American culture is steeped in sports to the point that the two are irreplaceable. Football in particular is the center of many families’ entire worlds. They dutifully tune into every Thanksgiving game, throw huge Super Bowl parties, and shell out hundreds of dollars annually to watch from the stands.

However, this beloved pastime is in serious trouble, as a recently discovered illness is spreading through the NFL ranks like wildfire. It’s difficult to diagnose and impossible to cure. Yet, most of its victims have no idea they’re sick at all.

In the United States, no sport draws more fans or more passion than football. Thirty-two professional teams go head-to-head each year for Super Bowl glory, with the willingness to push their bodies past every limit. Of course, the danger of football is part of what makes it so popular.

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Viewers and players alike understand that injuries are part of the game. NFL veterans rack up a laundry list of ailments over their careers: broken bones, torn ligaments, contusions. Tough as these athletes are, there’s a little-known condition that could be threatening all of their lives.

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What’s really scary is that this disease endangers football players of all skill levels, not just the pros. Doctors are only beginning to scratch the surface of this pressing issue, which affects the one of the most vital parts of the human body.

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It all comes down to the brain, according to Dr. Ann McKee. The Boston University professor is the world’s foremost expert on CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Widespread as the condition is, the NFL has preferred to ignore the topic.

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McKee presented Aaron Hernandez as the prime victim of CTE. A tight end for the mighty New England Patriots, he was primed for an impressive football career. But none of his family or teammates realized just how poisoned his mind was.

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Though rumors about his emotional instability and violent tendencies followed him for years, it took a shocking arrest in 2013 to bring Hernandez’s struggle to light. Authorities brought the Patriot in for murder.

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This wasn’t his first brush with homicide. In a crowded Boston nightclub in 2012, Daniel Jorge Correia and Safiro Teixeira Furtado made the mistake of spilling a drink on the football player. Hernandez, according to some accounts, overreacted in a lethal way.

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Five bullets entered the partiers’ car later that night, killing both men. Hernandez was indicted and later acquitted of their deaths, but his likely involvement marked a point of no return. It turned out that not even his friends were safe.

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Odin Lloyd, a semi-pro football player and friend of Hernandez, was found dead in 2013. His body was riddled with bullets and ditched in an industrial park near the Patriots star’s home. The overwhelming evidence spelled out a guilty charge for Hernandez.

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However, Hernandez escaped any lengthy punishment for his crimes. While in prison, the athlete took his own life. This spelled a tragic end to a complicated saga, though Hernandez’s death shined a light on the neurological health of football players.

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Post-mortem brain scans showed that Hernandez suffered from an extraordinary case of CTE. While not exonerating him, the condition could explain his more troubling behavior, according to some scientists. They probed deeper into the issue.

Boston University

Repeated head trauma causes CTE, which degenerated the brain and causes memory loss, increased aggression, and impaired judgment. Some physicians characterize it as similar to dementia. So why wasn’t this condition ever mentioned during Aaron Hernandez’s trial?

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For one thing, the symptoms of CTE often take years to manifest themselves. An athlete, seemingly an Adonis in his prime, could contract the disease without knowing it. Then there’s the matter that doctors cannot diagnose CTE until after death.

But past generations of NFL stars reveal the shocking truth. A Boston University study found that nearly 90% of athletes dealt with CTE in some form. Many were legends, like Ken Stabler, who were plagued by health issues later in life.

The New York Times / Edmund D. Fountain

Pro football has been played for over a century, but there’s a good reason why modern players are dealing with more head trauma. It’s all in the helmet. In contrast to leather caps of the past, modern helmets actually seem far sturdier and better padded.

Der Spiegel

But this protection has only put their wearers at risk. Now, when making a tackle, football pros weaponize their heads, using them like lightning-fast battering rams. The padded areas also direct pressure to specific regions of the skull. Still, helmets are just a single cause.

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Even a tackle aimed at the body causes the neck and head to whip back with traumatic results. “That’s a brain slap, and the extra weight is part of the equation. Nobody wants to talk about that stuff,” according to sports equipment manufacturer Nick Esayian.

The NFL, to their credit, enacted new safety rules to decrease head injuries, but these measures can only go so far. McKee’s research indicates that athletes’ risk of suffering from CTE doubles with every five years they spend playing. This could result in big changes down the road.

Boston University

Participation in youth football programs has plummeted across the U.S., putting the long-term success of the NFL in question. As beloved as the sport may be, many parents simply don’t want to expose their kids to such a great risk. Many former champions faced the devastating consequences.

