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Science Lessons From… Game of Thrones

The fictional world of Westeros where Game of Thrones is set is subject to unusual seasonal patterns. We’ve been warned: winter is coming, and it could last generations. Seasons are mostly controlled by a planet’s tilt towards the Sun, with Uranus’ North Pole pointed towards the Sun for 42 years and then away from it for another 42. Unusually long seasons are definitely possible, but the seasons on Westeros seem to arrive unpredict­ably and vary dramatically in length. Astrophysicist Greg Laughlin of The University of California says a ‘wobbly’ axis like the one on Mars can vary season length, but only makes gradual changes over thousands of years, not the random fluctuations seen on Westeros. Laughlin has suggested that if Westeros were part of a multi-planet system, with its orbit being pulled out and affected by the planets around it, wild season change could occur. Similarly, a group of graduate students from John Hopkins Univer­sity in the United States have released a research paper concluding that Westeros orbits 2 suns; yielding an irregular orbit, meaning it is impossible to predict the length of seasons.

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Another weather related phenomenon, the ice wall, seems harder to explain from a scientific point of view. Over 200m tall and almost 500km long, the ice wall is an impressive natural defence against the North. According to Engineer Mary Alibert from the Ice Drilling Program Office at Dartmouth College, “even at very cold temperatures, large ice masses deform under their own weight,” let alone “hold its original shape for thousands of years.” The ice wall is far too big to support its own weight, with a slope needed to support a structure that high. This means the wall would be 40 times wider than it is high – still an impressive structure but slightly easier to scale. Once again gravity spoils all the fun, and with no evidence to suggest gravity varies greatly between Westeros and Earth this one has to be put down to the magic that helped create it.

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The wildfire used in the battle at Blackwater Bay is strikingly similar to ancient Greek fire, or the modern equivalent, napalm. Greek fire was used by the Byzantines to sink rival ships, exactly as Tyrion did. Furthermore, Greek fire was a closely guarded state secret, just as the Alchemist’s Guild in King’s Landing controlled the creation of wildfire. While the makeup of Greek fire was lost, it is most commonly believed to be petroleum based like napalm. All these weapons are activated in two stages; firstly the delivery of the flammable substances, and secondly a reactant to ignite the fuel. George R.R. Martin makes his wildfire a little more dramatic, its haunting green glow turning into an eerie explosive light show. This colouring wouldn’t be hard to achieve, with compounds such as trimethyl borate producing emerald flames and copper chloride providing the green tinge to the liquid.

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Incest. It appears to be one of Martin’s favourite plot drivers. One of the sub-characters, Craster, is a wildling who continually reproduces with his daughters. And their daughters. This means some of his daughters are also his granddaughters, and sisters with their own mothers. A slightly less confusing case is Joffrey Baratheon, said to be the love child of his mother Cersei Lannister and her brother Jaime despite the former being married to king Robert Baratheon. Robert Baratheon has a host of bastard chil­dren all born to other women, all of which take after his father in having dark hair. Yet Joffrey has blonde hair (as well as his two siblings) like his mother and uncle (father?). It is possible that while Robert has domi­nant dark hair alleles (groups of genes), these may mask blonde alleles. However, given none of his bastard children have blonde hair but all of Cersei’s children do, the odds are stacked against him. That and the scene where Jamie shows off his swordsmanship to his sister Cersei.

About Christopher Pase

NBC’s Community led me to believe that at uni hacky-sack is a serious sport, avoid the occasional chauvinistic mature-aged student and those with patterns in their facial hair are probably drug dealers. After two years of my Arts (Global)/Science degree it appears Frisbee is accepted above hacky-sack, the Chevy Chase lookalike in my maths lectures is actually a nice guy and drug dealers are getting smarter by blending their sideburns in with the rest of us. That being said, my efforts at AXP were crudely compared to Chang’s marathon pop-and-locking and, as this bio demonstrates, my pop-culture references aren’t exactly streets ahead.

Christopher Pase

The author Christopher Pase

NBC’s Community led me to believe that at uni hacky-sack is a serious sport, avoid the occasional chauvinistic mature-aged student and those with patterns in their facial hair are probably drug dealers. After two years of my Arts (Global)/Science degree it appears Frisbee is accepted above hacky-sack, the Chevy Chase lookalike in my maths lectures is actually a nice guy and drug dealers are getting smarter by blending their sideburns in with the rest of us. That being said, my efforts at AXP were crudely compared to Chang’s marathon pop-and-locking and, as this bio demonstrates, my pop-culture references aren’t exactly streets ahead.

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