It’s easy to forget these days that the internet and social media can be a force for good. Certainly, no one needs to tell David Benioff and D. B. Weiss how vicious the web’s denizens can be. Fans’ criticism of Game of Thrones‘ final act ran rampant online all season long, reaching apotheosis with a petition urging HBO to remake season 8. (As of this writing, the petition has more than 1.5 million signatures.)
All that negativity finally prompted Reddit user elle_ellaria to mobilize the internet’s forces for a positive cause. With a post in the Thrones-themed subreddit r/freefolk — the same community that gave rise to that notorious petition — she launched a fundraiser for SameYou, a charity Emilia Clarke helped develop that focuses on recovery from brain injury and stroke. It’s raised more than £20,000 (more than $25,000) in just two days.
“Since the tongue-in-cheek nature of that petition has flown over a lot peoples’ heads, to the point that it’s prompted backlash from some of the cast, we wanted to show that Game of Thrones fans appreciate the hard work of the incredible cast & crew despite their constraints,” the fundraiser’s description reads.
“We wanted to send a message that even though fans have been very vocal in their disappointment with the conclusion of the series, none of that is directed at the cast and crew — all of whom did an incredible job bringing Westeros to life,” elle_ellaria, who asked to be attributed only as Sarah, told EW via email. (She notes that she signed the petition but “it’s pretty obvious it’s a joke at the writers’ expense.”)
But that message was for one cast member in particular. In March, Clarke wrote a personal essay for The New Yorker revealing she suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms while working on Game of Thrones. She recounted the harrowing experience of grappling with her own mortality while trying to bring life to Daenerys. While working on season 2, “every minute of every day I thought I was going to die,” Clarke wrote. Her story, and her accounts of working on the final season, were the main catalyst for launching the fundraiser.
“I have a great deal of love and respect for Emilia Clarke, especially since opening up about her health struggles,” Sarah says. “In interviews after the finale she spoke about how much of herself she put into her character, and how upset she was at the prospect of people hating Daenerys…. She wasn’t informed about Dany’s evil turn until shortly before filming season 8, and it seemed like she really struggled to come to terms with it.”
One of those interviews was EW’s own conversation on the ending with Clarke. “I have my own feelings [about the storyline] and it’s peppered with my feelings about myself,” Clarke told EW. “It’s gotten to that point now where you read [comments about] the character you [have to remind yourself], ‘They’re not talking about you, Emilia, they’re talking about the character.'”
“At the end of the interview she walks away, but then turns back to say, ‘I stand by Daenerys. I stand by her! I can’t not.’ It was adorable,” Sarah says. “So the fundraiser [was] kind of to let her know hey, don’t worry. We stand by Daenerys, too.” Indeed, supporters are using the hashtag #WeStandByDaenerys to promote the cause. (You can donate here.)
Sarah has nothing but respect and admiration for Clarke, noting that “Season 8 is definitely some of the best acting we’ve seen from” her. She says fans’ frustration is directed at “the two people who promised to be far away from the internet and drunk.”
“Every single department on Game of Thrones showed up and showed out. The visual effects were incredible, the costumes, the scoring, the set design, the performances. These people were the only ones who stopped the whole thing from looking like a bad cartoon,” she says. But the ending can’t fully diminish the pleasures of experiencing the series, or what the characters have meant to viewers over the years.
“As far as I’m concerned, the series ended with Daenerys sailing to Westeros with her fleet and her 3 dragons, all of whom are very much alive and fire-breathing,” Sarah says. “Daenerys, like Emilia, is a fighter and a survivor. There’s a lot to be learned [from] her story and I can’t wait to revisit it.”
As for Clarke herself, “Not only has she now got one of the most iconic roles in history under her belt, but she’s raising awareness and funds for neurorehabilitation too. For that, I think Emilia is an incredible role model.” And if you’re reading this, Emilia, Sarah would like you to know: “Emilia, you’re a badass, a beautiful soul and the Queen I choose… Aegon who? Bran WHO?“
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