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Why is Winter Coming?
June 7, 2012 7:10 AM   Subscribe

5 possible scientific explanations for Westeros' variable seasons in Game of Thrones. [via]
posted by quin (93 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ok, now do the Doom of Valyria.

My money is on meteor strike.
posted by R. Schlock at 7:16 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought that the explanation was that it was fantasy. Are they going to try for scientific reasons for dragons and ice zombies next?
posted by octothorpe at 7:24 AM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


NASA: Mars is good habitat for Pratchett dragons
NASA says: "Perchlorates are found naturally on Earth at such places as Chile's hyper-arid Atacama Desert. The compounds are quite stable and do not destroy organic material under normal circumstances. Some microorganisms on Earth are fueled by processes that involve perchlorates, and some plants concentrate the substance. Perchlorates are also used in rocket fuel and fireworks."

So, if we're following this correctly*, there could possibly be Martian animals with perchlorate-fuelled metabolisms, living off perchlorate-concentrating plants. Though there would be a significant risk of these creatures catching fire or exploding if upset - not unlike Terry Pratchett's Discworld dragons, in fact.

* SCIENCE QUALITY WARNING: The chance that we are following this correctly is roughly equivalent to that of a man with no arms throwing a handful of jelly through a falling doughnut at fifty yards without touching the sides.
posted by maudlin at 7:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


George RR Martin on Magic systems:

"I can tell you generally that when treating with magic in fantasy, you have to keep it magical. Many fantasy writers work out these detailed systems, and rules, and I think that's a mistake.

For magic to be effective in a literary sense, it has to be unknowable and strange and dangerous, with forces that can't be predicted or controlled. That makes it, I think, much more interesting and evocative. It functions as a symbol or metaphor of all the forces in the universe we don't understand and maybe never will.
"

Let it go guys, just enjoy the mystery.
posted by dobie at 7:32 AM on June 7, 2012 [18 favorites]


It’s not simply that the weather becomes really cold or really warm, but it was explicitly stated by George R. R. Martin and more than once stated that the explanation of the Planet's climate is magical in nature and will be revealed at the end of the series.
posted by T.D. Strange at 7:33 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


It obviously has something to do with the fact the world is on the inside of a sphere, and there are all those rings and shit spinning around the sun in the middle of it.
posted by palidor at 7:36 AM on June 7, 2012 [28 favorites]


I thought that the explanation was that it was fantasy. Are they going to try for scientific reasons for dragons and ice zombies next?

Way to open up a can of worms I know Metafilter has enjoyed a few spoonfuls from before. See the Gollum vs. The Hard Lava thread for details. My personal position is essentially that stuff probably shouldn't be fantastical in fantasy unless there is an authorial reason for it, but that it doesn't have to be scientifically or hand-wavily explained in order to be believable in the context of the story.
posted by howfar at 7:36 AM on June 7, 2012


6. Climate change. But the Septons and Septas are - of course - denying it. Bastards.

7. Convenient plot device. What? Ok, fine - dragons. Happy?

8. George R. R. Martin Initially intended Winter to be an actual character, an ancient creature from the inlands of Sothoros and yet another contender for the throne. Yeah, expect four more books dedicated to this side plot.

9. Whatever, Winter is going to be killed off randomly anyways.

10. It's going to be explained in a Book 16: Two Knights and A Half-Man featuring the traveling theater company of Jaime Lannister, Brienne of Tarth and Tyrion Lannister.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:37 AM on June 7, 2012 [16 favorites]


I'm reminded of a scientific explanation of Santa Claus I read once, which depended on a new kind of elementary particle called a Clauson...
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:40 AM on June 7, 2012


* SCIENCE QUALITY WARNING: The chance that we are following this correctly is roughly equivalent to that of a man with no arms throwing a handful of jelly through a falling doughnut at fifty yards without touching the sides.

Does the armless man say "It's a million-to-one chance, but it might just work!" just before he throws the jelly?
posted by rh at 7:46 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


If you're wondering how he eats and breathes and other science facts, just
repeat to yourself "It's just a book, I should really just relax."
posted by inturnaround at 7:48 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


For magic to be effective in a literary sense, it has to be unknowable and strange and dangerous, with forces that can't be predicted or controlled.

I think he's right, but with the caveat that, while remaining unknowable, magic should usually have a structure that suggests depths that might be known, if only we could get inside the book. The magic in A Wizard of Earthsea does this simply and elegantly, while Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell achieves the effect through its artful use picturesque detail and literary clutter around the basic ignorance of the protagonists of how what they are doing actually works.

