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Grand Maester Pycelle holding a glass bottle containing milk of the poppy

"You'll need milk of the poppy."
―Qyburn[src]

Milk of the poppy is a powerful medicine, drunk as a liquid, which is used as both a painkiller and an anesthetic. Higher doses will induce unconsciousness, so patients can undergo surgery. It is commonly used throughout the Seven Kingdoms for those who have suffered severe injuries. Maesters make it from crushed poppy flowers and it has a white color, hence "milk of the poppy".

In the show

Season 1

When King Robert Baratheon is mortally wounded after being gored by a boar while hunting, he asks to be given something to ease the pain before he dies. Eddard Stark then orders Grand Maester Pycelle to give him milk of the Poppy.[1]

Eddard Stark is given milk of the poppy after a Lannister guardsman drives a spear through his leg. His daughter Sansa Stark later attempts to use this as an excuse for why he would openly denounce Joffrey Baratheon's legitimacy in court, saying that he had become feverish and the medicine he was taking had affected his behavior.[2]

Season 2

Talisa Maegyr comes to King Robb Stark's tent to warn him that her stockpiles of medical supplies for his army's wounded, including milk of the poppy, are running low. They decide to capture the castle known as the Crag to the west, so they can acquire their stockpiles of milk of the poppy.[3]

After Maester Luwin is dying from a spear wound under the Godswood, Osha offers to bring him milk of the poppy, if he would tell her where he stores it. He declines the offer, revealing that his wounds are mortal, and asks instead that she give him the mercy of a quick death.[4]

Season 3

Jaime Lannister refuses to take milk of the poppy to dull his pain when Qyburn needs to operate on the stump of his severed sword-hand, which has become severely infected. Though his reason is not revealed, it is because he does not trust Qyburn not to amputate his arm without him knowing.[5]

Season 4

After Gregor Clegane is wounded by a manticore venom-encoated spear by Oberyn Martell, Pycelle suggests milk of the poppy to ease Clegane's pain.[6]

Season 6

Lady Crane gives Arya Stark milk of the poppy after she was stabbed by the Waif and is hiding out and convalescing at Lady Crane's lodgings.[7]

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, "milk of the poppy" is essentially the Westeros version of morphine. Maesters make it from crushed poppy flowers, and morphine and other opioid drugs are made from poppy plants. Indeed, the books' descriptions strongly suggest that the "poppy" is intended to be the real-world opium poppy (Papaver somniferum).

Milk of the poppy may result in some residual grogginess or withdrawal-like symptoms (like morphine), which some characters would rather avoid by simply enduring the pain. Jaime rejects Qyburn's offer of milk of the poppy when he is operating on the stump of his sword-hand. Then again, in the books this chapter is narrated from Jaime's POV, which explicitly says that the main reason he refused to take milk of the poppy is actually because he feared that if he allowed himself to be rendered unconscious for the surgery, Qyburn might break his word and cut off the rest of his right arm anyway. As with morphine it is possible to become addicted to milk of the poppy if it is over-used. Heavy use of poppy milk for extended periods of time can also lead to someone's face becoming very puffy.

Ned Stark, Jon Arryn, Robert Baratheon, Jon Snow, Drogo, Hoster Tully, Tyrion Lannister, and Jaime Lannister have all been administered milk of the poppy for severe injuries at various points in the novels. According to his squire, Joss Stilwood, Ser Gregor Clegane suffers from extreme headaches (possibly caused by his gigantism) and consumes vast quantities of milk of the poppy to try and dull the pain. This might be an explanation for his near uncontrollable temper. Doran Martell and Robert Arryn take doses of milk of the poppy on a regular base to dull their chronic pains. In such cases they are of course given smaller doses, a few drops diluted unto a cup of wine by their maesters.

This particular section contains MAJOR spoilers for House of the Dragon. Anyone wishing to avoid spoilers for the upcoming prequel series should not click [Expand].

In the Dance of the Dragons, Aegon II Targaryen was horrifically burned in the Siege of Rook's Rest and spent the next full year heavily medicated on milk of the poppy to the point that he was barely conscious nine hours out of ten. When he later broke both of his legs jumping off his dragon in another battle, he refused to take milk of the poppy once more, apparently because he didn't want to be rendered insensate for a long time like that again.

Milk of the poppy is widely used throughout the Known World, not just in Westeros. Several chapters describe it being used in the cities of Slaver's Bay to treat wounded pit gladiators. Even the Dothraki make use of a homemade derivative (apparently also from crushed poppy plants) called "poppy wine", though Daenerys refers to it interchangeably as "milk of the poppy", so it seems functionally close enough to the same thing.

See also

References

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