentary about this once. I’ll try to find it.)

      Anyway, I saw a series of recent articles, e.g., 3/21/19 Cosmopolitan and 3/24/19 Maxim, that
      listed the per-episode rates for S5-S8 of the “Tier A” actors (Emilia C., Kit H., Peter D., Lena H., and NCW), the approximate per-episode rates for the “Tier B” actors (Maisie W. and Sophie T.); and each one’s supposed net worth.

      Kit H., Lena H., Peter D., Emilia C., and NCW
      S5 & S6: $300,000 per episode
      20 episodes x $300,000 = $6,000,000
      + S7 & S8: $500,000 per episode
      13 episodes x $500,000 = $6,500,000
      __________
      Total for S5-S8: $12,500,000

      Maisie W. and Sophie T.
      S5 – S8: ~ $150,000 per episode ?
      33 episodes x $150,000 = $4,950,000

      Estimated Net Worths*
      PD: $16 million
      KH: $12 million
      LH: $9 million
      EC: $13 million
      NCW: $16 million
      MW: $6 million
      ST: $6 million

      * Purports to take into account film roles and other information. I don’t know how accurate these figures are.

      I’m aware money isn’t everything. It’s just nice to know these actors are set for life; all seem to be level-headed enough not to blow their money on frivolities, and I don’t believe any of them lead unnecessarily extravagant lifestyles. I’m sure Emilia Clarke feels especially grateful just to be alive.

      I wish them all good fortune in the years to come.

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