The fact that you get to break the rules is a major reason for writing fantasy, but that shouldn't necessarily prevent an author from exercising a little creative deception in pretending that there might be rules somewhere.
posted by howfar at 7:49 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Didn't we already do this? Anyway, the answer is magic, according to the lips of GRRM.
posted by Aquaman at 7:53 AM on June 7, 2012


I'm gonna go with 6: it's all magic, innit? Dragons, Magic and weirdness all rise as winter comes.

Though I do like the idea of their entire world being the inner surface of a hollow sphere with a weird astrolabe at the center, per the title sequence.

Also I hope they find a crashed spaceship at some point, cos I like it when "fantasy" stories pull shit like that.
posted by Artw at 7:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I actually think it is pretty uncommon for magic in fantasy to be symbolic of the unknown. It makes sense that Martin sees it that way, because a major theme of his books is the capricious nature of the world, and the helplessness of the characters in the face of forces far beyond their control or understanding. But I think it most fantasy magic symbolizes agency, an exercise of the human will on the universe.

And I think the seasons are caused by a black hole in an erratic orbit causing local time dilation.
posted by Nothing at 8:08 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're going to get to the end of the last book only to discover that the whole of Westeros is located, Men in Black II-style, inside a gigantic alien refrigerator, and the door is closing.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:15 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


When I started watching the series the way winter and summer were referenced I always thought it was a metaphorical phrase for extended times of war and peace.
posted by zephyr_words at 8:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey guys, guess what? It's possible to understand that Game of Thrones is fiction and the winter thing is a part of the plot and still find it interesting and informative to speculate on what forces in the known world could create an analogous situation.

Jesus.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:49 AM on June 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


It’s not simply that the weather becomes really cold or really warm, but it was explicitly stated by George R. R. Martin and more than once stated that the explanation of the Planet's climate is magical in nature and will be revealed at the end of the series.


Not holding my breath for this...
posted by bumpkin at 8:50 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


My money is on meteor strike.

Mine's on a supervolcano.

Also I hope they find a crashed spaceship at some point, cos I like it when "fantasy" stories pull shit like that.

That is unlikely to happen.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:53 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


That is unlikely to happen.

Hmm. YouTube link didn't work as expected. Move to 12:52 for what I'd meant to link to.
posted by tempestuoso at 8:56 AM on June 7, 2012



For magic to be effective in a literary sense, it has to be unknowable and strange and dangerous, with forces that can't be predicted or controlled.


See hideous tacked-on counterexample that COMPLETELY validates this approach
posted by lalochezia at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"A wizard did it."
posted by entropicamericana at 9:06 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


9. Whatever, Winter is going to be killed off randomly anyways.

Bwaaa-ha-ha-ha!

Also I hope they find a crashed spaceship at some point, cos I like it when "fantasy" stories pull shit like that.

Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

One thing I like is the inconstant nature of understanding of the world - some magic is real, some mythical creatures and supernormal powers exist, but some of it is bunkum, folk-tales, ignorance and incorrect assumptions. The reader doesn't know which is which... and that's part of the appeal of the stories to me. Magic isn't systemized, because those involved with it don't have the mental tools to systemize it properly - even the stately Maesters, with all of their studiousness, are simply astrologers, alchemists and witch doctors.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:10 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can tell you generally that when treating with magic in fantasy, you have to keep it magical. Many fantasy writers work out these detailed systems, and rules, and I think that's a mistake.

I actually disagree with this quite strongly, though I understand the urge.

The very best moments in magic-involved fiction, for me, are when the entire magic system has been laid on the table, and the reader/viewer has a thorough understanding of what is and is not possible within the system—BUT THEN, a character accomplishes something understood to be difficult or previously impossible within the system in a dramatically important moment. This kind of moment is hard to pull off in the best of times, but in a world with a fuzzy magic—and I don't deny the utility of such systems—it's essentially impossible, because you're saying (usually literally) "a wizard did it!"

SPOILERS FOR LOCKE LAMORA FOLLOW

One great example of this is in The Lies of Locke Lamora, where Locke confronts the Falconer. The Falconer is a powerful mage who's terrorized the city with his untouchable abilities, many of which involve knowing the object's name. He assumes he has successfully invoked Locke's name in order to cast a spell at him, and Locke plays along for a moment, but then suddenly snaps out of the spell and defeats the astounded Falconer. "What makes you think—" Locke says, "That Locke Lamora is my real name?" If rules for the Falconer's magic hadn't been established, this moment would not have been possible.

