Yeah, that's going to leave a stain...
June 5, 2013 3:21 AM   Subscribe

How accurate are TV shows and movies in their portrayal of cutting throats and lopping off limbs? [warning; Game of Thrones spoilers]

So, I saw the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones a couple of nights ago. It was...effusive.

After I managed to crawl out from behind the sofa and stop shaking, I got to thinking; how accurate is this? Do cut throats really spray like errant firehoses (GoT example: trigger warning, obviously). Ditto people getting disarmed (heh) or beheaded (Kill Bill examples).

So, MeFites; what say you? Is the Game of Thrones production crew just in league with corn syrup manufacturers? Or are bodies really like this? I'm not allowed to test this empirically, so I thought I would ask you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If you cut someone's head off with a clean blow from an axe, their blood will gush out about a foot (+/- 6 inches: less vertically, more if they're lying down) for around 30 seconds until the system depressurises, after which is it will just dribble out. The fountain will gush rhythmically, per the heartbeat. If you just nick a carotid artery with a clumsy throat slash, the spray will travel further and for longer - imagine pinching a gardening hose mostly closed.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 3:33 AM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Real life injuries are surprisingly variable.

In my experience (which is limited, even as a many-year paramedic) most amputations run blood or ooze freely, but don't squirt much. (Especially cleanly severed arteries, which tend to spasm at the cut end, limiting blood loss).

On the other hand, I once had a patient with a very small scalp laceration pulsing like a fountain. Another with a little bitty vericose leg vein, nicked by a razor, covered a wall with blood spray. Bizarre.
posted by wjm at 3:38 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you asked this question! Amid all the emotional trauma of that episode I did experience a niggling pedantic doubt about the lethality of making a relatively short slit to the front and center of someone's throat, as happened to Lady Frey and Catelyn Stark. Wouldn't that just slice their trachea? Are there even any major blood vessels in that immediate area?
posted by stuck on an island at 4:07 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I did experience a niggling pedantic doubt about the lethality of making a relatively short slit to the front and center of someone's throat, as happened to Lady Frey and Catelyn Stark.

Can the hivemind answer this too?
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:19 AM on June 5, 2013

For some real world throat cutting examples, two hockey players have had their throats cut in games: Clint Malarchuk and Richard Zednick [both graphic]. I believe Malarchuk had his jugular cut and Zednick his external carotid. They both bled quite a bit but both survived. I think the most unrealistic thing about the Frey and Stark killings were that they both just keeled over dead right away.
posted by ghharr at 6:22 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you slice someone's jugular open, the spray can happen but isn't guaranteed. There are a million little factors that will contribute to it happening or not happening.

Can the hivemind answer this too?

If you miss the jugular but make a decent slice in the general region of the trachea, they will probably drown in their own blood unless they get immediate medical attention.

Neither of these things would kill someone instantly, like it did on TV, but that is a thing that is done in visual media like that, because deaths on TV and in movies are played for dramatic impact, not realism. It's the same reason that a character on TV will die immediately if shot once in the general area of their torso.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:15 AM on June 5, 2013

Best answer: Having grown up on a farm and slaughtered some relatively large mammals along the way (sheep and cows), I can confirm that blood will spurt out of a severed vein or artery for a while.

It does take creatures longer to die than you might think from watching shows and movies, just like how people in real life don't often get knocked out cold from a single punch to the face.
posted by gauche at 7:45 AM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Full disclosure: I am not a GoT watcher so some or all of this might not be directly relevant to the show.

In my EMR class, we learned that arteries spurt (with the heartbeat), veins flow, and capillaries ooze.

That being said, it's reaaaaally going to depend on a number of factors. How big is the wound? The more artery that is opened, the less pressure from each heartbeat and therefore the less spurting there will be. If you cut open my entire brachial artery along a six inch line*, that bitch would bleed like hell but probably not go very far. I would quickly, but not instantly, die of blood loss. On the other hand, my friend's dad, who was an ER nurse for many years, has told at least one story of a man who came in with a very small nick to the carotid, and when his heart beat the blood spray actually hit the ceiling. What my blood pressure is at the time may also have an effect-- for instance, if you've decided to dose me up with a ton of morphine before you slit my wrists, I'm going to bleed more slowly since my heartrate will be lower.