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John Matuszak had his own complex relationship with sports and mental health. Born in Milwaukee in 1950, he wasn’t always a hulking bear of a man. In fact, Matsuzak was so scrawny during his youth that his classmates bullied him, referring to him as a “scrawny beanpole.”

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This ridicule motivated him to bulk up, and by the end of high school, Matuszak was the biggest and strongest in his class. He’d even go on to win the Wisconsin Class A championship in shot put, an accomplishment that quickly got the attention of a number of college football recruiters.

Matuszak made the leap to college football, though his prowess was soon overshadowed by a newfound love of drugs and alcohol. After losing his scholarship, Matuszak transferred to the University of Tampa where he became the star of the school’s football team.

A highly successful collegiate career coupled with his 6’8″, 280-pound frame led Matuszak to be selected first overall by the Houston Oilers in the 1973 NFL draft. This would’ve been a dream come true for any other kid from Milwaukee, but John Matuszak wasn’t satisfied.

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Unhappy with the contract the Oilers had offered him, Matuszak signed to play with the Houston Texans. But the Oilers issued Matuszak a restraining order mid-game that barred him from playing and subsequently traded him to the Kansas City Chiefs.

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Matuszak’s love for partying and women earned him the nickname “Tooz,” which he’d carry with him for the remainder of his career. Chiefs executives were able to overlook Matuszak’s antics for a time, but when a team coach found him unconscious after a wild night, it appeared the Tooz’s time in Missouri had come to an end.

Matuszak was shipped to the Washington Redskins in ’76, but coach George Allen was so put off by the Tooz’s behavior that the team cut him in the preseason. According to Allen, it was almost as if Matuszak survived solely on a diet of “vodka and Valium.”

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It came as a surprise to many when Matuszak signed with the Oakland Raiders, though his love for debauchery only continued to grow. The Tooz was once reprimanded for trying to sneak two women onto the team’s airplane, and once, drunk and naked, he ran rampant through a Cleveland hotel.

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But whether as a result of burnout or at the behest of Hall-of-Fame coach John Madden, the Tooz’s second season in Oakland saw him curtail his party lifestyle to become a core member of the Raiders’ formidable defense.

After leading the team to two Super Bowls it was safe to say that Oakland’s gamble on the troubled young Wisconsinite had paid off. It was also during this time that he gained a reputation for being one of the meanest players in the league, though this was only one face that the Tooz was known to wear.

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Off the field Matuszak was known for his softer side, dressing up as Santa on the holidays and even volunteering his time to coach youth football during the offseason. But even with things moving in the right direction for the Tooz, it was only a matter of time before his lifestyle caught up with him.

Following a series of injuries and his placement on injured reserve for the entire 1982 season, Matuszak decided to hang up his cleats for good. The Tooz’s football career had come to an unfortunate end, but the former gridiron star found a new passion that would come to define his life and legacy.

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With his enormous size and colorful personality, Matuszak seemed a natural fit for the big screen and soon began landing film and television roles left and right. By the end of 1985 – just three years removed from the NFL – he starred in nearly a dozen roles, including The Ice PiratesM.A.S.H., and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Matuszak’s massive success as an actor soon caught the attention of director Richard Donner, who, along with screenwriter Steven Spielberg, was having trouble casting a role for a certain adventure-comedy film he was working on. For Donner and Spielberg, the Tooz seemed the perfect fit.

And so, Matuszak was cast as Sloth, the lovable, deformed captive who had a major hand in making The Goonies the beloved cult classic it is today. But while the sight of a nearly seven-foot retired football player with a reputation for aggression would surely be an intimidating one, the Tooz’s time spent on set was nothing like you’d expect.

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According to Donner, Matuszak and the child actors would often play practical jokes on their fellow cast members, and no matter how stressful things got on set, Donner always referred to the hulking actor as “a saint.” But there was one aspect of his troubled past that he simply couldn’t escape.

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Despite his success in Hollywood Matuszak’s demons still lingered, with drugs and alcohol continuing to play a significant role in his life. The struggles of his addiction came to a head in 1987, when, after getting into a car accident, he mercilessly beat the other driver unconscious.

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Injuries sustained during his playing career also took a toll on Matuszak, and his continued use of the painkiller Darvocet only served to exacerbate his addiction. Sadly, it was one that he’d never come to beat.