Thing is, I suspect that GRRM has more rules for his magic than he's maybe copping to. He's just not interested in sharing them with his audience, which I think is fine. But it's by no means the only way, nor is it my favorite way.

The best card tricks are the ones where you can see all the cards, but you're surprised anyway.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:11 AM on June 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ha, I had a long debate with my co-author for my next book about the role of magic in the narrative.

I wanted more magic, and no explanation, little hints of rituals and invocations but magic was this Big Strange THING that was basically unknowable and terrifying. Co-author countered with well most examples of magic we have are prosaic in nature and without some kind of rule system it just turns into a lazy plot device and "cause magic" is a shitty way to have a pivotal plots end. So we went back and forth until we reached some kind of compromise where we settled on the things magic can and can't do but didn't state out loud to the reader what that was cause we scaled back the USE of magic except for a few bigger, stranger, darker scenes. I think the story is a lot stronger because of that, the tug of war in our interpretation of the use of magic in a story, but it did result in one hilariously awkward exposition in one of the drafts where the mains are trying to wrap their heads around How Magic Works.
posted by The Whelk at 9:14 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ok, now do the Doom of Valyria.

My money is on meteor strike.
posted by R. Schlock


I don't know why, but I'm 100% convinced that the Doom of Valyria had something to do with a really powerful weapon being tested and the test going wrong. I don't think there's much in the text to suggest this (some indications that the area of destruction is still radioactive, maybe?), but the idea worked its way into my head and I can't get it out until Martin firmly contradicts it.
posted by COBRA! at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2012


(and I'm correctly dealing with a different kind of "magic" system in the new story which if I pull it off, will be something like Sokka shot first describes ) except it's not magic it's a new form of neuroscience that totally does some magic shit sometimes maybe )
posted by The Whelk at 9:16 AM on June 7, 2012


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

Please elaborate.
posted by daHIFI at 9:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

Whoa. Like what?
posted by gsteff at 9:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


The trick is basically to always make sure your fantasy elements are in service to the story, and not the other way around. That seems to be the best way to keep a balance between lazy writing and the other end of the spectrum (namely, when a story starts to feel less like a story and more like watching someone else play Dungeons and Dragons).
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:22 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah I really, really really wanted to avoid the "and then everyone takes out the magical equivalent of an excel spreadsheet* and checks the rule books to see if they win" cause BORING. As mentioned before, Jonathan Strange pulls that off by making magic both academic and boring** so when our learned scholars come across actually living magic they're totally lost cause for all the books and histories they've read, they don't really understand what's going on which is a good swap in for the state of science at the time.


*Stross can do this in the Laundry books cause they're all programing jokes I don't get.

**Best thing in the Magicians? Magic is boring and pointless. Sure you CAN learn how to fly and set fires, but we have plans and matches now and magic is all countless hours of repetitive, numbing tasks. Which if you take the metaphor of Magic School As Competitive Ivy League, that's actually pretty subversive.

posted by The Whelk at 9:29 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


The intro animation makes it pretty clear: Westeros is the inner surface of a Dyson sphere surrounding a highly variable star.
posted by balistic at 9:35 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know why, but I'm 100% convinced that the Doom of Valyria had something to do with a really powerful weapon being tested and the test going wrong.

I don't think it was a test - think of Imperial Rome with nukes. The Parthians and the Goths would not be the first targets.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does this explain why, despite the variance in season length, they still have a concept of "one year"? That's the part I get hung up on every time.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:37 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the danger in not setting rules and telling the audience what those rules are in your magic system is exemplified in the Harry Potter universe. You can always just decide that magic can do whatever it is that you need it to do at that moment, you've never told the audience that it can't do something so it can always do what the hell you want. It reminds of the Sonic Screwdriver on Doctor Who of "reversing the polarity" of anything in the Star Trek universe.

On the other hand, I don't really like when ALL the rules and limits are laid out. It kind of pulls me out of the story when people get really awed by some minor feat of magic in world where lots of people have that talent and it's well understood by lots of people. I'd be no more awed by someone floating a jar off a high shelf with magic than I would by some grabbing it who can jump really high or is really tall.

I think there is a lot of grey are between those two extremes though. I think GRRM does a good job of taking the "mysterious and unexplained" route. Most of the people in his universe that use magic don't really understand the forces they're dealing with. Magic can do some limited things and we don't really know what but he doesn't use it as a crutch so that's okay.

