During the filming of season 5, Clarke improvised a lengthy scene in the show’s fictional language of Valyrian.
As recounted by director Jeremy Podeswa in an exclusive outtake from the reporting for my book about the making of GoT, Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon, this was for the scene where Daenerys ordered the execution of one of three Meereenese noblemen who may (or may not) have been conspiring against her.
During the first couple takes, the scene was shot as it was originally scripted, with Daenerys taunting the terrified men in English.
“Then [showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss] came down – they were watching the scene being shot – and they said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the scene was in Valyrian?'" Podeswa recalled. The director thought that could work too. But typically the show's Valyrian or Dothraki dialogue is scripted months in advance by the show’s linguist, David Peterson. Also, the actors usually spend a considerable amount of time memorizing and practicing any dialogue when it’s in a fictional language.
“There’s usually a lot of preparation for that sort of thing and so much consideration that goes into it and she had quite a big monologue before she sets the guy on fire,” Podeswa says. “I went over to Emilia and I was like, ‘I know this is a really big ask, but do you think you could figure out a way to do this in Valyrian?’ She said, ‘Yeah, sure, I think I can do this.' And I'm all, "Really?" Then she went off and cobbled together things that [Daenerys] had said in the past that made sense. She came back in 10 minutes and had this whole monologue down."
Watch the resulting scene, above, you can see how using Valyrian might also sound more menacing in this torch-lit shot (and given that she’s executing a man without regard as to whether he’s guilty or not, it shows Dany embracing her ancestral language and merciless methods as she slips into “dark side” mode). Clarke smoothly delivers line after line, perfectly naturally, as if she'd been studying her made-up phrases in a fictional language for weeks.
“I just had to hand it to Emilia for taking on the challenge and making it completely credible,” Podeswa adds. “Every single take, every intonation, and the way she phrased everything, you completely understood what she was meant to be saying. Then the subtitles all seemed authentic to what she was doing. She knew the language well enough at that point to make it all work. It wasn't tracking perfectly in Valyrian, but no fan ever noticed it. She did an amazing job.”
Fire Cannot Kill a Dragon is available now.