Emilia Clarke

The first season of Game of Thrones came to a fiery conclusion, and although we lost a major player in the game, another was reborn, phoenixlike, from the ashes of a funeral pyre.

[Spoilers! If you have yet to watch Episode 10, "Fire and Blood," shame on you! Oh, and don't read further.]

Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) might be the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, but reclaiming it seemed like a remote possibility until Sunday night's episode. When she burns the corpse of her beloved Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), it's not merely a ritual to usher the dead into the afterlife; it allows her to demonstrate her true, untapped potential for power ... and magic. With that pyre she proves that she's ruthless to her enemies (so long, evil Mirri Maz Duur), has the ability to magically withstand fire and brings into the world three baby dragons, animals that were thought to be extinct.

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"Magic has taken a bit of a back seat on the show until now, but with Dany this is where it really comes into play," Clarke tells TVGuide.com. "She needs to take steps forward to realizing her destiny. This is it, the remaining Dothraki are her people now because of what they witnessed. If you're ever going to get a leader out of it, now is the time because she brought these incredible creatures back to life. There's some kind of magic in there you can't really mess with. Dragons trump everything."

It wasn't easy for Daenerys to come to this point. She was sorely tested when the maegi Mirri Maz Duur (Mia Soteriou) tricked her, first by "reviving" Drogo so that he lived in a catatonic, vegetative state and simultaneously using the blood magic to kill her unborn baby. Daenerys took it upon herself to end the mockery of Drogo's not-quite-life, but in doing so, lost him for good.

"It was desperate. There's no other way of describing it," Clarke says about the mercy-killing scene. "It was one of the sadder days filming it. I was on such an emotional roller coaster. She really is a completely changed woman after Drogo dies. To get to that point emotionally was hard."

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Less merciful is Dany's decision to kill Mirri Maz Duur, the Lhazareen witch that she saved from being raped when Drogo's khalasar conquered her city. Apparently the witch didn't harbor benevolent feelings toward Daenerys for that supposed kindness.

"Mirri Maz Duur is convinced that the life that she's living at the moment isn't worth living because the Dothraki killed all of her people," Clarke explains. "So in that same vein, Dany doesn't flinch then about taking her life in the fire because it clearly means nothing to her. And if it weren't for Mirri Maz Duur, then Drogo, her Sun and Stars, would still be around. I think this is fundamentally where Dany really puts on that thicker skin to protect herself and her people and really be the leader that the Targaryens always were."

Daenerys joins Drogo and the witch in the funeral pyre to finally show that she's a true Targaryen, one with the blood of the dragon running through her. Unlike her weak brother Viserys (Harry Lloyd), who died when molten gold was poured on him, Dany is impervious to the flames.

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"I kept saying, 'I'm ready to set myself on fire,' but they just wouldn't let me, you know, suffer for my art," Clarke jokes. "I once got a little close to the fire but I had to retreat quite quickly when the wind changed. That happened over the course of two nights of filming. It's safe to say that it wasn't me who was on fire but they had a proper stunt double with the suit on in there."

When Dany emerges from the fire, so do the three dragons that have hatched from the eggs that she had received as a wedding gift. Still babies, they wrap themselves around their mother: Daenerys. "Basically they were created with computer graphics," Clarke explains. "They made a little squishy toy for their reference to create the dragons. It was a neon green stuffed type of thing and they put a little face on it for me and a little tail. I got to hold that one so I would know where one dragon was and then there were dots on my body so I knew where the others would be."

Although the actress doesn't miss the 3 a.m. call times, she is looking forward to returning to work on Season 2, which begins production on July 25. The second season of Game of Thrones is based on A Clash of Kings, the second book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series on which the HBO series is  based.

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"I kind of celebrated wrapping on Season 1 by beginning to read Book 2 because I didn't want to get ahead of myself ... And now I'm about to start Book 3," says Clarke.

How did you like the finale? What did you think of Daenerys' rebirth? What about Robb's new status?