Amputation bleeds, I am told by lots of paramedics, a surprisingly small amount. We were taught that in finger amputations, at least, the arteries, veins and capillaries will actually spasm closed to prevent as much blood loss as possible. It will bleed a lot by anyone who's not GRRM's standards, but it will not be like the Black Knight in Holy Grail. Web MD tells me a similar mechanism is at work with other amputations as well, so I would guess you would have a big rush of blood during the amputation but not so much spurting afterward.

As far as how long, well, that's a good question and probably really hard to quantify since it depends on so many variables. Wikipedia's article on exsanguination, however, indicates that in large meat animals who have trachea, jugular and carotid severed completely, death will occur within a few minutes. I would imagine, however, that a human would start suffering the effects of hypovolemia much more quickly, so they might appear dead (still, pale, breathing very little or not at all) sooner than that.

Blood loss-induced shock (hypovolemia) is also not a linear process, because the body attempts to compensate. So at first your blood vessels will constrict to compensate and you can actually function pretty well, albeit with vastly increased heart rate and other symptoms, but that increased blood pressure actually makes you bleed out faster, which will lead to decompensation. Once you're in decompensation, you're pretty screwed and will not be able to do anything but lie there and die. So if a character receives, let's say, a very large thigh wound that hits an artery, they will look okay (and may even act okay if they're in psychological shock and not feeling the pain) until decompensation starts.

And that is all I know about blood loss.

Please don't. I need that.
posted by WidgetAlley at 8:40 AM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

There is a speed skater, whose name I forget, whose femoral artery (I believe) was severed in a televised meet recently. Perhaps the Beijing Olympics, or some training event prior to the games. In any event, it was rather evident from the way that the paramedics responded that it was a pretty serious injury that required immediate attention, lest the skater die from exsanguination.
posted by dfriedman at 9:03 AM on June 5, 2013

Ah, here's the video. Graphic.
posted by dfriedman at 9:04 AM on June 5, 2013

Answers from an expert.
posted by miles1972 at 9:44 AM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have not seen the GoT episode in question but I've picked up the gist and you asked...

I've seen a lot of throats slit and slit a lot of throats in my day... The closest to human that I've seen have been pigs. I've only seen their throats slit after they've been stunned with a rifle or captive bolt gun. Their blood spurts out about a foot or two. I have seen a shiny white government car spattered with blood (the inspector's!) during a pig slaughter, but I think that wasn't from the spurting but from the insensible animal thrashing around as the brain dead creature went through its death throes. MeMail me and I can send you a video.

When I've slit the throats of not-stunned goats (too thick in the skull to shoot reliably), the blood has spurted 4-6' with surprising force (yes, I got hit with it). Sheep are somewhere in between.

For humane purposes, a short slit directly through the jugular is best as it drops the blood pressure to the brain as quickly as possible to induce unconsciousness with minimal pain and trauma to the animal. I've seen butchers working with a 6" boning knife barely slit the throat, stick the knife in behind the jugular and *pop* slice right through from the inside out. It's as impressive as it is humane. If you cut through the front of the throat, you'll get the windpipe and that's not great.

For more information, I don't think it's possible to break the neck of a sheep or goat in that stylish side-to-side movement you see in the movies. What works is putting your knee or fist at the top of the spine/base of the skull and pulling back on the jaw. It just pops even on a 250# ram.

I've not seen any animal die without going through twitching death throes. In the case of my dear, departed dog, he was very weak and so were the throes, but they were there.

In poultry and ruminants where the cut to the jugular has been less precise, the spurting has been much weaker and more diffuse. I would speculate that it's like exhaling normally versus pursing your lips to blow out a candle. As for how precise one would be when slaughtering a wedding party and what effect that would have on the realism of the scene, that's up to individual interpretation.

Oh, and I just watched the bit you linked to (I'm really fucking glad I don't have sound on this machine and it was a tiny little low resolution window. That's brutal.). It doesn't look too far off to me. It looks like a clean cut to the jugular that would lead to a lot of blood and a quick loss of consciousness.
posted by stet at 3:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for indulging my curiosity, hivemind.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:51 AM on June 9, 2013

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