I think the Wheel of Time series does a good job on the other end. The ability is rare and the strongest practitioners are even more rare. It can do some REALLY powerful stuff but it's more about the users having the knowledge about how to put things together in just the right way to get that effect.
posted by VTX at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm thirding that this thread needs to derail into exploring Slap*Happy's theorem, if only because through all the books- and supported in part by the TV show's opening sequence- I couldn't shake the feeling that at the end, we'd get some twist reveal, such as "This is the far future and a regressed society doesn't know that magic = nanotechnology" or that "All of this is happening inside a hyper advanced video game" or something Twilight-Zone-esque. I have no rational basis for this- maybe PTSD from investing all that time on BSG- but it's been a feeling.

If S*H has some honest-to-god textual allusions to support some kind of the theory, I have got to hear them before I'm getting any god damned work done today!
posted by hincandenza at 9:38 AM on June 7, 2012


Ok, now do the Doom of Valyria.

My bet is that it´s Atlantis by way of Tolkien (the destruction of Númenor when they tried to war against the Valar). R'hllor is the god of flame and shadow (or a cheap charlatan), isn't he?
posted by ersatz at 9:40 AM on June 7, 2012


TBH I'm a bit suprised that lack of some cheesy Vancian magic system (sorry Jack Vance) is actually considered a defect by some.
posted by Artw at 9:48 AM on June 7, 2012


I'm a 35 and a half level Enchantaestructor!
posted by The Whelk at 9:49 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


A wizard did it
posted by Hoopo at 9:50 AM on June 7, 2012


I really, really don't think this will be a planet of the apes ending. Now, the First Men obviously were around before the, what, second men came? But that doesn't mean the First Men were Americans.
posted by rebent at 9:50 AM on June 7, 2012


Whoa. Like what?

Bronze Yohn Royce's armor is essentially a space "hardsuit", albeit without a power supply, the way it's described, and this curious indestructible "bronze" makes a few more appearances in other artifacts, usually with "ancient runes." Magical inscriptions or instructions for operation no one knows how to read anymore?

Lists of treasures, magical or otherwise, contain one or two items with properties that raise eyebrows, if you look at it in a science fiction gizmo described by a medeval scholar kind of way. It can all be read in multiple ways - but the groundwork is there if he does reveal a spaceship or stargate at some point.

There are some more that aren't springing readily to mind. A sure sign I need to re-read the books.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:56 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I heard Martin speak once (I think during the tour for Feast, so like half a dragon's age ago), and one of the topics he covered was magic.

He pointed out that actually on the page acts of magic by Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings books could be counted on one hand, and that this was a good thing because magic was supposed to be mysterious and rare. Which was why he was not going to ever have a boarding school were people went to learn the rules - it takes away the mystery and the "magic" of magic in the world that has been created. He felt very strongly that it should be something rarely seen, and not well understood or explained.

He likened it to anchovies on a pizza, which he loves. One time, when he was in college, he ordered himself a pizza with only anchovies on it; no other toppings. He figured, since he loved anchovies so much, that it would be a perfect pizza. Instead, he found it horrible, and realized that anchovies are best when lightly present amongst many other toppings. He feels it is the same with magic - it should be present, but not central, in a fantasy series.
posted by never used baby shoes at 9:59 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


I am surprised it didn't occur to them that the sun might be irregularly variable, which is cosmically much more likely than any of the explanations they thought of.
posted by localroger at 10:05 AM on June 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does the Westeros winter affect Essos as well? Because everyone in Pentos and Qarth seemed to be living in permanent Mediterranean climate.
posted by PenDevil at 10:07 AM on June 7, 2012


All you all are fail. If you want an example of fantasy magic that works, but isn't boring, and still has plently of big reveals that really count as "Wham Moments", The Chronicles of Amber is where is its at. "You mean someone could tap the trumps?!?"
posted by Chekhovian at 10:08 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Does the Westeros winter affect Essos as well?

I don't think so. I seem to recall that the "winters" even in the south of Westeros (like in Dorne) are pretty mild.
posted by King Bee at 10:09 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The winters on Essos question was asked in AskMe almost exactly a year ago.
posted by absalom at 10:13 AM on June 7, 2012


Does the Westeros winter affect Essos as well? Because everyone in Pentos and Qarth seemed to be living in permanent Mediterranean climate.

