Delving into the science of the numerous horrible illnesses and deaths in Game of Thrones

Everybody is aware of that the world of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s Game of Thrones is one among struggling and dying. When constructing his story, the creator pressed his finger all the best way down on the ache scale. It’s mainly a planet consisting fully of Australia; all the pieces desires to kill you in essentially the most entertainingly excruciating methods.

When visiting Westeros, the choices for distress are limitless. You can have molten gold poured in your head, have your eyes pushed in, be stabbed, or poisoned, or beheaded by a petulant baby. And these are solely the nice deaths, those reserved for the higher crust. But the one p.c aren’t the one ones having a foul time. In Westeros, there are many woes to go round. Just as a result of the deaths of the common Westerosi are extra mundane, it doesn’t imply they’re any much less terrible.


A Song of Ice and Fire is, for these of you not paying consideration, a fantasy story. Which means — save for some mystical creatures, demonstrably actual deities, and dealing magic — it’s mainly medieval Europe. There are, after all, fantasy tales that happen in locales that aren’t medieval Europe. There are even locales inside Martin’s story that buck the same old development. But there’s a cause Westeros appears so acquainted: It’s the court docket of Camelot besides everyone seems to be hopped up on steroids and Viagra.

While all of which may sound tremendous enjoyable to expertise, the on a regular basis maladies had been most likely extra bother for the common citizen than the royals and their titular sport of thrones. For a lot of our early historical past, illness was fully misunderstood and, as with many issues, attributed to god(s). In the Middle Ages, falling sufferer to some ailment or one other was seen as divine punishment and it was assumed a remedy may solely be obtained from the identical supply. Considering the wealth of gods current in Westeros, and the compelling proof that they really exist, it’s possible the populace had comparable attitudes.

The textual content itself helps this notion. In A Game of Thrones, Robert Baratheon is gored by a wild boar throughout a hunt. It’s all the results of political intrigue by the hands of Cersei, and an excessive amount of drink, however King Robert doesn’t see it that approach. Instead, he blames himself for upsetting the gods. On his deathbed, whereas talking to Ned Stark, he says, “The girl. Daenerys. Only a child, you were right… that’s why, the girl… the gods sent the boar… sent to punish me.” He later dies on account of his wounds, and possibly at the very least somewhat an infection.

Later, in A Storm of Swords, Tyrion is talking with Oberyn in regards to the ills of the realm, and of the Lannister household particularly, when the topic of divine punishment comes up once more. Oberyn makes his opinion on the reason for all of the strife — and the reason for Tyrion’s specific place — clear, saying, “Lord Tywin had made himself greater than King Aerys, I heard one begging brother preach, but only a god is meant to stand above a king. You were his curse, a punishment sent by the gods to teach him that he was no better than any other man.”

This form of angle, whereas justified within the context of the story, or within the context of the darkish ages of our personal world, does little to fight the precise causes and cures of harm and illness. It might need been a darkish age for us and for these in Westeros, nevertheless it was the Garden of Eden for disease-bearing microbes.

For these members of the noble homes, treating illness often concerned the companies of Maesters and an excessive amount of milk of the poppy till the harm healed or the sickness subsided. If they had been fortunate, they could get a wound cleaned out with boiled wine, poultices, or maggots. Fun! But the frequent people didn’t have entry to their companies. Even in the event that they did, these remedies weren’t at all times efficient in opposition to the numerous and malicious illnesses the Seven Kingdoms, and the remainder of the world, needed to supply. And there have been many.


The bloody flux is the identify given to dysentery throughout the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. Anyone who’s ever performed Oregon Trail is aware of you’ll be able to die of dysentery however, whereas it’s usually relegated to the previous, it isn’t the long-conquered illness many consider it to be.

The illness is alive and effectively at present and will be attributable to a number of strains of micro organism in addition to the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica. While usually an infection is treatable and subsides comparatively rapidly, it nonetheless results in dying in unimaginable numbers. In 2013, dysentery attributable to the Shigella micro organism claimed the lives of greater than 34,000 youngsters below the age of 5. Three years earlier, roughly 40,000 individuals over the age of 5 died on account of the an infection. In Westeros, the bloody flux is much more virulent, most likely owing to poor hygiene and an incomplete understanding of transmission and remedy.

A particular outbreak of the illness manifests in A Dance with Dragons, leaving Daenerys at a loss. When she insists on her obligation to assist the stricken, Ser Barristan laments, “Your Grace, I have known the bloody flux to destroy whole armies when left to spread unchecked.”

