Winter is finally here on season eight of Game of Thrones, and an army of 10,000 Unsullied soldiers stand in wait outside of Winterfell for the fight of their lives. They may be standing quite uncomfortably, it seems, because they have no dick and balls and it’s really unclear how they pee.
Sure, there are much more important questions to ask as we count down till the Game of Thrones series finale. For example: How will Jon Snow deal with the truth about his identity? What the heck is Cersei up to? Why are Game of Thrones memes so bad? Why are there still so many unnecessary sex scenes, even an army of the undead marches on our heroes? And is it okay to give up on Thrones in season eight?
But still, some fans can’t get past the most important question: How do castrated soldiers relieve themselves? Like, is pee just dripping down Grey Worm’s legs all the time? Won’t the pee, say, freeze him to the battlefield?
Well, wonder no more, Big Cat. I asked the experts.
And it’s complicated.
First, it’s important to note that the Unsullied have undergone something more than a simple castration: They didn’t just lose their balls; they lost their shafts, too. Here’s what is described in the wiki for A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series on which GoT is based:
[At 5 years old] the eunuchs are fully castrated, with their penis and testicles cut, and their manhoods are burned at the altar of the Lady of Spears. This means that they cannot be as strong as whole men, but this is more than made up for by discipline.
“This would be a penectomy,” Dr. Michael Ingber, a urologist in New Jersey, tells MEL. “The nerves and the tissue of the penis actually travel all the way up behind the inferior pubic rami (pubic bone). When we do cancer work, it’s a big surgery to remove all this tissue. However, in the Game of Thrones sense, this would be referred to as a partial penectomy.”
Ingber explains that today, in 2019 and in the non–Game of Thrones universe, doctors performing a penectomy “would convert the urethral opening, for example, where you pee from, to what’s called a ‘perineal urethrostomy.’” In other words, they make sure the patient is able to urinate while sitting. “It would be very difficult to urinate standing up after penectomy,” the doctor notes.
But since we’re talking about Game of Thrones, and an army of slaves for whom the highest levels of medical care were not quite taken into consideration, I turned to castration historian and emasculation expert Dr. Richard Wassersug.
Eunuch Armies: A Slice of History
First, Wassersug makes clear that such an army would never exist. “There are cases of eunuchs being in the military in certain societies like China and the Ottoman Empire, but they would never be field soldiers,” the professor tells MEL.
Why? “If they were castrated before puberty, they would never develop the muscle mass of full-grown males. If you need really forceful, strong men with swords on the fighting field, the eunuchs would not hit that role. So that does not make any sense for the show, from what I understand.”
Instead, Game of Thrones’ other notable eunuch, Lord Varys, might be a more historically accurate depiction. “If you needed people who could think before they started fighting, eunuchs could strategize, so they ended up being top advisers, ambassadors, generals, admirals and so on. There’s evidence that the Chinese had found their way to Africa before Columbus, and it was a eunuch admiral that had organized all that and ran it.”
What’s more, “you have eunuch generals in the early Roman empire as well,” Wassersug says, “so it was a different role than the TV show depicts.”
Historically, How Did Eunuchs Pee?
To fans like me, the world of Thrones is a vital escape from our current hellworld every Sunday night — and so our expectations for realism are exceptionally high for a show in which ancient priestesses with sexy bodies give birth to assassin spirits. To that end, we need to know how Grey Worm and his army are, ahem, relieving themselves in the frozen tundra outside Winterfell.
Since Game of Thrones is loosely inspired by human history, we can look to our own past again to find out. “The last eunuchs that were produced as officials within structured societies and governments actually died about 100 years ago,” Wassersug explains, adding that it was primarily the Chinese dynasties and the Ottoman empire that featured “eunuchs as a formal social structure,” similar to how they’re presented in the show.
The Chinese and Ottoman empires both performed total penectomies, just like the Unsullied. “They would essentially slice off the male’s external genitalia,” Wassersug tells MEL.
And how did they avoid infection? Well, they didn’t. “Lots of people died. Before there was anesthetics and before sterile procedures, this was a brutal, brutal procedure back then, and we still look at it as brutal now,” Wassersug concludes. “There was nothing good about it. Orchiectomies [testicle removals] are done with great care now; penectomies are done with great care. And we still recognize it as serious surgery.”
So, for the Unsullied soldiers who do make it to adulthood, how would they pee? Well, there are three possible scenarios.
On one hand, Wassersug says, the people performing the penectomy might “add strictures in the urethra to help with peeing” — or the eunuchs might do it themselves. “Within the Ottoman Empire,” he explains, “enough of these people would have problems that they would use a quill, like the hallow quill of a bird feather, to self-catheterize themselves.” In essence, they would intermittently stick straws into their wounds to allow the bladder to empty through it.
An easier option? They would simply squat. If they didn’t have the means to self-catheterize, Wassersug says, “it wouldn’t be a particular problem. … Women don’t have external genitalia, and they still have the urethra and can still urinate.”
The “valves” we use to control urination are “deeper in,” he explains. “When men urinate, they can tweak their penis and feel it, but they’re actually tweaking muscles that are deeper in,” he says. “We may feel it in the penis, but the valves are higher up, just as they are in women.”
So we can rule out the theory that the Unsullied are simply involuntarily “dripping out of their crotch hole,” as Big Cat put it. However, this is where things get tricky.
In some cultures, Wassersug explains, squatting to pee might’ve been frowned upon. In a weird twist of masculinity in the absence of literal masculinity, some eunuchs opted to let urine run down their legs while standing, “depending on how much it mattered to them whether they squatted was appropriate in their particular culture.”
There is some evidence that this might be the case for Varys. In the books, he’s consistently described as covering himself in perfume so as to cover up some scent, and readers have theorized that stench would be urine.
However, the same level of detail isn’t offered the Unsullied. If we can glean anything from Grey Worm, it’s that the Unsullied see themselves as less than human — even when they’ve been granted freedom by Dany.
Chances are, if they weren’t given a human name, they weren’t allotted the luxury of some type of self-catheterization tool. And unless they’re allowed to go squat behind a tree — which would require some shred of dignity not likely afforded in their otherwise subhuman, supersoldier culture — I’m guessing Big Cat is half-right. Grey Worm and his squadron are simply letting the urine run down their legs as they wait for battle.
Hopefully, when the Night King comes, they’re not frozen to the ground.