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On June 17, 1989, John Matuszak was found dead at his home in Los Angeles. His cause of death was ruled as acute propoxyphene intoxication, which was caused by an accidental overdose of Darvocet. He was just 38 years old.

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The coroner’s report also listed an enlarged heart as a contributor to Matuszak’s death. After a life defined by vice, it’s tragic that the gentle giant that had too big of a heart. His Goonies co-stars wish they could’ve helped him, though one had personal demons of his own.

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The son of actress Patty Duke, Sean Astin knew he wanted to follow in his mother’s footsteps practically from birth. And thanks to Duke’s many Hollywood connections, it wasn’t long before young Sean was actually making it happen.

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In 1981, he made his acting debut in the television movie Please Don’t Hit Me, Mom. Ten-year-old Sean’s portrayal of a child with an abusive mother drew praise from critics, and four years later, he parlayed his newfound fame into one of his most notable roles to date.

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As Mikey Walsh, Sean made himself a household name in 1985’s The Goonies. Not only was his performance as the headstrong leader of the Goonies universally applauded, but it also established Sean as more than just the son of a widely popular actress.

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Sean remained in high demand for the rest of the ’80s and early ’90s, appearing in films like The War of the Roses (1989), Toy Soldiers (1991), and Encino Man (1992). His portrayal of Daniel Ruettiger in 1993’s Rudy also served to solidify Sean’s place as an actor with staying power.

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The late ’90s saw Sean step behind the camera to create the short film Kangaroo Court, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. He also appeared in several adult-oriented films, including Courage Under Fire (1996) and Bulworth (1998).

But it wasn’t until the turn of the century that Sean’s true prowess as an actor finally shone through. As Samwise Gamgee, loyal companion of Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sean received both universal and critical acclaim.

In fact, Sean’s performance was so well-received that he earned seven award nominations, winning five of them. These wins included four Best Supporting Actor awards and one Outstanding Performance by a Male or Female in an Effects Film award from the Visual Effects Society.

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Post-Lord of the Rings, Sean returned to the big screen in the Adam Sandler comedies 50 First Dates (2004) and Click (2006) as well as 2005’s Smile. He also appeared in several notable television series, including 24, My Name is Earl, and Law & Order.

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The mid-200s saw Sean transition into a voice actor, lending his voice to notable projects such as Disney channel’s Special Agent Oso and the video game Kingdom Hearts, where he provided the voice of Hercules. He also voiced Raphael in Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Sean Astin: Hope Unquenchable

After several years under the radar, Sean burst back into the mainstream with a supporting role in the second season of Netflix’s Stranger Things. His character, the lovable Bob Newby, became one of the season’s breakout characters and helped introduce Sean to younger audiences.

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As such, it came as quite a surprise to many when the actor began trending on Twitter in August of 2019. Given that Sean hadn’t really made much noise since Stranger Things, many fans assumed the worst.

Thankfully, Sean was alive and well, though he wasn’t out of the water just yet. Apparently, a fan had posted some rather intimate photos of the actor to Twitter, and the online community just couldn’t get enough of them.

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The photos in question showed Sean cozying up with an adorable otter, which understandably made Twitter users go crazy. Eventually, word of the internet’s newest viral hit got back to the actor himself, and he decided to join in on the fun.

“Guys, what is going on here? I feel drunk with power!” Sean tweeted shortly after his name began trending. “Is this cuz of the #Otter kissing thing?” But the story didn’t end with Sean’s Tweet.

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Because soon the discussion shifted from the otter photos to Sean’s storied acting career. Apparently, the user who shared the images had referred to the actor as “Sean Astin from Stranger Things,” which only served to rile up fans of his earlier work.

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An outpouring of nostalgia flooded Twitter, with many users sharing their favorite films in the vein of a Sean Astin appreciation day. Even Sean’s appearances in less-notable films like Memphis Belle (1990) and Harrison Bergeron (1995) found themselves back in the public consciousness for a time.

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Sean’s daughter Ali Astin also got in on the fun, sharing a photo of herself as a baby riding atop her father’s shoulders. Above it, she jokingly tweeted: “@SeanAstin didn’t change my diapers to be known as “Sean Astin From Stranger Things.”

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Sean, of course, wasn’t shy about joining in on the nostalgia fest and began sharing his own photos of the past. He even posted photos of him cozying up with other animals, only serving to further melt the hearts of Twitter users.

