This House of the Dragon article contains spoilers.
In the nearly twenty years that pass in the first season of House of the Dragon, King Viserys Targaryen (Paddy Considine) is afflicted by a mysterious illness that causes him to essentially wither away up until his death in episode 8 “The Lord of the Tides.” While the show never explicitly gives the condition a name, due to his symptoms many speculated that Viserys was infected with leprosy – an infectious bacteria that can cause muscle weakness, skin lesions, and painful or tender nerves among other things. In an interview with Variety, Considine seems to confirm this diagnosis saying Viserys’ infection was most likely “a form of leprosy.”
But it wasn’t just a physical illness that plagued Viserys all this time. According to Considine, Viserys’ guilt over losing his wife Aemma (Sian Brooke) contributed to his deteriorating health, saying “How she met her end was something that haunted him for the rest of his life. When he started to become sick early on, it was almost a manifestation of the guilt that he felt over Aemma’s death. So he just allowed himself to get sicker and sicker. He never asked for a cure. He never asked for help. Viserys almost accepted his fate, really, as punishment.”
This makes sense, given how much Viserys seems to love Aemma in the short time we see them together. Even after he marries Allicent (Emily Carey and Olivia Cooke) and she gives him sons, it’s clear that his union with her is out of societal expectation rather than love. He thinks he’s doing the right thing by marrying her, but that ends up pushing his daughter Rhaenyra (Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy) even further away. Between his own guilt and his strained relationship with Rhaenyra, it makes sense that Viserys would just resign to withering away. He probably feels like he deserves to suffer for his choices, which makes the timing of his death even sadder. He had finally found a way to bring his family back together, and yet his death divides them once again.
Considine also drew on his own experiences to play the dying monarch, saying that Viserys’ death scene reminds him of his father’s fight with cancer. When he went back to watch the scene in episode 8, Considine says that “the end, when he lies in the bed, it was very shocking to me, because I looked [like] the image of my dad when he was dying of cancer.”
He then goes on to talk about his father’s final moments, saying “I remember one day looking into his eyes, and I just said to him, “Dad…” — this is very difficult. [Long pause.] But I said, ‘Dad, just let go. Just let go, Dad.’ And he couldn’t. He didn’t want to let go. You know, this is big stuff, but times in his life, he’d attempted to take his own life. And then when I see him dying, I wasn’t sure if he finally was like, ‘Actually, I really want to live,” or “I am fucking terrified of dying.’ I still don’t know to this day. But sometimes when people pass, I feel like they know. It’s like when a dog goes away to die on its own. And I felt that very much with Viserys.”
It’s clear that Considine put a lot of care into how he portrayed Viserys through both the character’s backstory and his own experiences. Even though Viserys made many questionable choices throughout his reign, he’s still a human who often had to push his own feelings aside for the good of the kingdom. Though he may not have aged as gracefully as his brother Daemon (Matt Smith), Viserys cared deeply for both his family and the kingdom. Considine made Viserys so much more than just a senile old monarch who was withering away, he made him a sympathetic character through his final moments.