Did the showrunners ever tell you to insert any ambiguity into your performance, even if you didn’t fully know where Daenerys was going?
It’s more that I was just as naïve as she was, in terms of the fire and blood she showed her enemies, which, up until this point, were all baddies. I didn’t play them thinking, “One day this is going to get out of control!” I played it as her doing what she was doing in order to achieve what she most desired.
With Daenerys all of her history leads up to this moment, because she has nowhere else to go. We are the summation of the experiences that we’ve had; the choices we make are because of those experiences. She was on the run. She never knew her parents. Her brother abused her. She was married off to a warlord, sold as a slave. At every turn, she had to make all of these sacrifices. And so of course, she hits these people with the theory that she has, because she’s finding her own strength, testing her strength, and it’s met with applause. It’s met with, “Yes, you’re right.” It’s met with, “You’re providing justice to many.” But with every small action that she makes, she’s moving closer to this final series of events. So every time [the showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] told me Dany had a Lawrence of Arabia arc, that they wanted her to be cold and hard and unforgiving with her enemies, for a minute, I thought she might turn around and do something horrible.
How did that change once you knew? Once you saw the scripts for the final season?
I can say that it was a huge shock when I first read the script. Truly massive shock. Didn’t see it coming, that’s how naïve I was. I didn’t even see the death. I literally read past it three times and I’d be like, “Wait! Did I choke or something? Did I fall over?” I was just rolling right through it going, “And then what? And then what?” [Laughs]
Miguel Sapochnik, who directed Episode 5, and David and Dan, we discussed it all at great length. I started to see that Dany was backed into a corner, and really had no way out, other than the way out that she found, that they wrote. And I think that’s really integral to me being able to show her, to give her the most truthful response to the words that she’s given, the actions that she has. And then during the shoot, I kept this diary, because I needed to track where she was at each moment, since we shoot out of order and she changes so dramatically. I kept having to just double check where we had got her to at that point. It’s like she’s on a cliff edge with each of these moments — Missandei, Rhaegal — and each one is like a finger being pulled from the ledge, and she’s only got one finger left, and then it’s free-fall. Episode 5 is free-fall.
What people are trying to understand is whether it was premeditated — whether she coldly calculated that surrender would not be sufficient or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. Was she insane? Was she rational? We don’t get enough time in her point-of-view …