What’s Wrong With Viserys? ‘House of the Dragon’ Prosthetic Designer Explains His Flesh-Eating Disease and Making the Clickers in ‘The Last of Us’

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read unless you’ve seen the first nine episodes of “House of the Dragon” on HBO.

Well before he died in Episode 8 of “House of the Dragon,” Paddy Considine’s King Viserys Targaryen (may he rest in peace) was falling apart. Literally — his body and face were crumbling.

Viserys’ deterioration happened slowly. First, it was a few festering cuts from sitting on the Iron Throne, then it was some missing fingers. After the 10-year time jump in Episode 6, he lost an entire arm. Finally, in Episode 8, he was missing an eye and half of his face, most of his hair had fallen out and he looked more like a walking skeleton than the ruling Targaryen king.

Prosthetics designer Barrie Gower and his team were behind Viserys’ gradual and ghastly transformation. Gower already has a lot of experience in Westeros; he created the Night King and won three Emmys for outstanding prosthetic makeup on “Game of Thrones.” Plus, he won an Emmy this year for his making Vecna on “Stranger Things.” He’s also worked on “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” “Chernobyl,” “The Witcher” and more.

For Viserys’ ill look, Gower examined real-life diseases to get the disgusting detail just right.

“We researched various flesh-eating disorders,” Gower says. “Necrosis, leprosy, all kinds of horrible references. Lots of interesting shapes, colors and ulcers. They could give us a good indication for textures, colors, glosses, how dry things would be. It’s very grounded in the real world of horrible diseases.”

Since “House of the Dragon” jumps ahead in time nearly 20 years, Viserys’ disease had to eat away at him slowly. One of the first signs of the trouble to come is a “small, grape-sized ulcer on his back,” a fairly innocuous wound but one that signals the hardship of being king.

“Over the course of the season we had about seven different stages, which would be told through his make-up, hair, the receding hairline, the pallor and the color of his skin, texture of the skin, and then various small sores on the body,” Gower says. “We had little silicone molds that you can press onto the skin and peel them off. We had cheek appliances, little sores that were shaved into Paddy’s own beard and his hairline. With the silicone bald cap, we could recede the hairline and had sores in there.”

By the time Episodes 7 and 8 rolled around, many viewers — and most of the power-hungry royals of King’s Landing — were surprised to see the king was still alive. A shell of his former self, Viserys is bone-thin, balding and addicted to milk of the poppy, a popular medicinal opiate in Westeros. To create this sickly look, Gower reveals they used a skinny body double.

“For one or two scenes, we had a body double who was very slender and had a very pronounced bone structure,” he said. “We shot some of the scenes with sores on his back, necrosis on his collarbone and shoulders. Then we shot the same scene with Paddy, and VFX were able to manipulate Paddy’s face onto the double’s body.”

Having a body double also meant the prep time was doubled to create the hair and make-up for both men. In Episode 8, where it’s revealed that half of Viserys’ face has fallen off, it took five hours to create the prosthetics and wigs.

“Viserys’ hair was getting so thin and receded by that point, we no longer had a lace wig,” Gower says. “We individually inserted all the hairs and punched them into the silicone prosthetic. Every day he’d have a new, punched silicone prosthetic. We’d be doing Paddy’s makeup at one end of the trailer, then we’d be doing his double on the other end of the trailer. He’d also have a bald cap with the punched hair, so we could shoot from behind or 3/4 behind.”

The first time we see Viserys in Episode 8, a golden half-mask hides the destroyed parts of his face. During a tense dinner, he removes the mask so his family can see him as he truly is — a decrepit king with not much time left to live. A combination of practical and visual effects helped create open cavities in his eye socket, cheek and jaw.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to achieve that final look completely practically, because we would have all these holes in Paddy’s head,” Gower says. “We had fully prosthetic make-up that covered all of Paddy’s face for those scenes. We had areas that were painted green for the visual effects department to remove in post. They also tucked in the build of Paddy’s face, so they made him a lot more slender and gaunt.”

The shocking, half-missing face is Viserys’ final stage before he dies in his sleep at the end of Episode 8. Gower says the “House of the Dragon” team wanted viewers to feel “sadness” and “remorse” for the king, but not be horrified by his look.

Gower’s next HBO project, however, is intended to horrify audiences. He’s making the terrifying, zombie-like clickers from “The Last of Us,” HBO’s upcoming adaptation of the post-apocalyptic video game series. In “The Last of Us,” an airborne fungus has ravaged society, and those who are infected begin to sprout mushroom-like growths from their bodies. The fungus takes over victims’ nervous systems, rips through their eyes, and they’re forced to use echolocation to feast on human flesh.

“It was a bit of a dream come true,” Gower says. “For a monster maker, it’s exactly the type of job that I got into the business to do. We were really lucky. The scripts are fantastic. There are some really terrifying moments. There’s a lot for the fans in there. I think it’s fair to say they’re going to be very happy.”

Though he couldn’t say much about the upcoming series, Gower praised showrunners Craig Mazin, with whom he worked on “Chernobyl,” and Neil Druckmann, who directed the original game.

“From what I’ve seen of the show and what we shot, it’s very true and authentic to the game,” he said. “I’m hoping the fans will be over the moon with it and it will spawn a load of new fans who will be introduced to it through the show rather than the video game.”


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