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House of the Dragon: What’s Wrong With King Viserys?

As “House of the Dragon” sets up the years-long conflict that will tear House Targaryen apart, there are already hints that the royal house is struggling to keep it together. The king, Viserys I finds himself dealing with a nasty injury that turns into an illness he’s plagued with through much of the season. Here’s everything we know about Viserys’s illness and what it symbolizes within the story.

King Viserys’s Initial Injury

At the end of the first episode, Viserys cuts his hand on one of the sharp edges of the Iron Throne (remember, the throne is literally made up of a thousand swords of those conquered during Aegon I Targaryen’s conquest of Westeros). By the time the second episode rolls around, it’s clear that the medicine of the day isn’t doing enough to help him. His hand is infected, and the maesters try some fairly gross treatments to save his fingers, which are clearly decaying.

What Happened to King Viserys’s Arm?

Over 10 years have passed by episode six, at which point Viserys has lost his entire arm. While the show never explains specifically what happened to the King’s arm, one can assume it decayed to a point where his maesters ultimately decided it needed to be amputated.

What Illness Does Viserys Have?

Apart from his decaying arm, Viserys has a large sore on his back (and probably in other places), often has coughing fits, is losing his hair in patches, and he seems to be aging faster than those around him.

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In an interview on Entertainment Weekly’s podcast “West of Westeros,” Paddy Considine (who plays Viserys) gave insight into what illness is plagueing Viserys. “He’s actually suffering from a form of leprosy,” Considine said. “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.”

The Symbolism of King Viserys’s Illness

The symbolism of Viserys being cut by his throne in episode one would seem fairly straightforward. In George R.R. Martin’s books, the people of Westeros have a superstition about the Iron Throne: it reputedly can “judge” those who sit on it without being truly worthy. It also is reportedly constructed as it is, with so many sharp edges, as a symbol of the caution required to be a monarch. Sitting on the throne is a delicate task that requires caution and forethought to avoid injury; it is intended as a symbolic warning against impulsivity in all matters of state.

The implication of his injury, by those standards, is that Viserys is being judged and found wanting. This seems especially true seeing as the injury happens after he makes the decision to let his wife, Aemma, die a painful and gruesome death, all in hopes of getting a living son from her. As the injury worsens, it can also be read as a judgment on Viserys failing to think things through; instead of focusing his efforts on his living heir, Rhaenyra, he’s listening to manipulative advice from his various council members to remarry.

Considine told Entertainment Weekly that Viserys’s illness is ultimately a metaphor for the plight of a king. “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,” he said.

What Happens to King Viserys in the Books?

In the books, Viserys is not the Targaryen king best known for being injured on the Iron Throne. That belongs to two other kings: his ancestor, Maegor, and his distant descendant, Aerys II. Maegor, known as “The Cruel” for his brutal reign, was found dead on the throne, having apparently bled out, and rumors swirled that the throne itself had killed him for his violence and unworthiness. Centuries later, the last Targaryen king, Aerys II (aka the “Mad King,” Daenerys’s father), was nicknamed “King Scab” for constantly having half-healed wounds from cutting himself on the throne, especially as his madness worsened.

The “Dance of the Dragons” civil war is kicked off by the succession crisis following Viserys’s death, and with his injury, it seems like “House of the Dragon” is already preparing us for his mortality. In the book “Fire and Blood,” however, Viserys actually is the rare Targaryen to die a very peaceful death, but it remains to be seen if the TV version will keep that plot point or make it more dramatic.

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