When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die—and let’s face it, no one really wins. Westeros and its neighboring continents are vast and dangerous lands, and its inhabitants range from deranged to downright sadistic. Enemies are easy to come by, and protecting your house, honor, and life can depend on just how brutal you’re willing to be. With a sword-to-citizen ratio that seems to be north of 10-to-1, death is never far away, and no one, high- or low-born, is safe.
Death is a great equalizer in George R.R. Martin’s world. Valar morghulis, the assassins say: All men must die. And they do. Kings, queens, lords, and other nobility drop like flies. Robert Baratheon, the warhammer-wielding gladiator-king who defeated some of Westeros’s greatest fighters in single combat, gets gored by a boar. Khal Drogo, the fearsome Dothraki horselord who rides undefeated in battle, dies of an infection caused by a cut. Elsewhere, poisoned wine can strangle you from the inside out. Moonlight assassins stalk little lordlings in the night. Supernatural shadows stab and dissolve into the wind. And much, much more.
We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of how to lose your life in Game of Thrones. We’ve added deaths from A Song of Ice and Fire, too, with spoiler warnings. Like a sick tribute to his biggest fans, Martin has saved his more gruesome and sadistically detailed demises for the books. As you’ll see, the show looks downright sanitized in comparison.
Losing your head
It’s easy to find sharp blades in Westeros. It’s even easier to swing them. Eddard Stark taught us to never get too attached a character: His head will, eventually, roll.
Maybe the rarest way to die in Game of Thrones. It seems rare that anyone in the kingdoms lives long enough to die of a worn-out body, but that fate still manages to claim a few, including Hoster Tully, father of Catelyn Stark.
Always make someone taste your drinks before you take a swig, lest you end up puffy, purple, and poisoned. If anyone deserved such a sinister demise, it’s Joffrey Baratheon.
Crossbowed on the toilet
If you’re going to die of an arrow to the gut, make sure it’s while you’re riding a steed into combat, not while you’re taking a shit. As Tywin Lannister knows, a crossbow can find you when you least expect it.
Crossbowed just for fun
A sadistic boy king will murder as he pleases, which means a lady of the evening such as Ros, a prostitute in King’s Landing, can make a handy tool for target practice.
Gored by a wild boar
You can’t even go hunting in Westeros without running the risk of death. Finding yourself on the wrong end of a wild boar is something Robert Baratheon knows all too well. But it wasn’t all the boar’s fault; he should have asked what was in his skin of wine… or why his wife might want him dead.
Mauled by a wolf
Bran Stark’s assassin didn’t plan his moves very well. Bran’s trusty direwolf, Summer, made quick work of the knife-wielding would-be killer before he could draw blood. Good dog.
Letting a Faceless Man hear your name
Don’t find yourself on the bad side of anyone with access to a Braavosi assassin. If a Faceless Man owes you a deed, any name you utter will spell that person’s doom.
Fighting a warrior with a name like “the Mountain” is bound to end badly. For Oberyn Martell, a prince of Dorne, what could have been a sure victory in single combat turned into one of the most gruesome and shocking death scenes in all of the Seven Kingdoms.
Betrayed by your bodyguard
If you can’t trust a Lannister, whom can you trust? Aerys II Targaryen, better known as the Mad King, found himself on the wrong end of a young Jaime Lannister’s spear. The event earned Aerys an early expiration and Jaime a new nickname, Kingslayer.
Sliced in two
You need a mighty strong swing to cleave a body in half, but that’s just what the Hound was able to accomplish with a random peasant in one particularly brutal fight scene.
Locked in a tower to starve
Ramsay Snow. We’ll see a lot of him on this list. The Bolton bastard, famous for killing for sport, is one of the most sadistic characters ever to walk in Westeros. He seized Lady Donella Hornwood on her return home from Winterfell and forced her to marry him. He then locked her in a tower cell to starve to death, likely after her cousin Wyman Manderly took control of Hornwood. She was found having eaten the tips of her fingers—probably because Ramsay had had them flayed first.
The night is dark and full of terrors.
Slowly turning to stone
Greyscale is a long, slow, and agonizing death. The tips of your fingers turn to stone, and then it spreads through the hands and arms to the rest of the body and internal organs. Hacking off a hand at the first sign of greyscale is thought to stop the spread, but often it simply moves to another appendage. Fortunately, it works like chicken pox: If you survive it as a kid, as Shireen Baratheon did, you’ll be left disfigured but safe.
Giving birth to a dwarf
Poor Tyrion. Born a dwarf, he was a pariah from birth. Even worse, his entrance into this world meant the end for his mother, Joanna Lannister. Tyrion has carried that burden ever since, and his father, Tywin, never forgave him for it.
Falling off the Wall
As soon as the Wall was besieged, it became clear that its sheer height would spell trouble for anyone who tried to scale it. Between the wildlings and the clumsier members of the Night’s Watch, countless men and women have tumbled to the frozen, unforgiving ground below.
Become a wight
There’s a reason why people don’t go north of the Wall. If you die in its frozen expanse—not unlikely, given the severe cold—you might find yourself reanimated as a wight and joining a killer zombie army that attacks the living.
End up in a display jar
Stannis Baratheon and his wife, Selyse, have a strange way of remembering their stillborn children. Instead of a normal grave, Selyse keeps them preserved in jars in her bedroom. I don’t think you can buy anything like that on Etsy.
Throat torn out
You don’t want to make Khal Drogo angry. Just ask his once-loyal follower, Mago.
