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‘Game of Thrones’ Loose Ends: Could Jorah’s Greyscale Plot Still Prove Vital in the War?

The exiled knight’s cure was the rare happy tale on ‘Thrones.’ But was it really just a detour on his way back to Dany, or could it mean that the heroes actually have another weapon to wield against the White Walkers?

HBO/Ringer illustration

In 26 days, Game of Thrones will finally return. And 35 days after that, Thrones will end. In less time than it seemingly takes Littlefinger to zip around to every corner of Westeros, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will deliver a conclusion to the story George R.R. Martin first introduced 23 years ago—and in that precious time they’ll have to answer half a hundred pressing questions: Who will live? Who will die? Who will tell Jon he’s doing it with his aunt?

Separate from those series-shaping questions are countless smaller but still crucial details that the show may or may not explore in the final season. These are Thrones’ loose ends: the characters, places, events, prophecies, and more that the story has made audiences wonder about over the past seven seasons but has yet to satisfyingly wrap up. In the run-up to the final season’s April 14 premiere, we’ll be digging through these loose ends, looking at why they matter and how they could affect the endgame as we count down the days to Thrones’ long-awaited conclusion.


The Loose End

When Jorah Mormont contracts greyscale in Season 5 and falls to the infection after he rescues Tyrion from a drowning death near the ruins of Valyria, the camera lingers on his already stony wrist before the screen fades to black. The development is so important, such a foreboding cliffhanger, that it ends the episode. From there, essentially every look at Jorah features a somber reminder of the disease spreading down his arm, and in a tearful goodbye with Daenerys in Season 6, she commands him to find a cure and return to her side.

Against all odds, he does. Somehow, the exiled knight ends up back in Westeros, where he happens upon the bravest man in the Citadel: Samwell Tarly, who disobeys a direct order to let Jorah die and tries an experimental procedure. Mere hours after Archmaester Ebrose gestures toward Jorah’s sword to imply that he should commit suicide before the infection affects his mental faculties, Mormont is free to return to his dragon queen.

It’s the rare happy tale in Game of Thrones, even if Jorah was dismayed to see that Dany had found a new man she’ll soon love—Jon Snow—in his absence. But all that buildup seems disproportionate for the rather tidy conclusion that ensues. Which raises the question: Does Jorah’s greyscale still matter?

Why This Loose End Matters

First, a reminder of the horrors of greyscale illustrate why this disease is so feared. In the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons, Tyrion thinks, “Death had lost its terror for [him], but greyscale was another matter.” He also explains via internal narration the ever-worsening progression of symptoms:

The mortal form of greyscale began in the extremities, he knew: a tingling in a fingertip, a toenail turning black, a loss of feeling. As the numbness crept into the hand, or stole past the foot and up the leg, the flesh stiffened and grew cold and the victim’s skin took on a greyish hue, resembling stone. … Blindness was common when the stone reached the face. In the final stages the curse turned inward, to muscles, bones, and inner organs.

Sounds pleasant! In those final stages, the disease spreads to the psyche as well and drives the inflicted mad. And it’s extremely contagious; in the show, Ebrose reprimands Sam because by treating Jorah he “could have devastated the entire Citadel.”

What happens in the rare cases that the disease is successfully treated is a bit murkier, however. One strain of thought holds that the infection remains inside the patient, dormant but possibly poised to reawaken. In Dance, a wildling woman named Val refuses to let her infant son in the same tower as Stannis’s daughter, Shireen, whom she considers a “dead girl” because of her prior brush with greyscale. Val explains that north of the Wall, they consider the southern maesters ill informed about the disease’s lingering potency: “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. The child is not clean!”

Learned folks think differently south of the Wall, however, believing that a cured case of greyscale not only remains cured but also renders its wearer immune to the grey plague, greyscale’s quicker and more potent cousin. (Although not mentioned in the show, in book world, the grey plague killed Illyrio Mopatis’s wife and is known to level entire cities when allowed to spread.) Also in Dance, Tyrion notes that “maesters and septons alike” abide by this theory, which creates interesting possibilities for Jorah in Season 8. (More on this below.)

