Spoiler alert: This article contains minor spoilers for House of the Dragon Episode 8.
Every new episode of House of the Dragon, we wonder how King Viserys (Paddy Considine) could still be alive. However, it seems that Episode 8 might have been his last. As House Targaryen and their allies (and enemies) age extraordinarily fast, one person’s aging stands out above all else. The King, the patriarch, the leader of the seven realms — it seems that King Viserys Targaryen can’t last long due to a mysterious skin disease.
In the House of the Dragon source material, George R.R. Martin’s Fire & Blood, King Viserys does die due to a disease, although it’s unclear as to exactly which one. However, House of the Dragon portrays Viserys’s deterioration quite graphically, and it must be at least inspired by a real-life disease. So what skin disease does Viserys have?
What skin disease does Viserys have in ‘House of the Dragon’?
In Episode 1, King Viserys’s skin lesions are already showing up and disrupting his ability to rule the seven kingdoms. In many ways, they are a metaphor for his ineffectiveness when it comes to being a king.
By Episode 8, his hair has mostly fallen out and his skin has disintegrated so much that he needs to wear a golden mask to look presentable in public. But at one point, he takes the mask off to reveal that his eye has simply fallen out of its socket — Viserys almost looks like a skeleton before he’s even died. But what disease could cause such extreme symptoms?
In an interview with EW on their podcast, West of Westeros, Paddy revealed that Viserys has leprosy. “He's actually suffering from a form of leprosy. His body is deteriorating, his bones are deteriorating,” Paddy explained. “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."
Viserys’s leprosy is a metaphor for his reign over Westeros.
This explains why Daemon (Matt Smith) and Ser Criston (Fabien Frankel) seem to have barely aged, while Viserys looks like he’s 90 years old. Not only that, but as Paddy points out, his physical deterioration is a metaphor for his reign. And when he dies, so does his ability to hold House Targaryen together.
But leprosy has a deeper history. Known today as Hansen’s disease, “is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae. It can affect the nerves, skin, eyes, and lining of the nose (nasal mucosa),” according to the CDC. After the skin disintegrates, it can lead to paralysis and blindness. However, it’s now curable, so there’s no need for us to worry about it.
In many ways, Viserys’s leprosy is poetic, as it’s often referred to in the bible as well. In the bible and the Torah, those with leprosy were often treated as less than and cast out of society. Some biblical scholars believe that leprosy was discussed in religion as a punishment for sins. Regardless of its actual biblical meaning, Viserys’s malady begs more interpretations than solely as a metaphor for his reign.
Perhaps it’s proof that he wasn't as moral as he tried to be; he has lied, his pride has taken over at times, he has ordered or allowed murders, and many more sins. And although he was the King, by Episode 8, he is being cast out of council meetings; he is seen as an outsider within his own kingdom.
New episodes of House of the Dragon air every Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on HBO.