For a show that has a reputation for killing off important, beloved characters with complete disregard, Game of Thrones also features quite a few surprising survivors who simply walk off what should be fatal injuries.
These characters aren’t shrugging off mortal wounds because of any Valaryian Steel protection. No, they’ve got something far more resistant: plot armor. This storytelling trope keeps important characters protected from harm to the point that the audience is left incredulous. Sometimes it takes the form of a miraculous recovery from a serious injury, like the blow to Tyrion Lannister’s face at the Battle of the Blackwater, or it can be a sudden rescue like when the Lannister and Tyrell armies rode in to save the day just minutes later.
The show is, of course, a work of fantasy, and while fans are watching for badassery rather than historical accuracy, it’s fascinating to ponder if their champion would actually make it to the Iron Throne. Dr. Michael Parks, an orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City who trained in trauma surgery, spoke to Inverse about which fan favorites would have been long dead and gone in Westeros’ rendition of the most dangerous game..
Some spoilers for Game of Thrones season seven are below, but at this point that’s more on you.
Characters who should have died
1: Arya Stark
When Arya was planning her escape from Braavos, she was approached by the then-disguised Waif and stabbed multiple times in the gut. She escaped by leaping into a filthy canal before running to safety. And after a night of some rest, opioid painkillers, and a couple stitches, Arya was back in perfect health and able to sprint across the city.
“Watching Arya get stabbed in the abdomen, well I said ‘she’s dead,’” says Dr. Parks. “If you get a knife wound in the belly, you’re gonna go through the stomach and you’re gonna puncture the intestines. You’re gonna soil that hole with some pretty dirty stuff.”
Even if Arya’s stab wound was stitched up and recovered, she would still have gaping holes in her digestive system that would allow all sorts of waste into her system.
Dr. Parks explained that if an x-ray shows any sort of perforation in the abdomen, then that person will need immediate surgery, after which they would have a prolonged recovery period.
“Certainly not overnight with some stitches and some tea and some sleep. That’s not the treatment,” says Parks. “It was great fictional armor because we all rooted for her, but it was a stretch on reality.”
2: Brandon Stark
“Bran would have been dead, yeah,” says Dr. Parks.
Things are not looking well for House Stark. In the first episode of the show, Bran catches Jaime and Cersei Lannister boning in a tower at Winterfell. Jaime pushes Bran out the window, and he falls several stories. In the show, Bran’s legs are permanently paralyzed, indicating that he suffered some sort of spinal fracture. Dr. Parks thinks that’s a realistic prognosis, but a similar case in real life would have been fatal.
“He’d break his heel bone, his legs, and he’d break his spine,” he says. “But then he’d break his ribs and puncture his lungs. Maybe he’d puncture a vessel and bleed out. Maybe he’d hit his head. More serious injuries would have happened from that height.”
3: Sandor Clegane
When The Hound squares off against Brienne, he gets beaten. Badly. In addition to losing what turns into a violent fistfight and having his ear bitten off, Clegane goes rolling down a cliff, breaking several bones, including one that’s sticking out of his leg.
“With a bone sticking out with that dirty wound, it’s certain that The Hound would have lost his leg. An open fracture is a surgical emergency, and even now we would worry about it,” says Dr. Parks.
Even if the acute infections from rolling his wounds down a dirty hillside were treated, exposed bones are very easy to infect as well. So the immediate problem of putting the pieces of The Hound back where they belong and closing his wounds is just part of the problem. The real danger would be osteomyelitis, or an infected bone. Even properly cleaning a wound won’t prevent that.
“His recovery is definitely plot armor. So there’s a lot of fiction there,” says Dr. Parks. “But that was a serious wound, an open wound, with bone sticking out. The reality is he would have lost his leg if not his life.”
But not all hope is lost for the characters of Game of Thrones, and some of our traumatized heroes could have reasonably survived the injuries they suffered on the show.
Dr. Parks gave a pass to Theon Greyjoy and his torture at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, as well as to Jorah’s excruciating treatment for the fictional disease Greyscale. Even Jaime, who many argue should have died from infections after losing his hand, would probably have made it in the real world.
After all, people lost their limbs and got amputations in the middle ages, so clearly they must have figured out some way to keep people alive.
“Fortunately, we’re able to do more for our patients in terms of restoration of function, but those are things that had to be dealt with.”
Game of Thrones Season 7 continues on Sundays at 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO.