Emilia Clarke has firmly cemented her place in TV history with her spectacular portrayal of what is now one of the most famous characters of all time, Daenerys Targaryen. The Mother of Dragons, The Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms, Queen of the Andals and the First Men–whatever you call her, her presence on screen is iconic and captivating. The performance has allowed for many of the most electrifying and gut-wrenching scenes in Game of Thrones, ones often held near and dear to fans’ hearts.
Daenerys has one of the most dramatic arcs in the series. We see her as a timid and mistreated young girl, a new leader expanding her power and testing her will, and finally as a blood thirsty authoritarian leader–the embodiment of what she sought to destroy. Her tumultuous journey towards the Iron Throne is packed with action, betrayal, cunning, and emotion that kept audiences hooked for all eight seasons. In a show with top-notch acting talent and an array of powerhouse characters (like Lena Headey’s Cersei), Clarke often compels beyond the rest. Here are some of her best moments in the role. Check out the scene here.
7 “Breaking the Wheel”
After convincing her to spare Sir Jorah’s life for his misdeeds, Tyrion tries to tell Daenerys that she will need more Westerosi allies if she hopes to take the Iron Throne, and that she should let him advise her going forward. Instead of seeing the other houses as a potential strategic solution, she views them all as the problem. Fed up with an idiotic, bloody status quo and emboldened by her notions of destiny, Daenerys delivers one of the most principal lines of the entire series, one that relays a major theme present in much of the show: the ever-turning wheel of history.
Clarke plays the scene perfectly. She matches Tyrions usual witty cynicism with a knowing, calm, icy stare, as though she is fully visualizing exactly what she describes as she describes it. Her knowledge, experience, and sense of justification are on full display behind her serene features. She delivers the chill inducing line with steadfast anger, “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break it.” The scene is a formative moment for her character and the series as a whole.
6 Emerging from the Pyre
This is a pivotal scene for Daenerys, and one of the first that we see her acting in full command of a large force. Clarke first displays a serene sensibility while addressing Jorah, almost laughing at him for not believing in her immunity to the flames. She then shows no mercy in tying the witch to the pyre as well. Immediately afterward she delivers yet another rousing and emotional speech to her new band of warriors. Just then, she calmly walks directly into the fire, certain death for any other. Hours later, Jorah approaches the smoldering remnants of the pyre, and we find Daenerys timidly curled in the embers. She looks up without emotion as the baby dragons crawl about her. She stands strong and proud before her masses as they kneel before her. The whole scene is just spectacular, it is a massive step in the character’s destiny and is carried by Clarke’s vast range in acting ability.
5 Vision Quest in Qarth
Though she possesses a powerful army and three young dragons, Daenerys faces one wild goose chase after another while in Qarth and is surrounded by untrustworthy and odd strangers. In Episode 10, her dragons are stolen, and she is put under a strange spell in the House of the Undying. She sees visions of the Iron Throne, The Wall, and her late husband Khal Drogo with their unborn son. The first instances are powerful as they represent her true wants, she gazes upon the iron throne with hesitant desire. Even more powerful is her reunion with Drogo. She is trying desperately to reconcile the logic of the situation, wondering even if she has already died. She is overcome with emotion upon seeing her husband and child, the love is apparent on her face as she smiles warmly, reminiscing about the past. The two embrace, and Daenerys realizes that this is but a trick, her face drops, and she begins to cry as she exchanges her final words with Drogo. This scene shows a massive array of emotions and is made further complex by the uncertainty produced by the spell.
4 A Dragon is Not a Slave
Daenerys is known throughout the show for her visceral and engaging speeches, often delivered across a variety of languages. This particular scene is one of the most satisfying in the show. At Astapor, Daenerys “trades” Drogon for legions of Unsullied warriors and proceeds to royally outsmart Kraznys mo Nakloz, a truly repugnant character. Clarke delivers the potent speech with guttural anger and a hint of pleasure at her own maneuvers all in a totally fictitious language. The speech would likely rouse even those not fluent in Valyrian. She commands the Unsullied for the first time and shocks Kraznys with her fluency in Valyrian. After instructing the Unsullied to kill their masters, she turns to Kraznys and with a smirk shouts “Dracarys,” relegating the vile man to ash. One can’t help but be filled with awe as dragon fire erupts behind the stone-faced Daenerys.
3 Sir Jorah Has the Greyscale
Jorah has been on the Dragon Queen’s naughty list for some time at this point. After having been exiled twice, Jorah once again returns to save Daenerys, and in doing so, regains his position in her good graces. Unfortunately, Jorah has been infected with the Greyscale, a highly contagious skin disease that leads to deformity, delusion, and death. On full display in this scene is Clarke’s ability to balance multiple emotions in a short period of time and even simultaneously. When the two meet again after her rescue from the Khalar Vezhven, Daenerys is reservedly elated that her longtime friend has returned and relieved that she can surely trust him. Just as the two are to embrace however, Jorah unveils his infected arm and confused horror washes over her face. Sorrow and regret begin to break in her facial expression. Fighting back tears (as much of the audience likely was), she commands Jorah to find a cure for the disease and reunite with her. The simultaneous yet opposing emotions make this a truly powerful encounter. The scene is likely the duo’s most intense interaction aside from Jorah’s death in season eight.
2 The Execution of Meereeneese Nobleman
This moment is a smaller one when it comes to the show as a whole, but it speaks for the insane talent that Clarke possesses. After fighting for many an episode to keep control of Meereen and dodging her fair share of sketchy situations, Daenerys is on the verge of executing all the Meereenese nobles. The Sons of the Harpy have just murdered her new ally Barristan Selmy, and someone must be punished. She brings the nobles to the depths of the dungeon of the great pyramid and edges them dangerously close to Rhaegal and Viserion, who are chained in the underground enclosure. The scene is horrifyingly awesome, but is made even more impressive by the fact that Clarke improvised the entire speech in high Valyrian. Normally, dialogue in the foreign dialects of the show are written months in advance by actual linguists. Originally, the speech was going to be in English, but during filming, it was decided that it would have more weight in Valyrian. In just ten minutes, Clarke wrote, memorized and then proceeded to deliver the bone chilling response to her enemies.
1 The Decimation of King’s Landing
It’s no secret that fans have vocalized a lot of qualms with the final season of the show, as they well should in many respects. Despite a rather haphazard ending, Clarke still delivered in full. After Daenerys’s forces swiftly take control of King’s Landing, Daenerys decides to obliterate the capitol city, and in doing so provides the audience with an acting clinic. The bells of surrender ring out as she gazes across King’s Landing on the back of Drogon. First, she is seemingly overwhelmed with excitement, but upon hearing the bells, the feat has been achieved far too easily for her; Cersei (and unfortunately the other residents of the city) must pay a far higher price. Her eyes dart wildly around the city below her, her past, present, and future all being calculated. In just seconds, she is seething with rage and sadness, and works herself up further into what can only be described as full on bloodlust, before turning her dragon fire onto the city at large. While the motivational material may not have been present in the writing for such actions, Clarke hammered home her character’s final moment of transformation, and shocked viewers already used to serious violence.