Strangling yourself while trying to save your father
Watching your father burn to death is one thing, but accidentally killing yourself while trying to save him is a special kind of bond only Brandon and Rickard Stark share.
Freezing to death in the North
If the White Walkers don’t get you, the cold just might. Harwood Fell is just one of the frozen souls who became meat popsicles after passing the Wall.
Getting stabbed by a skeleton must suck.
Having your eyes melted by dragons
If you’re a slave driver and someone who commands dragons isn’t fond of you, it’s probably best to just cut your losses and move somewhere else.
Stabbed by a supernatural shadow
Don’t worry, Renly Baratheon, the rest of us forgot that supernatural stuff existed in George R.R. Martin’s world, too.
Getting skewered on a tree
Falling off the Wall wasn’t enough for one talented wildling, and he found a way to skewer himself on a massive tree on the way down as well. You won’t remember his name, but you’ll remember his demise.
Poked by Needle
Arya might be pint sized, but her stature belies her ferocity. Polliver didn’t know what was in store for him when Needle graced his neck, but he found out a few seconds later.
Eaten by maggots from the inside out
The Ironborn in Moat Cailin are in bad, bad shape by the time Theon Greyjoy—or should we say Reek?—arrives to negotiate the terms of their surrender. One, run through with poison arrows, is found with wounds bursting with maggots. It’s not a pretty sight.
Attending a wedding
Weddings in Westeros are touchy affairs, and it seems like not one can pass without taking a few lives with it. The Red Wedding was the worst offender, claiming no less than seven recognizable characters in the span of about one minute.
Having your head swapped with a wolf’s
Let’s be honest here: If there was one person who was definitely leaving the Red Wedding alive, it was Robb Stark. As the King in the North, he was the prime target, and he even had a wolf’s head in place of his own by the time the night was through.
Torn apart by war elephants
With over four decades of successful elections to his name, Triarch Horonno assumed the people would love him for life. Unfortunately, doing away with the democratic system didn’t sit well with the citizens of Volantis and they did away with him by tying each of his limbs to a separate elephant and ordering them to charge. Gruesome.
Neck snapped by a possessed servant
Locke’s encounter with Hodor ends quickly thanks to Bran’s supernatural control over him. Locke had it coming, so it’s hard to feel bad for him.
Sacrificed to create an all-powerful sword
Frustrated by his inability to create a sword worthy of a hero, Azor Ahai impaled his wife, Nissa Nissa, with a blade in order to embed her soul within it. It worked, and the all-powerful sword Lightbringer was born.
Moonlight assassins stalk little lordlings in the night.
An exploded stomach
The terms of Baelon Targaryen’s death are shrouded in mystery, but what is known is that he became ill on a hunting trip, eventually leading to his stomach bursting from within. Yuck.
Losing a jousting match
In Westeros, you don’t just lose tournaments, you lose your life along with them. Hugh of the Vale’s brief encounter with the Mountain leaves him with a very large splinter in a quite sensitive area.
Chewed through by a hungry rat
A rat is placed in a bucket and pressed against a prisoner’s chest, and when fire is applied to the bucket, the rodent chews its way out of the only soft surface it can find. Rat torture is one awful way to die, but apparently it’s quite effective in withdrawing information.
A trip through the Moon Door
Lysa Tully loves sending people through the Eyrie’s Moon Door, which is just a fancy way of killing someone via a 600-foot plummet to the rocks below.
Javelin thrown by a giant
When giants attack, do your best to avoid their spears. A few members of the Night’s Watch would have been well advised to do the same, but it’s already too late for them.
Harvested for your own meat
Vargo Hoat may have endured one of the most painful deaths ever by being slowly harvested for his flesh, limb by limb, by the Mountain over the course of several days before his captor finally ended him.
Accidentally committing suicide while trying to turn yourself into a dragon
Aerion Targaryen, a king of old, fancied himself a dragon in human form. He assumed that a few sips of deadly wildfire would make his transformation complete. He was wrong.
Stabbed to death by a skeleton
Lots of people get stabbed in Westeros, but Bran Stark’s companion Jojen Reed has the honor of being one of the few to be executed by a reanimated, still-decaying corpse.
Roasted alive in your armor
Remember the death of Brandon Stark? Rickard, his father, was the man Brandon was trying (unsuccessfully) to save. His eagerness to reach his dad led him to stretch a bit too far, strangling himself with the noose tied around his neck.
Viserys Targaryen, Daenerys’s brother, always wanted to be a king with a golden crown. The Dothraki gave him his wish by emptying a vat of molten gold on his head.
Falling off a bridge in the middle of a storm
Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon and king of the Iron Islands, fell to his death—or was he pushed by a faceless assassin?
Beaten to death in order to preserve a man’s honor after you were seduced and impregnated by your brother-in-law
Victarion Greyjoy killed his third wife. He had to, he says, because his brother Euron seduced her. The only reason Victarion Greyjoy didn’t also kill Euron is because kinslaying is forbidden.
Green waves of deadly flame. Stannis’s army never saw it coming.
Blowing a dragon horn
As Cragorn learned far too late, it turns your lungs black and charred.
Served as dessert
Rhaegar Frey, Jared Frey, and Symond Frey, three poor boys who were (probably) baked into pie. After disappearing under mysterious circumstances, these three Freys are never seen again. Wyman Manderly is thought to be the killer, seeking revenge on the Freys for past discretions. When he presents a trio of massive meat pies at a wedding celebration, it’s all but confirmed that the Freys are now dinner.
Main illustration and infographic by Max Fleishman | Photos via HBO Go