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History of Thrones: Greyscale, the Curse Placed on the Dragonlords of Valyria

Winter is here, and along with it the return of our series History of Thrones, where we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward on Game of Thrones. However be warned, you will be coming into contact with highly contagious theories, which you won’t be immune from if you consider them spoilers.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.


By the time greyscale has run its course its victims are more monster than man, their skin having hardened over like cracked stone, their minds ravaged by madness. For even the most fearless warriors, the exiled stone men are reminders of a fate worse than death. But for the living who must face the White Walkers, it’s not the end of greyscale that should worry them, it’s the disease’s beginning. Because in a world where ancient legends now march towards the Wall, the story of greyscale’s origins tell of a curse on the old dragonlords of Valyria. A curse that might be heading straight for Daenerys Targaryen.

The effects of greyscale, which attacks children mostly, are well known. The highly contagious disease first attacks the skin, killing it and turning it black and mottled. It is commonly found in wet, cold climates, like the Iron Islands and Dragonstone, as well as the jungle-covered continent of Sothoryos.

The disease normally begins in the fingers and toes (Shireen Baratheon held an infected doll to her face, which is why that was the site of her disfigurement), which is why people who have come in contact with it test for numbness in their fingers and toes with a knife. Once it’s clear they have acquired the terrible illness some try to stop its spread in extreme ways, and while chopping off a hand or foot can work, it just as often doesn’t.

Some go blind once it reaches their face, and their lips and tongues turn to stone. After the skin has been overrun, greyscale begins to destroy a person’s internal organs, muscles, and bones. Despite this, it is said greyscale is not painful at the end, but the madness it brings in the final stages makes it hard to ask the stone men how much their transformation they feel, if they are capable of feeling anything in the throes of insanity.

There are treatments beyond amputation–maesters believe there are ways to halt the spread, and septons believe in the power of prayer–but nothing has ever proved to truly be a cure.

Greyscale is not considered fatal in spite of its horrific effects. While technically true in the strictest sense, it does destroy the person you were, leaving you something less than human. However, there is a related illness known as grey plague that is fatal. Sometimes known as grey death, it also turns victims’ skin to stone, but it works much faster. Those who survive greyscale are immune to it, though no one would recommend acquiring greyscale as a form of vaccination.

Few diseases in Westeros and beyond are as feared as greyscale, or its cousin grey plague. But with the greatest threat the living have ever faced amassing its army of the dead, worry over an outbreak of greyscale would seem frivolous now. Yet, the legend of where greyscale comes from means it could prove fatal to mankind’s hopes of stopping the Night King.

Long before the Targaryens came to Dragonstone, the dragonlords of Valyria built their massive Freehold after centuries spent conquering most of Essos. After long and protracted wars with the Old Empire of Ghis, and following their driving out of the Andals (who fled to Westeros), the Valyrians broke peace with their neighbors along the Rhoyne River.

It was the end of the Second Spice War when the Rhonynish Prince Garin the Great led a force of 250,000 men against the Valyrians. He not only defeated them and their 100,000 men, he killed two dragons.

The Valyrians returned, this time with 300 dragons. Garin was captured and hung from a cage over the river to watch as his army was destroyed, with many of the Rhonyish enslaved. The legend says that as his conquerors mocked him Garin called on Mother Rhoyne to destroy the Valyrian invaders.

That night the river swelled and swallowed the Valyrians. Ever since, that portion of the Rhonye has been known as the Sorrows, a dark, mysterious place of unnatural fog and foul water, where ships and sailors frequently go missing. The Sorrows is said to be cursed by the fallen soldiers of Valyria, who live beneath the water, now turned to stone like their hearts.

Some, like Tyrion Lannister, believe that Garin’s Curse is truly greyscale, and it is there that the stone men are sent to exile (the show changed this to Valyria).

Before White Walkers, magic, and dragons returned to the world, Garin’s Curse sounded like every other tall tale, another myth to explain one of the world’s worst diseases, a warning to would-be-travelers to stay away from a dangerous place. But now when legends have proven to be all too real, Mother Rhonye’s answer to Garin’s prayers has taken on added meaning.

If true, greyscale was born as a curse against the invasion of the Valyrian dragonlords, which is exactly what Daenerys Targaryen is now herself. She sits at Dragonstone, a climate that incubates the disease, the place where Shireen Baratheon was infected, waiting to invade Westeros. But as she waits, Jorah, who was just “cured” of the disease, is heading to her.

But why worry? Last we saw of Ser Jorah Mormont the disease was no longer active thanks to Samwell Tarly.

But did Sam truly cure Jorah? When he followed the instructions in that book and cut away Jorah’s infected black skin, did Sam really do the impossible and find the elusive treatment that ends the horrible disease? Or did Sam merely remove the visible effects of greyscale, while the highly contagious disease still remains unseen?

There are those who believe greyscale never goes away in those who have been “cured.” In A Dance With Dragons the sister-in-law of Mance Rayder, Val (one of the best characters from the novels not to survive HBO’s adaptation), tells Jon Snow that Shireen Baratheon is “not clean.”

Val says the freefolk believe greyscale is never really gone, but rather it sits dormant, waiting to come alive. “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,” Val warned, saying that she would have had Shireen killed.

If the wildlings fears prove true, that means Jorah isn’t a cured man, instead he is a ticking time bomb, and an explosion at Dragonstone could wipe out Daenerys’s forces, if not the Mother of Dragons herself.

Garin prayed for punishment for the Valyrians, the conquerors who came for his people on the backs of their dragons, and Daenerys Targaryen could be the last of those victims.

Even a mass outbreak of greyscale would pale in comparison to the existential threat posed by the White Walkers, but if it infects the one person who can ride a dragon and battle the ice of the Night King with the fire of dragon flame, greyscale would prove to be just as damning for the living.

Sam thinks he saved Jorah’s life, but he might have doomed everyone by unleashing Garin’s Curse on mankind’s greatest hope.

What do you think? Is Jorah cured? Or is he bringing Garin’s Curse to Dragonstone? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

You can find all other History of Thrones entries here.

Images: HBO

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