SPOILER ALERT! Spoilers for the first three episodes of House of the Dragon below.
In the very first episode of House of the Dragon, King Viserys Targaryen is treated for a sore on his back. Since then, we’ve watched as he has lost fingers and the sores have multiplied. Clearly he’s not well, but what exactly is he suffering from? Might it be greyscale, a Westerosi disease that causes one’s flesh to harden and die?
Actor Paddy Considine shared some details during an appearance on Entertainment Weekly’s Game of Thrones podcast, West of Westeros. According to Considine, the King suffers from “a form of leprosy.“ As he explained:
“His body is deteriorating. His bones are deteriorating. He is not actually old. He’s still a young man in there. He’s just, unfortunately, got this thing that’s taken over his body. It becomes a metaphor for being king, and the stress and strain that it puts on you, and what it does to you physically, what it does to you mentally.“
Leprosy is a chronic bacterial infection. It causes, among other unpleasant symptoms, painful sores and nerve damage.
These days, leprosy can be managed with medication, but in medieval times—and in the Game of Thrones universe—there wasn’t much that could be done. As we’ve seen in the series, the lesions could be treated, but the illness could not be subdued. Tack on the stress of being a king with a rebellious heir and a trouble-making brother and you’ve got a full-blown progressive disease to worry about.
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