Beyond its plot purpose, moreover, greyscale seems to serve a thematic role in the story. The very idea of this disease fits with Martin’s broader effort to explore the horrid side effects of war, often in ways the show doesn’t attempt. That theme isn’t totally absent on HBO—the Battle of the Bastards, for instance, drew attention to the terrors of war via the growing piles of bodies and Jon’s labored breathing—but the texts focus far more on the mental and medical side effects than just those on the battlefield. When the show turns to the medical side, for comparison, it’s as likely to inspire a romance—as in the case of Robb’s meet-cute with Talisa—as to comment on the depravity of war.

The famous “Broken Man” speech, for instance, delivered in the books by a Riverlands septon named Meribald, centers Martin’s antiwar themes with deeply poignant emotion. (The show’s version of this message, from Hound friend Septon Ray, notably deviates from the book by coming closer to encouraging violence than not.) And when war comes to Meereen in the books, a disease resembling dysentery, known as the “bloody flux” or “pale mare,” runs rampant through the camps and becomes a major plot point (and even part of a prophecy from Quaithe). “I have known the bloody flux to destroy whole armies when left to spread unchecked,” Barristan Selmy says, later adding, “The bloody flux has been the bane of every army since the Dawn Age.”

Greyscale could induce similar effects with similar accompanying themes. This part of Jorah’s arc doesn’t happen to him in the books; rather, it mimics what happens to Jon Connington, a book-only character. Jon is the protector and guardian of Aegon “Young Griff” Targaryen (whose possible role and absence from the show we explored earlier in the Loose Ends series). Like Jorah in the show, Connington rescues Tyrion from dying in Essosi waters; like Jorah in the show, he then discovers a greyscale affliction that he hides from those around him lest it compromise his mission to elevate a Targaryen (in Connington’s case, Young Griff; in Jorah’s case, Dany) to the Iron Throne. It’s quite possible that Connington, now in Westeros in the books, will spread his greyscale infection across the continent, and thus unleash a medical killer concurrent with the armored killers he’s brought ashore as well.

How Season 8 Could Address It

Let’s take the horror-of-war aspect first. With a notion as extreme as reanimated family members turned evil through magic not only feasible, but perhaps likely, the show doesn’t need greyscale to send this kind of message. This upcoming season could be filled with psychological torment, and the coming darkness encapsulates more than just the literal amount of light that permeates the winter weather. Thematically, then, Jorah’s greyscale might not matter anymore.

But the plot aspect intrigues further, especially if the maesters and septons know more than the free folk on this score. (It’s often been the opposite and might indeed be in the books, but at least at this juncture on the show, it seems unlikely that Jorah’s greyscale would reappear.) If Jorah is not only cured of greyscale but now immune to it, he would be the heroes’ only ally who could venture to Old Valyria without fear of infection from the stone men. Even with Arya and Dany back in Westeros after their Essosi journeys, the show isn’t done with the eastern continent: Euron’s there, seeking the sellsword Golden Company for hire; Melisandre’s there, for an unknown purpose; and Jaqen and Daario are there, the latter overseeing democracy in the Bay of Dragons after a rather abrupt goodbye in Season 6.

Given the accelerated travel times on the show in recent seasons, it’s not impossible to think that Jorah would have enough time to travel all the way to Valyria and back. He could have several reasons for doing so. The heroes could discover the secrets of crafting Valyrian steel, for instance, and require a long-lost item to facilitate the process. Or Jon Snow could need some instrument to help bond with Rhaegal, and could there be a more fitting mission for poor, suffering Jorah than to help his crush’s new beau ride a dragon?

And yet even that idea isn’t the most tantalizing potential outcome of Jorah’s greyscale plot. Maybe the disease can itself be weaponized. We don’t really know the epidemiology, after all, and one of the book pages Sam reads in Season 7 reveals a connection between greyscale and dragonglass. What if that connection extends so far that greyscale can actually be used against the White Walkers in some fashion? The majority of their army is made up of men, albeit dead, and the Walkers themselves were mortal before their turning—can the disease function against the dead the same way it works against the living, and can it spread through ice the same way it spreads through flesh? Or could it somehow render Jorah, whom we see in the Season 8 trailer fighting in the Battle of Winterfell, immune to all forms of magical control, and therefore the Night King’s malfeasance?

The humans need all the help they can get in the coming fight, and in a series defined by cripples, bastards, and broken things and the surprising feats they can accomplish, a heroic turn for greyscale would fit right in. That outcome may not be likely, but neither was Jorah’s surviving his close encounter with death and returning to Dany’s good graces. Maybe greyscale can help him out some more before the series ends.

Disclaimer: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.