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In the end, Sean decided to use all the positive attention to direct fans to his newest project No Good Nick. The Netflix comedy stars Sean and Melissa Joan Heart as the foster parents of young con artist looking to rob her new family.

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But even if No Good Nick becomes Sean’s next breakout hit, most fans will always remember him as Sam. And although you may have seen the Lord of the Rings films more times than you’d care to admit, there’s more to this epic trilogy than meets the eye

1. Although the battle scenes were fake, The Lord of the Rings cast suffered a laundry list of real injuries. To name a few, Viggo Mortensen chipped his tooth, Orlando Bloom broke some ribs, and Sean Astin badly cut his foot and had to be airlifted to a hospital.

2. The nine cast members comprising the Fellowship of the Ring bonded so much that they got matching Elvish tattoos. Only John Rhys-Davies skipped out, though he did send his stunt double in his place!

3. The trilogy used 12.5 million plastic rings for chain mail costumes, and they were all made by two crew members! By the end of production, they had completely worn the fingerprints off their thumbs and index fingers.

4. Lord of the Rings is certainly not a rinky-dink school play. Still, it stole a trick or two from youth productions: In certain scenes, due to the difficulty of working with live animals, Bill the Pony was played by two humans in a horse suit.

5. In the middle of Gandalf’s visit to Bag End, Ian McKellen accidentally banged his head on a ceiling beam. He acted through the moment, and Peter Jackson enjoyed the surprise so much that the shot made the final cut.

6. Early in the scripting process, producer Bob Weinstein urged Peter Jackson to kill off a hobbit. He didn’t care which one; Bob simply thought it would add drama. Luckily, Peter stuck to the source material and kept Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin breathing.

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7. Although Viggo Mortensen is iconic as Aragorn, another actor began shooting scenes for the role! The filmmakers originally cast Stuart Townsend, but later felt he came off as too young. They then nabbed Viggo, who accepted the part because his son was a huge Tolkien fan.

Digital Spy

8. During the climactic final battle at the Black Gate, Peter Jackson shot a scene where Aragorn duels Sauron. Ultimately, the Dark Lord’s presence “no longer felt right,” so the effects team superimposed a cave troll over him.

9. The finale of The Fellowship of the Ring was supposed to include a scene where orcs ambush the heroes as they navigate the Anduin River. The elaborate action sequence, unfortunately, never came to pass because a flood of biblical proportions washed away the entire set!

10. Eowyn isn’t the only lady in Middle Earth disguised as a male warrior. Filmmakers needed plenty of talented horse riders for battle scenes, and many women jockeys volunteered for the job. That was no problem. The makeup team applied fake beards, and voila!

11. Peter Jackson wasn’t the first to want to adapt Tolkien’s trilogy. As a matter of fact, The Beatles wanted to make a Lord of the Rings movie in the 1960s, but it fell through. John would’ve been Gollum, Ringo would’ve been Sam, George would’ve been Gandalf, and Paul would’ve been Frodo. They also wanted Stanley Kubrick to direct!

12. Christopher Lee became the first actor to join the cast. Not only was he perfect for Saruman the White, but he also knew J.R.R. Tolkien and was an expert on the Lord of the Rings. He re-read the entire series every year and consulted on many visual aspects of the films.

13. You can barely spot Gimli the dwarf between Aragorn and Legolas in this shot, but that’s only because of movie magic. At 6’2″, actor John Rhys-Davis was actually the tallest member of the main cast.

14. In order to properly portray the strange and scary Gollum, Peter Jackson’s team invented a completely new method of motion capture called combination sculpting. They mapped out 964 points on actor Andy Serkis’ face for ultra-realistic expressions.

15. An entire year before filming began, the crew built Hobbiton so that it felt like an actual town — not just a movie set. Even today, the hillside community remains an extremely popular tourist site in New Zealand.

16. Boromir’s speech at the Council of Elrond — where he explains one does not simply walk into Mordor — was compelling enough to become a meme. However, all those lines were last-minute additions. Actor Sean Bean actually had them taped to his lap during the shot!

17. Bret McKenzie, best known as half of musical comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, cameos as an elf in The Return of the King. Strangely enough, fans went crazy over his few seconds on camera. They dubbed him Figwit, an anagram for ‘Frodo Is Great…Who Is That?!!’

New Line Cinema

18. Ian Holm is more than a little familiar with the Baggins family. In addition to portraying Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, he voiced Frodo in a 1981 radio adaptation. He’s such a hobbit, he probably even eats two breakfasts!

