[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for House of the Dragon episode 8 and Fire & Blood.]
After several weeks (and in-universe years) of declining health, it appears King Viserys Targaryen’s time is finally up; it seems in the final moments of episode 8 he has died. In his wake he leaves a looming war that will make up the story of the remainder of House of the Dragon, despite doing everything he could to keep the kingdom of Westeros together amid escalating tensions between his wife, Alicent Hightower, and his daughter and heir, Rhaenyra Targaryen.
By episode 8, though, the biggest threat to his reign has become impossible for anyone to ignore. And his ill health is a deep cut from Game of Thrones lore.
In the series premiere, we learn that Viserys has a small wound on his back from sitting on the Iron Throne. As the maesters tending to Viserys note, the cut mysteriously refuses to heal. In fact, it’s spreading. Viserys receives a second cut from the throne in the same episode, which similarly becomes infected and leads to the amputation of two of his fingers. In the years since, Viserys’ health has only worsened, with the fifth episode showing him coughing up blood and eventually collapsing at the (already quite eventful) wedding feast.
There are a lot of things plaguing Viserys at this point that could be contributing to this turn for the worse — his old age, the stress over Daemon and Rhaenyra’s relationship, and the fear of war if Rhaenyra remains his heir (though he demonstrates repeatedly that he’s still willing to stake her). By episode 8, his health problems have severely compounded: Alicent basically rules in his place, as he’s bedridden, nearly constantly on painkillers, and has lost part of his face (which he hides behind a gold mask). And yet, Viserys’ health problems all began with a nick likely no larger than a paper cut.
The reason Viserys’ wounds never healed is more symbolic than anything as routine as bacterial infection. The significance of being cut by the Iron Throne actually has deep roots in Targaryen history and Game of Thrones lore, dating all the way back to the throne’s creation.
What does it mean to be cut by the Iron Throne?
Viserys’ ancestor Aegon I Targaryen constructed the Iron Throne out of a thousand broken blades he had taken from his enemies. The “ironwork monstrosity,” as George R.R. Martin referred to it in Game of Thrones, was built with the intention of causing extreme discomfort. “A king should never sit easy,” Aegon the Conqueror explained in the first A Song of Ice and Fire book.
Aegon’s son Aenys succeeded his father, but was eventually killed by his brother, the usurper Maegor Targaryen. Six years into Maegor’s infamously cruel reign, his nephew Jaehaerys Targaryen raised banners against him. After very few houses came to Maegor’s aid, he chose to spend the night brooding alone on the Iron Throne. The next morning, one of Maegor’s many wives, Elinor, found him dead in the seat with one of the throne’s blades impaled through his neck and his forearms slashed open by several other spikes.
There are multiple theories about Maegor’s death, including that he took his own life or that Elinor murdered him. But many believe that the Iron Throne itself is what killed Maegor. This is what originated the popular superstition that the throne chooses who is worthy or not of ruling Westeros, and that those who are deemed undeserving suffer injury by its blades.
Does everyone who gets cut on the Iron Throne die?
No — or at least not as a direct result of their wounds.
Maegor and Viserys are not the only two people to have been cut by the Iron Throne. Daenerys Targaryen’s paranoid father Aerys II Targaryen was commonly known as The Mad King, but because he cut himself so often on the Iron Throne he was also dubbed King Scab. However, the Mad King wasn’t found dead on the throne nor of an infection from one of his many cuts. Rather, his death came at the end of Jaime Lannister’s sword.
So, while being cut by the Iron Throne may symbolize the unworthiness of a king or queen, the Iron Throne isn’t a supernatural judge, jury, and executioner that disposes of the ruler itself. That being said, anyone who sits on the throne is already at a higher than average chance of death. If they’re on the throne and not a fit ruler, those odds go up exponentially.
What does Viserys being cut by the Iron Throne mean?
It doesn’t take Viserys being cut by the Iron Throne to make it clear he isn’t a great king. Having ascended during peaceful times, Viserys is driven by a desire to please and prefers to avoid issues rather than confront them head on, such as his dismissal of the threat the Crabfeeder and Triarchy pose. When Viserys does make bold decisions — like naming Rhaenyra as his successor or deciding to wed Alicent — these choices only sow more dissent against him.
Viserys’ first cut from the Iron Throne occurred at an unknown time, but the timing of his second injury is of particular significance, coming immediately following his decision to remove Daemon from the line of succession. This ruling is one of the key decisions that ultimately leads to the first Targaryen civil war, which seems to be fast approaching now that the Westeros noble houses have begun choosing sides in the battle for succession between Rhaenyra and Aegon, Alicent’s son.
The second cut could be a signal that Viserys’ poor judgment will only lead to ruin — for himself, his family, and his kingdom. It could also just be another way to reinforce what Daemon told his brother — that Viserys is a weak king who isn’t up to bearing the burden of his own power. Either way, they were a very bad omen for Viserys’ future.
By the end of his life, Viserys had lost fingers and an arm. His mobility was severely limited, and if Alicent was to be believed, he was in extreme pain whenever not heavily dosed with painkillers. His facial disfigurement is so extreme that he knows it makes his family uncomfortable to look at him, preferring to wear a mask or bandages or stay in the dark. It is, no doubt, not the lasting memory he hopes people will have of him. But after years of sitting uncomfortably on the Iron Throne, his reign is finally done.