In the identical chapter, dialogue of the illness cements the superstitious nature of the sickness and its severity: “Afterward the Green Grace was impaled upon a stake within the Plaza of Punishment and left till she died. In the pyramid of Ullhor, the survivors had a terrific feast that lasted half the night time, and washed the final of their meals down with poison wine so none want wake once more come morning. Soon after got here the illness, a bloody flux that killed three males of each 4, till a mob of dying males went mad and slew the guards on the principle gate.”

Daenerys is, ultimately, satisfied to maintain the sick away, regardless of the needs of her coronary heart.

Suffice it to say, when the flux reared its head, the courageous trembled. The major remedy for the illness was quarantine, separating the stricken from the wholesome and hoping it didn’t unfold. Here on Earth, correct hydration is really helpful and, if wanted, hospitalization.


Perhaps essentially the most insidious of illnesses in Martin’s novels, greyscale is a contagious illness unfold by skin-to-skin contact. Sufferers expertise thickening, scaly pores and skin that spreads to adjoining tissues indefinitely except handled.

The an infection causes a lack of sensation, amongst different extra horrible signs. Thusly, those that have are available contact with an contaminated particular person are really helpful to prick their extremities with a blade day by day. This is not a remedy a lot because it’s an early warning system. So lengthy as there’s ache, the person is secure. This is what we name a lose-lose scenario.

Once signs come up within the type of the looks of greyscale on the pores and skin, the person ought to search quick remedy. Sadly, the effectiveness of assorted remedies are up for debate and embody poultices, scorching baths, and removing of the contaminated areas to stop spreading. The first two of these sound like a pleasant day on the spa. The final, not a lot.

As the illness spreads, it might trigger blindness and ultimately the hardening and failure of important organs. And if that weren’t unhealthy sufficient, most of these stricken lose their sanity lengthy earlier than the illness takes their lives. But perhaps that is a kindness.

While many examine greyscale to real-world leprosy, a dermatologist talking to Vox had different concepts, suggesting that greyscale, if it had been actual, would possible be attributable to one thing like smallpox or HPV.

There have been some reported in-world situations of greyscale being halted in its tracks. Afflicted as an toddler, Shireen Baratheon acquired quick remedy, which stopped the unfold of the illness however left her left cheek and neck coated within the scale. While the kid appears cured of the illness, not everyone seems to be so positive. In talking to Jon Snow, Val says, “The maesters may believe what they wish. Ask a woods witch if you would know the truth. The grey death sleeps, only to wake again. The child is not clean!”

In any occasion, those that contract Greyscale have a tough highway forward. But there’s one silver lining: They are resistant to the extra horrible, and swifter, model of the illness, the gray plague, which guarantees swift and sure dying for you and everybody round you.


If the contents of Martin’s books or the HBO sequence they impressed have taught us one factor, it’s that dying is at all times solely a second away, except you know the way to play the sport. Even then, there are myriad reapers, shadow youngsters, wights, and dragons ready within the wings. Life in Westeros, Essos, or Sothoryos, the three recognized continents that make up the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, can be arduous and, possible, quick by trendy requirements.

In order to get an concept of what the common particular person might need been up in opposition to, we once more should confer with our personal Middle Ages, and the information isn’t good.

During the Roman Empire, common life expectancy at start was a whopping 25 years. So those that had the nice fortune of being born within the Middle Ages might need been grateful for the prospect of dwelling to 33. That represents roughly a 33 p.c improve in common lifespan. You can do so much in eight years. Like watch all of Game of Thrones or attend the discharge of at the very least two A Song of Ice and Fire books.

Although, calculating life expectancy is tough. You’re coping with averages and excessive baby mortality drove the quantity down. According to a paper from the International Journal of Epidemiology, surviving childhood was essentially the most tough hurdle within the Middle Ages, and if you happen to may make it to 25, you would count on to reside one other 23.three years.

Considering the entire additional hurdles current in Martin’s world, the oppressive illnesses and regimes, the fixed risk of battle, malicious gods, and magic, reaching 25 with out assistance from noble protections or magic of your personal might need been much more tough. All of this quantities to the conclusion that, whereas Westeros is likely to be a enjoyable place to go to, you wouldn’t wish to reside there.

The eighth and last season of Game of Thrones premieres on HBO on Apr. 14.

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