19. During the casting process, filmmakers offered the role of Gandalf to Sean Connery. However, the 007 star didn’t understand the script and declined. It’s hard to complain about this turn of events, as it allowed the masterful Ian McKellen to step in.

20. Believe it or not, all of Legolas’ arrows were added in digitally, and for good reason. Not even the world’s best archers can shoot that fast! If only Peter Jackson found a real elf, they could’ve saved a lot of money on special effects.

21. Lots of people get their 15 minutes of fame, but this bug got less. The moth that Gandalf sends a message to while imprisoned was born just hours before that day of filming. Tragically, it died right after the cameras stopped rolling.

22. A number of big-name actors turned down Middle Earth roles, but Jake Gyllenhaal notably got a big, fat rejection. He had a disastrous audition for Frodo, as he did not realize that the character was supposed to have a British accident.

23. Character actor Brad Dourif simmered as the slimy Grima Wormtongue in the later two films. He had to shave his eyebrows for the part, which covered two years of filming, meaning that he had to remove them on five separate occasions.

24. If you think it takes a long time to watch The Lord of the Rings films, count yourself lucky you didn’t have to write them. J.R.R. Tolkien spent countless hours behind the typewriter, in part because he pecked away at the keys using only two fingers.

25. Inspired by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin started writing his critically acclaimed A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin, in turn, has now inspired a new generation of fantasy writers — and a show with some neat facts of its own…

26. Before writing A Song of Fire and Ice, George R.R Martin had a very negative experience writing for TV. He wrote books thinking they would be impossible to turn into a TV series — boy, was he wrong.

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27. The primary war in Game of Thrones is known as The War of Five Kings. A big history buff, Martin was inspired by real events to create his own version. In the 15th century, two rivaling families in England fought for the throne in a conflict called the War of the Roses.

28. The Wall is a tremendously important location and set piece for the show. While the wall is known to be 700 feet tall, the real wall is only 17 feet tall! The special effects team usually uses CGI to make it appear taller.

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29. In 2015, Game of Thrones won a total of 12 Emmy awards. This was, at the time, the most awarded single season of any TV show ever…until 2016 came around and the show took home a record-breaking 38 awards, making it the most awarded show of all time.

30. Executive producers originally promised the show would contain no dreams or flashbacks. This promise didn’t last very long, as the character Bran dreams about a three-eyed raven as early as season one.

31. The TV show changed a few names from the books to avoid confusion. Yara Greyjoy is named Asha in the books, and Lysa Arryn’s son Robin was originally Robert. Writers altered the names because Asha sounded too much like Osha, while Robert could have been mistaken for Robert Baratheon.

32. Actor Thomas Brodie-Sangster was nearly 13 years older than his character Jojen Reed. The actor, who is most famous for his role in the romantic comedy Love Actually, was tapped to play the young Jojen Reed due to the simple fact that he looked rather young.

33. Daenerys Targaryen’s beautiful silver hair is achieved using wigs and makeup. The actress who plays the role (Emilia Clarke) is a natural brunette, and the show’s producers wanted to be sure they did not damage Clarke’s natural hair.

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34. During the first six seasons of the show, 45 main characters died. In addition, nearly every episode is filled with death, even if it’s just a nameless foot soldier. There have only been two episodes of the Game of Thrones series where no one met their demise.

35. In the world of Westeros, Valaryian steel is a highly prized metal because it’s as strong and powerful as it is light to carry. While this type of steel is fictional, Martin based it on Damascus steel, which shares some of those properties.

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36. Fans of the show have really come to love the dragons that are featured. How did the production team make them look so appealing? They modeled them after cats, bats, and even geese! Who knew that would be such a compelling combination?

37. Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys Targaryen, was supposed to wear purple contact lenses to accurately portray her character’s violet-colored eyes. Ultimately, they proved to be too uncomfortable and production decided to let her go without them.

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38. SPOILER ALERT: The show has killed off many characters who, in fact, are still alive and well (relatively speaking) in the books themselves. These characters include Stannis Baratheon, Hodor, Barristan Selmy, and Ramsay Bolton.

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39. Actress Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, developed a close bond with the Northern Inuit dog who played her direwolf, Lady. Later on, when the show killed Lady off, Turner adopted her.

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40. Producers hired linguist David J. Peterson to create a Dothraki language for the show. While only a handful of Dothraki words appear in Martin’s books, Peterson has written a full-language with thousands of words. There is even a dictionary available.

