Emilia Clarke is back for her sixth season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" as the woman who would be queen ... and she would be perfectly happy to rule the world. But for now, just surviving the final seasons of the anybody-can-die-at-any-time series is a worthy goal.
Her Daenerys Targaryen has risen from one of the lowest possible starting points – a "put-upon, abused, naive child," as Clarke has previously described her, sold by her brother in a foreign land – to perhaps the most powerful person on the show. Despite such setbacks, the khaleesi remains a smart-money pick to eventually win the game of thrones.
The actress has other interests – she was in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" on Broadway, has a burgeoning film career including the new "Me Before You," and is writing a comedy with a friend – but scoffs at even dreaming of quitting her character's fascinating journey before the show completes what HBO has said will be two more seasons after this one.
Though returning after time off from filming can be difficult. "It can be tricky when you come back for Season 6 and you've forgotten the Dothraki [language] and you're trying to be commanding and they're like, 'Yeah, let's go back from "Hibbah – gibbah – rrraaahh" … Go back from the top.' "
"Dany" is likely one of the most beloved female characters in TV dramatic history. Rolling Stone placed her No. 1 on its list of Top 40 characters from the show. She even got name-checked by Keegan-Michael Key during a comic bit with none other than President Obama, when Key warned Republicans of Hillary Clinton's approach: "Khaleesi is coming to Westeros!" (Obama is reportedly a fan of the show.)
"Because I was a young girl when I started this – I still am! A young lady! – I have an affinity to that demographic in fans," says Clarke, who notes she has "documented my 20s on television." "When one of them comes up to you and says how the performance or the show or an aspect of the character changed or affected them in some way, that's the thing that always gets me most. It's an incredible and humbling experience."
Clarke doesn't shy from the complaints in some quarters about a perceived misogynistic streak in the series: "The show is pretty equal in terms of strong men and strong women," she says. "There are a lot of shows you watch with … four men and the wife, six dudes and the girlfriend. On 'Game of Thrones,' you don't have that. So if you have a lot of women on the show, you have the ability to show some that are having a hard time, some that are having a great time, some that are having an OK time. Some that are wives, some that are girlfriends, and some that are the main part – like with dudes!"
Season 6 finds Dany dropped back among the Dothraki, initially without an ally in sight. It's where she began her rise to power, but it's also the land and the people from which she had to escape once her husband, Khal Drogo, died. It seems it takes more than an army of Mongol-like horse lords to hold her back. After all, she is the Mother of Dragons and after the fiery destruction she wreaked in the recent "Book of the Stranger" episode, her push to Westeros should strike fear in the hearts of any remaining Lannisters and the High Sparrow as well.
She says she asks show runners David Benioff and Dan Weiss "all the time, 'What's happening?' or I try to get them drunk and manipulate it out of them, but nothing. Nothing. They're a vault. They watch me squirming: 'Never gonna tell you.' "
Even the most rabid fans of George R.R. Martin's books don't know what – besides winter – is coming. There won't be any more sub rosa "reactions to the Red Wedding" videos, because the show has outpaced the novels. HBO's most popular series is now in uncharted waters, leaving Clarke desperate to know where the reigning drama series Emmy champ is headed.
"At the end of the day," she says, "I want to win! I want to be on the throne! Please! You gave me dragons, give me the throne!"