Warning: This submit incorporates spoilers for Sport of Thrones

With only one episode of Sport of Thrones left to go, the present has lastly delivered on the long-awaited “Cleganebowl,” between Sandor “The Hound” Clegane and Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane — a combat to the dying, or quite each deaths, if the Mountain was even alive within the first place.

That uncertainty could stay indefinitely, a minimum of inside the universe of the present, because it appears extraordinarily unlikely that the finale will tackle the query of simply how useless Gregor Clegane was earlier than he grew to become the zombie-like creature he was on the finish. Was the Mountain who fought his brother a reanimated corpse or a person saved from the brink of dying?

In any case, the person who would know finest, Qyburn, can’t ship the reply. He was additionally killed within the run-up to the combat.

Qyburn’s personal previous is one thing of a thriller too. A maester lengthy earlier than he grew to become Hand to Queen Cersei, he misplaced his chains for conducting the very work he did on the Mountain, experiments “on dying men,” as he places it to Jaime Lannister in Season 3. Within the following season, after Gregor Clegane is wounded by a poisoned weapon throughout fight with Oberyn Martell, Cersei provides Qyburn permission to do no matter he should to save lots of him; no matter it’s will need to have been fairly excessive — his screaming is alleged to be notably disturbing — and never precisely medical. Within the ebook model of the story (which is a bit completely different on the subject of this story line), George R.R. Martin writes that Qyburn understands “the black arts” and at another point “black magic.”

Qyburn can also be mentioned to have misplaced his chain, in accordance with rumor, for “dabbling in necromancy.” Can the usage of that phrase inform followers what precisely was happening?

Not likely, explains Richard Kieckhefer, a professor of spiritual research at Northwestern and writer of Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century, because the real-world historical past of that concept is complicated.

“The basic complication here is, What on earth do we mean by necromancy? In the later middle ages and in the early modern era, there are two terms that get confused with each other or conflated,” Kieckhefer tells TIME.

In antiquity, necromancy was the apply of conjuring ghosts with the intention to predict the longer term; that’s what the roots of the phrase imply, from the Greek for dying and divination. Later, nonetheless, that concept grew to become principally interchangeable with one thing else: what is likely to be referred to as “black magic.” The medieval church held that those that had been profitable at conjuring the spirits of the useless had been — deliberately or not — getting demons as an alternative, Kieckhefer explains, and by the 15th or 16th century, across the interval from which Sport of Thrones takes many of its historical cues, a “necromancer” would often have meant an individual who was summoning or trying to summon demons or fallen angels. Or, alternatively, they may simply be pretending to attempt, joyful to take folks’s cash to placed on a kind of magic present.

“The time period will also be used extra broadly for simply magic usually, however when it’s used for magic usually, to name it necromancy is to say, ‘Ooh, that sounds awfully naughty or dangerous,” Kieckhefer says. “So it’s a pejorative term that gets used kind of loosely for magic of various types.”

One other space of confusion is that the road between magic and therapeutic at the moment was “very blurry,” Kieckhefer says. That’s traditionally acceptable for the maesters of Sport of Thrones, who in that fantasy world are trusted with the work of therapeutic; Qyburn particularly is famous for his medical ability.

One factor that was not a key a part of actual medieval concepts about necromancy would possibly shock Thrones followers. Though “necromancy” in popular culture is commonly used to discuss with bringing somebody again from the useless, the concept of reanimating the useless was usually not a factor.

Kieckhefer has studied 14th and 15th century trial information extensively and says he simply doesn’t see instances of individuals explicitly making an attempt to carry others again from the useless. Although Christopher Marlowe’s well-known play Physician Faustus does contain necromancy to these ends, Kieckhefer says that will have extra to do with medieval curiosity in antiquity than in up to date concepts concerning the potentialities of black magic. Texts equivalent to Keith Thomas’ Religion and the Decline of Magic include examples of magic practiced with gadgets (equivalent to corpses and soil from cemeteries) linked to the useless, however that’s nonetheless not the identical as really making an attempt to conjure the useless. Apart from, whereas it’s possible for a charlatan to cheat some believer out of some money by claiming to have the ability to divine the longer term or communicate to spirits, it stands to motive it could have been fairly tough to get away with pretending to carry somebody all the way in which again from the useless.

That lack of an actual historical past of necromancers trying to reanimate corpses would possibly counsel that the Mountain was by no means totally useless, however quite “healed” with Qyburn’s black magic — besides that, in Sport of Thrones, magic is actual and the useless actually do return. One factor does appear protected to say by now: the Mountain and Qyburn appear prone to keep useless this time round.

Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.



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