On last night’s episode of Game of Thrones, a Red Priestess in Volantis mentions the “stone Men in their misery,” reintroducing a disease known as “greyscale” to the series.
We’ve already seen the effects of this disease once before in previous seasons, with the daughter of Stannis Baratheon, Shireen.
Shireen is the daughter (and only heir) to Stannis and Selyse Florent. She contracted greyscale as an infant, and although she survived, the disease left her face permanently scarred. Just as it was described in the books, Shireen’s greyscale caused her skin to become discolored and cracked, stone-like to the touch.
Is there a cure?
The scary thing about greyscale is that it is almost always fatal, and there is no sure-fire way to cure it. The Maesters of Westeros believe it can be treated with scalding hot water, mustard, and limes. The Septons say that only prayer and fasting can help. Eastward in Essos, some use vinegar baths to try to cure their greyscale, or surgically remove the infected body part entirely. In all cases, these treatments are colloquially effective at best.
Around Volantis (the city Tyrion arrived at in the last episode), those afflicted by the disease beyond hope of treatment are sent to live with the “Stone Men.”
Who are the Stone Men?
The Stone Men are people with extremely late-stage greyscale. Their bodies are almost entirely consumed by the disease, and their minds are nearly gone as a result. They are zombie-like, and tend to just wander about unless disturbed. They can become extremely aggressive when provoked though.
They tend to congregate around a region of the Rhoyne river called the Sorrows., and are even rumored to have a leader, the “Shrouded Lord.” Three times a year, the rulers of Volantis send a ship upriver with provisions, in an attempt to pacify the Stone Men and keep them from wandering back towards the city.
Why is it being reintroduced now?
(Spoilers for the books follow)
In the novels, Tyrion is not traveling on land with Varys. Instead, he’s on a poleboat navigating the Sorrows. The region is always shrouded in fog, riddled with pirates, and a curse known as Garin’s Curse is believed to taint the water. Simply touching the water will often lead to greyscale.
While passing under the Bridge of Dream, the boat is attacked by Stone Men, and Tyrion falls into the water. Miraculously, he himself does not contract greyscale, but one of his companions does. As the characters that accompany Tyrion in the books do not exist in the HBO show, it’s possible that this journey will instead be taken with Jorah Mormont, who kidnapped Tyrion in High Sparrow.