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41. Game of Thrones is very expensive to make. A huge part of that expense comes from shooting in isolated areas that are hard to travel to, and many of these spots are hundreds of miles apart. The show has filmed in Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Malta, and America.

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42. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark, shared that very often fans will approach her asking that she include their name in her infamous list of those she plans to kill. Some viewers can be a little intense, don’t you think?

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43. You might notice that two of the show’s biggest stars, Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) and Jerome Flynn (Bronn), never appear on screen at the same time. That is because they dated and had a nasty breakup prior to being cast on the show. They avoid each other at all costs.

44. While the TV series Game of Thrones only began to air in 2011, the books have been around for a lot longer than that. In fact, the show began airing on the 15th anniversary of the first book, which has been thrilling readers since 1996.

45. While he has not approved of every single liberty the show has taken with his works, George R.R. Martin has said that the show improves on some characters from the books. In particular, he loves the work of Sibel Kekilli as Shae.

46. George R.R. Martin is now in his 70s and has a reputation as a writer who takes his time. In the event that he passes before finishing the series, he has shared his planned ending with producers so that they can continue telling the story on his behalf.

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47. Game of Thrones, in addition to being very popular on HBO, is also the most popular show… to download illegally! More than 15 million people have illegally downloaded the show to date. What show is in second place? The Walking Dead with 7 million hits.

48. The House of Lannister is often associated with the motto “A Lannister always pays his debts.” However, the actual motto of the house is “Hear me roar.” The unofficial motto hints at the notoriously sinister Lannisters’ penchant for exacting revenge.

49. Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy), Richard Madden (Rob Stark), and Kit Harington (Jon Snow) all appeared shirtless in the premiere of the show looking unusually muscular. All three later admitted to doing push-ups and lifting weights prior to the scene to appear even more in shape.

50. Game of Thrones has one of the highest budgets of any TV show. In fact, it costs about $10 million just to make one episode! The more extravagant episodes, usually ones with big battles, have the budget of modest-sized movies!

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51. George R.R. Martin admitted a fan theory about the show is correct. The most popular one, “R+L = J,” postulates that Jon Snow’s real parents are Lyana Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Now that the show has confirmed it, this makes Jon a powerful contender for the throne.

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52. In the books, King Renly Baratheon’s calls his knights “Rainbow Guards,” a quiet nod to Renly’s homosexuality. This was changed in the series since there was nothing quiet about Renly’s sexual orientation as portrayed on the show.

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53. Kit Harington, who plays Jon Snow, was approached by a stranger in a bar who said he looked just like Jon Snow. When Harrington explained his identity, the stranger did not believe him. He claimed that Kit, who stands at 5’8″, was too short!

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54. Locked out of his home, Kit Harington broke his leg in 2012 trying to scale his apartment wall and get inside. The crew was forced to shoot around the injury, often hiring stand-ins to wear Jon Snow wigs for scenes shot at a distance.

55. There are a few characters in the show who are all rolled up to create one more major character on the show. One of the most notable composite characters is the prostitute Ros, who is based on the prostitutes Alayaya, Chataya, and Kyra, who also appear in the books.

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56. All of the women featured on the show typically wear some sort of jewelry that represents their house’s sigil. For Cersei, this is a massive lion-headed collar. Similarly, it’s fairly common to see a Stark wearing something with a direwolf on it.

57. The map shown during the opening credits features places that will be important in any given episode. So don’t skip the credits! It’s a fun way to keep up with where the characters are headed, especially since many names are hard to catch in the dialogue.

58. Jason Momoa knew that he needed to make it clear to executives just how passionate he was about the role of Khal Drogo during auditions. So, how did he make a big first impression? He ripped off his shirt and did a Samoan haka dance for the casting director.

59. The primary religion in Westeros is the Faith of The Seven. You might be surprised to learn that this fictional form of worship is actually based on Catholicism. The big difference is that the show’s faith is polytheistic, meaning that characters pray to multiple gods.

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60. Emilia Clarke refused to do any nude scenes after season one. However, she changed her mind once she read the script for an episode where she emerges naked and unscathed from a fire. “It was just a wonderful, strong moment I wanted to own, a really empowering, girl-power wow scene,” she explained.

61. Game of Thrones features a hugely international cast. There are only two American actors, and the rest of the cast speaks in their natural accents. These little touches really enrich the world of Game of Thrones.

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