“I’m gonna say it.”
“I think Emilia Clarke is quite a good actress!”
One semi-popular take on the internet is that some people (far from everyone) don’t like Emilia Clarke’s performance on Game of Thrones. Some more people think she’s just okay. But with the penultimate episode in a number of hours, I’m here to say that her performance is just as good as most of the other members of the cast. There’s a keen possibility that Daenerys will be dead by the end of the next episode, so it’s time to look back at what makes Daenerys stand out.
This post will have Game of Thrones spoilers up to Season 8 Episode 4
Since the first six seasons had Daenerys stationed in various cities of Essos, she has mostly been speaking Dothraki and High Valyrian. And I think that in terms of critical acclaim, that’s given critics and fans a reason to write off her performance; it’s easy to ignore someone’s talent for acting when they have to speak in a fictional language. Daenerys’ Season 6 speech to the Dothraki in the Dothraki language is aboslutely stellar:
Imagine being offered the role of a lifetime, but with a catch – you’ll have to speak a fictional language for about 25% of that role. Would you take it? I’m not sure I would, but Emilia Clarke did and she knocked it out of the park.
And how about this earlier scene where she does a good job at making herself seem like she doesn’t have a good handle on Dothraki when speaking with Missandei? Or how she definitely was less well-spoken in Dothraki in Season 1 than she was in Season 6 in the above speech?
In the Nerd Writer’s video essay about Jack Nicholson, he described how Nicholson’s characters are always very angry, but also use anger to convey underlying emotions, such as fear or sadness or spite. Anger just becomes the outlet for these emotions.
And Daenerys has something similar. But instead of her emotions going through an outlet, it works more like a vent. She’s always courtly and composed, and that is the filter through which she emotes. When she sees Viserys get killed, she shows a slight horrified sadness when she says “He was no dragon… fire cannot kill a dragon,” but she’s still composed, and formal. In the most recent episode, when she legitimizes Gendry and makes him Lord of Storm’s End, again, her voice is courtly and queenly, but her slight inflections seem to indicate that she’s happy. When Daenerys is informed of Jon Snow being made King in the North, she tells Tyrion, “Send a raven north. Tell Jon Snow that his queen invites him to come to Dragonstone… and bend the knee.” Again, it’s the same rigid formality, but with slight undertones of anger.
To the untrained eye, this probably comes across as Emilia Clarke under-acting, but really, it’s a more subtle and complex performance that requires her to craft a character that is equal parts formal, queenly, authoritative, sympathetic, and perhaps just a touch arrogant. The way she performs and delivers her lines make sense given the context that she had always been raised as royalty and that would effect her perspective.
There are a fair amount of people who will try to say that Emilia Clarke’s performance is less complex or less interesting than some like Lena Headey’s or Peter Dinklage, but I think it just ends up being a more subtle one that rarely conveys emotions outside of her queenly filter.
As the show comes to an end, we find ourselves looking backward at these wonderful actors and the great performances they gave. And we look forward, knowing that they’ll have many more in the future. Emilia Clarke is clearly a wealth of talent, and I hope that casting directors have a sharp enough eye to see that.