When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die — or, sometimes, you sustain life-altering horrible injuries that are agony to endure and disgusting to behold!
As anyone who’s ever spent a Sunday night glued to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” knows, living in Westeros is a risky business. At any moment, you might take a sword to the face, or a screw to the foot, or have your Hodor hodored off by some crazy hodoring bastard.
And yet, strangely enough, most of the show’s grievously injured characters are still alive, in some cases seemingly against all odds. But in real life, could they really survive?
We brought in Dr. Deborah Mogelof, a physican with special expertise in trauma, to give us the rundown on “Game of Thrones’” most exciting medical mysteries.
The Face Wounds of Tyrion Lannister
Thanks to a traitorous swordsman, Tyrion’s face isn’t quite as pretty as it used to be — albeit in better shape than in the source material. In “A Clash of Kings,” he loses his entire nose in the Battle of the Blackwater. Our medical source, consulting footage of the petite Lannister’s injuries, had this to say.
Dr. Mogelof: Even if the nose were cut off completely, there are no major vessels right there. I’ve also seen people get their noses shot off and recover.
MTV: So despite getting slashed, it’s reasonable for him to still be alive?
Dr. Mogelof: Well, looking at his wound, you can see that golden-yellow kind of crusting to it. It does look like impetigo, which is a staph or strep infection. So it would already be infected there, although I don’t know if they meant for it to look like that. But provided that it’s cleaned out immediately, this is a survivable injury.
CONCLUSION: Assuming that Tyrion’s crusty face was the mistake of an overzealous makeup artist, our favorite Lion of Lannister would still be alive and kicking, even if he weren’t living in a Westerosian fantasy world.
Jaime Lannister’s Lost Hand
After being ignominiously relieved of his hand by one of Roose Bolton’s men, Jaime nevertheless managed to make a full (albeit stumpy) recovery. But according to Dr. Mogelof, a real-life amputation wouldn’t be so easy to contend with.
Dr. Mogelof: The biggest thing you would worry about is infection, which would happen quickly, in a matter of hours, especially if he’s walking around in the forest. It would spread to his lymph glands, then throughout his body. And the loss of a hand, that’s a big problem, too, obviously. But sepsis and dying of sepsis would be the primary risks.
MTV: He does encounter a sort of healer (Maester Qyburn) who cuts away the gangrenous tissue from his stump. Would that make any difference?
Dr. Mogelof: Getting rid of the dead, septic tissue is helpful, but I don’t think it would 100% treat him without antibiotics. Doing only the surgical part would probably prolong his survival, but not cure him.
MTV: On a completely different note, Jaime Lannister is also involved in an incestuous sexual relationship with his twin sister. Any medical risks associated with that?
Dr. Mogelof: Not with the sexual relationship specifically. Although at that time [the 1400s, the historical era which "Game of Thrones" most closely resembles], one thing that was rampant was sexually transmitted disease. And of course, if she gets pregnant, there would be a lot issues with that baby.
MTV: Like, he might grow up to be a power-hungry little sadist? Because that would explain a lot.
Dr. Mogelof: …No.
CONCLUSION: In real life, Jaime Lannister would probably be dead of septic shock, and possibly riddled with STDs given to him by Cersei. We cannot, however, blame him for Joffrey Baratheon.
The Decapitation of Ned Stark
No, you can’t survive a beheading. Yes, we asked. But if you were curious about it:
Dr. Mogelof: There are people who claim that they’ve seen beheaded bodies with reflexes after, where the head still makes facial expressions. The research supports that: you might get some blinking or twitching. But your spinal cord is completely severed, there’s a lot of blood loss, there’s no oxygen going to your brain. It would just be a reflex, the last bit of neurons firing off and that’s it.
MTV: So, just to ask the ridiculous question: how beheaded could you be, and still survive?
Dr. Mogelof: You would have to miss the spinal cord. If there’s any destruction of the first and second vertebrae, you’re not going to be able to breathe. But if you miss the major vessels, and someone gets you somewhere where you can be sewn up and fixed immediately, you might survive.
CONCLUSION: Sorry, kids, but Ned Stark is really, truly dead.
The Theon Greyjoy Catalog of Pain
It’s the one you’ve all been waiting for: Theon Greyjoy! Beaten, tortured, flayed, impaled, and cruelly relieved of his fingernails and his wiener, the poor captive of Bolton bastard Ramsay Snow made for a lengthy medical discussion.
MTV: Let’s start with the least of Theon’s woes: he’s strapped to a rack and deprived of food and water.
Dr. Mogelof: Right. In that case, your worry is pure dehydration. Your kidneys start to shut down, you get an electrolyte imbalance. Your potassium can go up or down, which can eventually cause cardiac arrest.
MTV: And assuming you survive that long, then there’s the fingernail pulling, the screw through the foot, the flaying. Plus, they’ve broken his teeth.
Dr. Mogelof: Most of this hurts a lot, but it’s not going to kill you. You have to worry about infection; you have to worry about the screw going through the bone, or with the teeth, if there are roots or nerves exposed.
MTV: And this is all just a prelude to the big one: penis amputation.
Dr. Mogelof: Although that’s very painful, it’s survivable. There are no major vessels in there.
MTV: What would be the challenges of living with an injury like that? I’m especially curious about how he’d pee.
Dr. Mogelof: Well, in today’s world — like when Lorena Bobbitt did it — they do a reconstruction. You’d have a kind of fake penis going on there. But in this case, there would still be some part of the urethra hanging out, and it could dribble out of there. As long as he continues to use it, it’ll remain open.
Really, it’s probably most difficult to recover from this psychologically. The big problem for guys is that their sexual impulse isn’t from the penis, so [if the penis is amputated], they’re still having that impulse, but they can’t do anything about it. I think it’s extremely frustrating.
MTV: So what you’re saying is, at this point, it would actually be better for Theon if they went back and cut off the rest of his… equipment?
Dr. Mogelof: Basically, yes. I think that would alleviate the need to, ah, do something about it.
CONCLUSION: In real life, Theon Greyjoy would most likely be just as miserably, horrible, sexually frustratedly alive as he is in his fictional universe — and probably praying for a nice, fatal potassium imbalance to put him out of his misery.
“Game of Thrones” returns to HBO on Sunday, April 6 at 9 p.m. ET, ready to release a whole new set of injuries on all of your favorite characters.