If you look at the maps in the books, way north of The Wall, there is the "Land of Always Winter." But Valyrian region was mentioned as the "Lands of the Long Summer" and nearby you have the Summer Isles. So yes, I suspect it gets cold in Essos, but rarely. This article shows the Summer Isles as being almost antipodean to the extreme North of Westeros, but Essos is North of the Summer Isles.
posted by tempestuoso at 10:17 AM on June 7, 2012


The length of winter is directly proportional to how many times Tommy Westphall shakes the snow globe.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:19 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


There is what looks like a really good map of the whole world here.
posted by VTX at 10:33 AM on June 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


The Harry Potter universe is pretty much non-stop magic with few rules and little mechanical explanation, yet somehow J. K. Rowling managed to sell about 1/2 billion copies. I think mechanics and rules with respect to magic are only important when they add value to the story. (Also: magic with rules is called physics.)

As to the topic of seasons, I find myself wondering what celestial event will cause the sun to rise in the west and set in the east per the Maegi's words to Daenerys. It sort of seems inevitable, unless it's only a metaphor for something yet to happen.
posted by tempestuoso at 10:36 AM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh. I just figured they live in Eastern Idaho or Western Wyoming, which basically explains it completely without any science acrobatics.
posted by The World Famous at 10:38 AM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the magic thing can work both ways - you can have extensively explained, super clear rigid magic systems that are integral to an interesting story (see: all of Brandon Sanderson's work, for an extreme example) and it works just fine. The difference is it ends up reading more like science fiction than fantasy. (Likewise, of course, you can have vague handwavy mysterious science in science fiction, and you can totally write a great novel with it, but it bears a stronger resemblance to fantasy than science fiction.)

Since the two genres are so deeply intertwined anyway, it doesn't really matter except that it's useful for the reader to know which style they like and figure out how to sort the books accordingly.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:44 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the climate is a reflection of the divine balance of power. Beyond the Wall, where the nameless ice god has dominion, there is more or less permanent winter. In the east, where people worship R'hllor, it is a permanently hot summer (or even hotter in old Valyria, the old center of his worship). In the Summer Isles, where people worship the god of wine and tits, it is always a balmy 72 degrees. In Westeros proper, the balance between summer and winter changes as the ice god's power waxes and wanes. When the ice god is resurgent and his people (the wights and white walkers) are awake, the cold stretches across the entire continent and you get 100 foot snow falls. In more normal times, when the moderate faith of the Seven and the maesters rules, you get relatively moderate and normal winters. This explains the title of the book, A Song of Ice and Fire.

C'mon people, it is all laid out in Dominions 3.
posted by Balna Watya at 11:00 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Honestly, Sanderson is another one I thought of where knowing the rules can be necessary to give impact to a twist. The end of Elantris would be a complete ass-pull if he hadn't established exactly how the magic in that setting works, but since he did, the final revelation makes for a pretty satisfying "a-ha!" moment.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:00 AM on June 7, 2012


Interesting discussion. One bone to pick. An elliptical orbit would not make the winters last more than a year, since a year is defined as one orbit around the sun. Our year was originally hit upon because of the regularity of our seasons, but one could conceive of a world with unequal and unpredictable seasons, so the inhabitants may end up defining the year as variable length, or if their astronomy is sufficiently sophisticated, using the solar year.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:11 AM on June 7, 2012


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

That scene in a Dance With Dragons where Ser Borbon Jebediah finds on old Nokia. Still charged.
posted by Damienmce at 11:14 AM on June 7, 2012 [12 favorites]


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

Didn't you see? Someone hacked GRRM's computer and released the last book (which is already written) to the wild. Before the final battle the good guys discover an old american air force base full of jets and bombs in perfect condition, learn to fly them from simulators, then proceed to bomb the shit out of of the ice monsters and Psychlos. The title of the book is Battlefied Westerous.
posted by Chekhovian at 11:24 AM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


This explains the title of the book, A Song of Ice and Fire.

I thought the title might have to do with the lineage of certain folks that I won't talk about here lest I possibly ruin things for people.
posted by King Bee at 11:27 AM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.


My feeling is more that the books are about what happens in a world of high-fantasy when the age of legends ends and the age of history must begin. It's the story of the Fourth Age of Middle-earth. It actually sometimes feels like it grew out of a particularly brutal MERP campaign.

