Book review: ‘Fire, Ice and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones’
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Fancy picking flaws in one of the most popular fantasy TV shows ever aired? You’ve come to the right place.
If you’ve seen the hit HBO series ‘Game of Thrones’ (GoT), you will have heard anyone who’s anyone in the show speak the words, “Winter is coming”. This fabricated climatology is one of many features of the show which, quite obviously, doesn’t abide by the laws of physics – it’s made-up science, so to speak.
Although a fantasy, GoT is not above scrutiny. Why shouldn’t it be questioned by a trained scientist? This is exactly what physicist and author Rebecca C Thompson does in ‘Fire, Ice and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones’ (The MIT Press, £20, ISBN 9780262043076).
Thompson starts at the beginning, with winter, explaining what the seasons are and the very elliptical orbit of the Earth that might cause winter to come... or not at all. “What drives the story of ‘Game of Thrones’ is that no one knows how long the seasons will be,” she says.
Here, she turns to the work of 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler, who observed that the Earth’s orbits are very regular. “I’m going to guess that after 1,000 years of observing, they would have determined the seasonal variations by now if the seasons were predictably on a timescale much smaller than 1,000 years,” she adds.
Throughout the rest of the book, Thompson examines all the classic GoT scenarios. Perhaps the first thing that springs to mind is a blonde woman (Daenerys Targaryen) riding a large dragon (Drogon), which Thompson describes as being “bats, but with fire”.
Further into the book, she delves into the show’s cold-hearted ‘White Walkers’. For those who have never seen the show, they are essentially zombies in which their leaders have piercing blue eyes that stare deep into your soul.
Nevertheless, zombies are an obvious choice to compare to these undead beings in the GoT world and although fictional themselves (which is likely down to debate), Thompson believes they are the most studied among all of the fictional monsters. There’s even a Zombie Research Society that has published research on zombies’ neurology, biology and their dietary requirements.
Anyway, from one of GoT’s antagonists to another. Thompson also analyses the physical relationship within family members of House Lannister, most specifically between twins Jaime and Cersei who were very, very intimate with each other.
Certainly, there was no way that Thompson would avoid the controversial topic of incest in this book. Thus, in the book’s eleventh chapter, she enquires whether incest leads to a crazy offspring – in the case of House Lannister, is it their inbred son, Joffrey?
Thompson also inspects another family in the series, House Targaryen, who for thousands of years have been marrying and breeding with their siblings. Here, Thompson attempts to answer the question on behalf of both incest-filled families: does real-world science agree with the correlations between inbreeding and giving birth to a ‘mad child’?
Overall, Thompson gives an entertaining and engaging account from which even the most faithful ‘Game of Thrones’ fans can learn something. Looking through the eyes of a scientist, Thompson backs the recurring theme of death and the various types of fatal justice – such as skull crushing – heavily featured throughout the show, with scientific explanations.
Furthermore, the book explores the other side of the coin, diving into several features of the show which are virtually impossible in the real world of science – for example, debunking the existence of huge flighted animals, roaming our skies, such as Daenerys’ precious dragons.
Nevertheless, winter came far later than they unceasingly boasted about, without a doubt.
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