GAME OF THRONES: From Reel to Real

Science is everywhere and exists in everything. Most of the things we come across in our day-to-day life has been created by it, from houses to electricity to transport and even something as basic as cooked food. So, one can’t help but wonder that maybe the myths and stories we hear about people and things might have had their origin from Science too.  And what better way there is to relate than our very own and popular mythical TV series” Game of Thrones”.

Game of Thrones is an American fantasy drama television series created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss for HBO. An adaptation of “A Song of Ice and Fire”, a series of fantasy novels by George R. R. Martin, GOT was a huge success, having won 59 Emmy Awards, 8 Screen Actors Guild Awards, a Peabody Award and also holding the record for most nominations for drama with 161 of them.

Despite of being captivating in the “Reel life” the American drama series also has another “Real life” dimension to it – a Scientific dimension to be precise that can relate certain elements of the HBO series to actual science. This article is a compilation of such facts.

The aim (of this blog) is to show how close Science hovers to both Reality and Myths as the difference is really thin between them and how much Science has to offer if we are able to tap into its true Potential.

1. VALYRIAN STEEL BLADES

“No one’s made a new Valyrian steel sword since the Doom of Valyria.” — These words spoken by Jaime Lannister were enough to form an impression of the Valyrian steel in our minds.

According to the GOT mythology, already on the verge of extinction (except the very few still prevailing with some lords of Westeros) – Valyrian steel is made out of normal steel forged with dragon fire and infused with some “blood magic”. Although the real-life Valyrian steel is very similar to the Damascus Steel, which is distinctive because of its flowing water pattern. Also just like the myths of “Doom of Valyria”, in which the craftsmanship of Valyrian steel was lost entirely, the methodology of crafting Damascus steel is almost extinct. The Arabs introduced Wootz steel in Damascus, where a weapon industry thrived from the 3rd century to the 17th century, thus producing the historical Damascus steel. These were created as roughly 2.3 kg ingots, (commonly referred to as “cakes”) followed by solidification in a closed crucible. It is a highly pure iron steel with 1.5% carbon. The hypereutectoid carbon levels in this steel plays a vital role in producing the characteristic surface patterns because the patterns result from the alignment of the Fe3C molecules. The surface pattern is due to the unique metallurgical microstructure which consists of bands of small particles of Fe3C clustered along the band center line. The bands have a characteristic spacing in the 30-70 mm range and are contained in the steel matrix.

Whoop! So much to kill a white walker.

2. DRAGONGLASS

“The Maesters call it ‘obsidian’

Well Samwell Tarly got that right. It is indeed very similar to Obsidian, an igneous rock occurring as natural glass and is formed by the rapid cooling of viscous lava from volcanoes. It is extremely rich in silica (about 65% to 80%), with a chemical composition very similar to that of Rhyolite. Increased viscosity impedes crystallization, and the lava solidifies to obsidian making it a little harder than the Window glass.

It acted as the primary weapon of the “Children of the Forest” as it was the only weapon along with the Valyrian steel that could kill The White Walkers.

NATURE TO THE RESCUE!!

3. WILDFIRE

Feared throughout the Westeros, Wildfire was a highly inflammable liquid created and controlled by the Alchemist’s Guild; an ancient society of learned men capable of using arcane knowledge. It was identified by the distinctive green hue of its flames and a bright green color in its liquid state.

To be pragmatic, Wildfire is fiction, but some chemicals on earth can come dangerously close.

In the 1940s a team led by Organic chemist Louis Fieser, at Harvard University found that adding a thickening agent to fuel created something that burned longer and also tended to stick to surfaces. It was called “NAPALM” after two of the constituents of its thickening agent, Naphthenic acid and Palmitic acid. It is a petroleum-based burning gel that sticks to everything providing it with a very high viscous value. Being oil-based, it continued to burn and was not easily extinguished by water- just like the Westeros wildfire. NAPALM was widely used in air-dropped bombs during the World War II, most notably in the devastating incendiary attacks on Japanese cities in 1945.

4. THE WHITE WALKERS

Perhaps the most formidable creatures in GOT, the white walkers had an array of magical abilities, but being frozen through thousands of years and then waking up to wage war surely “tops the charts” for any species.

 We humans have also dabbled with freezing the dead over the past century. Cryopreservation was applied to human cells as early as 1954. The first body to be frozen with the hope of future revival was James Bedford’s, in 1967 still preserved to this day. As of 2016, four facilities exist in the world to retain cryopreserved bodies in U.S. and Russia. Cryonic patients are legally dead, so we might not have achieved much in the long-term freezing of bodies but shorter freeze intervals have opened up new doors for medical professionals.  In November 2019, Doctors placed humans in suspended animation for the first time, to make it possible to fix traumatic injuries that would otherwise cause death. The technique, officially called emergency preservation and resuscitation (EPR), is being carried at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore, USA on people with an acute trauma – such as a gunshot or stab wound – and subsequent cardiac arrest. EPR involves rapidly cooling a person to around 10 to 15°C by replacing all of their blood with ice-cold saline, completely stopping their brain activity. They are then disconnected from the cooling system and their body is moved to the operating theatre.

5. DRAGONS

They are huge, they fly and they breathe fire, Dragons are magnificent creatures in the world of fiction and folklore. Surely Dragons never existed in the natural world, but if they did, could the laws of nature let them breathe fire?

 Let’s dissect the science behind breathing fire. Breathing fire is a combustion reaction, so all it needs is fuel and a spark. An organ like a bird’s gizzard containing rocks and a flint-like scale could do the trick. If this seems unlikely there’s also Pyrophoric molecules that combust upon contact with air. Iridium, for example, burns with different colors in different molecules, ranging from orange, red to even blue (like the ice dragon ridden by night king). An explosive gas like iron sulfide would be highly unlikely as it would have to be pressurized in the stomach. An aerosol spray of explosive compounds might just be the best option for a dragon, combining best of both liquid and gaseous explosives.

6. THE WALL

The gigantic icy barrier, known as “The Wall” in “Game of Thrones” was 700 feet high, 300 miles long and wide enough for a dozen mounted knights to ride side by side. But could a structure like that hold up in the real world? Martin Truffer, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska, calculated that the weight of an ice wall 655 feet high would generate 1.8 megapascals of stress at its base, humongous compared to the 0.1 megapascals ice takes to flow in glaciers. Chilling the Wall to -40 degrees would reduce the strain by a hundredfold, but the Wall would still slump over several years. The biggest Ice cube on earth, however, is not used to ward off white walkers and giants but to explore the cosmos. Having sides of 1 km each and weighing a billion tons, a huge piece of ice called the “ice cube” is in Antarctica and is used to detect mysterious neutrinos coming from the deep cosmos.

–Written by Siddharth Mohanty and Soubhagya Parida,

Compiled and edited by Abhishek Pattnaik

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