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Fans who watched Emilia Clarke fully commit to the destiny Game of Thrones meted out for Daenerys Targaryen in the show’s final season probably know just how total Clarke’s investment in her rapidly evolving character was.
From tortured facial expressions to fiery speeches to icy cold stare-downs, Clarke was tasked with one of Season 8’s most demanding acting jobs — much of it in front of a green screen, without the aid of the sort of environmental cues that actors typically thrive on. On top of that, she was handed some of the final season’s most iconic and solitary spotlight moments, including a portentous victory speech in the series finale that dramatically set up her ultimate Game of Thrones sign-off.
**Spoiler Warning: There are major spoilers below for the series finale of HBO's Game of Thrones.**
In order to muster the kind of delusional, megalomaniacal swagger that Daenerys’ High Valyrian address to her high-blooded soldiers required, Clarke says she took a serious-minded cue from the darkest pages of some of history’s most dangerous dictators.
Looking back with Variety at her Mad Queen turn in the season’s final two episodes, Clarke said she learned a lot from the emotionally manipulative pomposity of real-world despots. In fact, she said, it’s easy to watch historical footage and successfully decipher the kind of mob-stirring messaging that dictators like Hitler were aiming for — even if you don’t speak their language.
“In giving all these speeches in fake languages, I watched a lot of videos of — now it seems funny — dictators and powerful leaders speaking a different language to see if I could understand what they were saying without knowing the language,” Clarke told Variety. “And you can! You absolutely can understand what Hitler’s f—ing saying, these single-focus orators speaking a foreign language. So I thought, ‘If I can believe every single word I’m saying, the audience won’t need to be looking at the subtitles too much.’”
With dragon wings framing her solitary posture atop the ruined steps at King’s Landing, Daenerys serves up a season-finale speech to her victorious Unsullied and Dothraki soldiers that does the ingenious trick — so typical of real tyrants throughout history — of deceiving everyone (including herself) into believing that their single-minded right to power is nothing less than a world-saving virtue.
Sure, it takes a total genocide to clear the pages of history for a glorious new chapter to begin, she argues. But, she assures herself (and repeats in a later scene with Jon Snow), isn’t that just a small collateral price to pay so Daenerys can finally break the wheel and “liberate” everyone in Westeros?
All her studying of history’s most despised dictators paid off when it came time to shoot the scene, though: Clarke said she ended up nailing the speech (which was shot in front of a green screen) on the very first try.
“… I had my dialect coach literally within spitting distance, because I was convinced I was going to mess it up,” she confessed. “Then the weirdest thing happened — I walked on set, didn’t need a rehearsal, and I got through the whole thing perfect on the first go. The rest of the day it was like Daenerys was just with me. That’s the only time I got through that speech without getting anything wrong, when it was on camera.”
Much like General Hux’s power-crazed tirade to the Imperial troops on Starkiller Base in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Mother of Dragons was most drunk on her power just at the moment before it all came crumbling down. And while Daenerys’ fate may be just as divisive for GoT fans as the rest of the final season, it’s hard to argue that Clarke herself left anything on the field — once that classic Targaryen madness finally took hold.
At least we can finally binge the whole thing from start to finish. Check out Emilia Clarke and the rest of the sprawling cast in all eight seasons of Game of Thrones, streaming now (and probably forever) on demand at HBO.