With its intriguing plot and fascinating range of characters, the series is proving to be a definite hit for a certain, well-known content streaming service.
The show centres on the events which led to the fall of the Targaryen dynasty, set 172 years before the original Game of Thrones. In the first episode, we are introduced to King Viserys, who is suffering from a mystery illness, which is progressively worsening as the series continues. The illness includes serious skin sores which do not heal, a sickly cough, nose bleeds and amputated fingers.
There has been much speculation as to the nature of the disease, but during a recent interview on Entertainment Weekly’s ‘West of Weseros’ podcast, actor Paddy Considine who plays King Viserys, explains that the character is “suffering from a form of leprosy”.
Considine goes on to explain that in the show, the illness, is a metaphor for the enormous pressure that the responsibility of power has on the character.
“He’s 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, you know? And what it does to you physically. What it does to you mentally.”
Although the show is set in a fictional universe where myth and reality intertwine, it may be interesting to understand where the leprosy fits in. It may surprise viewers to learn that despite leprosy being a very real disease, the symptoms shown in House of the Dragon’ actually bear very little resemblance to the reality of the disease.
There is an inherent risk that unrealistic portrayals of the disease could serve to re-enforce the unfounded fear surrounding leprosy, which in-turn, perpetuates the cycle of prejudice and discrimination against people affected by leprosy, which have persisted for thousands of years.
The reality is that leprosy is not a highly contagious disease, and effective treatment has been available since the 1940s. Early detection is therefore essential in leprosy management. Serious, life altering disabilities often associated with leprosy can be lessened, or entirely avoided, with early detection and effective treatment. Sadly, despite being completely treatable, roughly 600 people a day are diagnosed with leprosy, and 50 of these are children. Without early diagnosis and treatment, the leprosy bacteria causes damage to the peripheral nerves, which in turn can lead to injury and infection, and in the long-term can lead to permanent disability.
In film and television, leprosy is often depicted as a disease of the poor. The House of the Dragon creators should therefore be commended for their portrayal of a king with a ‘leprosy like disease’. In reality, leprosy does not distinguish between rich or poor. The true problem is not so much about the disease itself; it is about the health inequality and lack of access to effective treatments in vulnerable communities, which delays or prevents diagnosis.
Lepra’s mission therefore, is to fight leprosy by providing early detection and treatment at no cost to the person affected. We provide awareness raising, emotional health support, local health system strengthening and advocacy to neglected communities throughout India and Bangladesh.
To find out more about leprosy, and Lepra's work in India and Bangladesh, click here