Not saying your reading is "wrong", but it seems that what is hinted is more a commentary on certain kinds of high-fantasy writing (Tolkien and Howard, most obviously) than a Pern style lost-colony.
posted by howfar at 11:28 AM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm with Howfar but I think that the advantage of ambiguity with that sort of thing is that the reader can decide it's whatever they think would be the coolest.
posted by VTX at 12:13 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm still holding out for the idea that R'hllor is Cthugha, the Drowned God is Cthulhu, it is Ithaqua that rules beyond the Wall, and all the little people who run around playing their games of thrones are like bugs fighting for their amusement.
posted by SPrintF at 12:20 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mean, c'mon: squishers. What was that about? The Shadow Over Moat Cailin?
posted by SPrintF at 12:21 PM on June 7, 2012


Ok, now do the Doom of Valyria.

If I may offer my humble theory, I think the Doom was somehow caused by Valyria breaching some magical ward around Westeros.

Dragonstone was the weternmost outpost of the Valyrian Freehold. If you look at the history, it was built about a century before the Doom. Yet the Valyrians never expanded onto the mainland of Westeros in that century. Why? Why would the most powerful entity in the world at the time, one that ruled the entire eastern continent, had dragons, and had a complete mastery of magic, not conquer this new land as it had all others?

I think as part of the ancient pact the Children of the Forest made with the First Men long, long before Valyria, the Children set up some kind of ward around Westeros that protected it from magical invasion or attack. Or maybe it was older than the Children. Anyway, I think the Valyrians didn't conquer Westeros because they couldn't. The magic ward prevented them from coming on to the continent.

The Doom occurred because the Valyrians kept trying and eventually came up with something that could break the ward, but the breach destroyed them. Notice that magic pretty much died from the world except for a few small examples following the Doom.

I think we'll learn more about the history of Valyria and how this all happened in the next book.

I think it's also tied to the seasons somehow, but I'm not sure how. I was kicking around the idea that maybe the Others are an intelligent race like humans and were the original inhabitants of the planet. The planet was originally very cold and that was their natural environment. Maybe they, like the Valyrians, did something that caused some magic catastrophe and altered the planet's climate, ultimately forcing them back into the far north from which they can only emerge when the crazy seasons they caused change the climate enough.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:48 PM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


I think that this genre works best when the author has laid out the rules for magic very specifically for himself, but doesn't necessarily provide all of the rules for his or her readers. That allows for the mysterious nature of the magic without doing anything stupid. cf the Time Turner in Harry Potter, which could have been used by the professors in the books prior to which it was invented to solve all sorts of problems.
posted by nushustu at 12:56 PM on June 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I always just assumed it was a Fail-planet that hadn't ever fully stabilized its axis and was really out of whack orbit-wise.

Also, goddamn it Martin, would you mind revealing to us what the actual big bad of the series is? Because as of now, even The Other's seem to have a valid reason to hate on humans.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:07 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the Starks change gears and sound really optimistic once winter actually arrives.

"Winter is coming."

"No it isn't dipshit, it's winter now."

"Um...winter is here?"

"Nice sleuthing, Maester. Did you get an honorary 'stating the obvious' link from the citadel?"

"Spring is coming."

"I love spring!"
posted by VTX at 1:13 PM on June 7, 2012 [9 favorites]


Actually, there's some indication that it's a regressed, post-apocalyptic colony world salted through the stories, if you keep a close eye on small throw-away details.

Aha! The White Walkers are Cylons! I knew it all along.
posted by homunculus at 1:34 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, they aren't. They're Imperial Stormtroopers.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:04 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, goddamn it Martin, would you mind revealing to us what the actual big bad of the series is?

I think it's pretty obvious - it's everyone. People in general, in almost any position of power.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:09 PM on June 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


I find myself wondering what celestial event will cause the sun to rise in the west and set in the east per the Maegi's words to Daenerys

tempestuoso, if you're reading the books, there's a pretty good answer to this at the end of Book 5. If you haven't read the books, I'm happy to keep my mouth shut about this, but if you want details, memail me.
posted by never used baby shoes at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2012


TBH I'm a bit suprised that lack of some cheesy Vancian magic system (sorry Jack Vance) is actually considered a defect by some.

You probably should apologize, because I can't think of what you mean by "Vancian magic system" that isn't even more far afield that its current meaning. You must mean boring, unmysterious, predictable powers like comic books, right?
posted by fleacircus at 3:14 PM on June 7, 2012


It seems like a rather unimaginative list. What about the cool possibilities that take some work to figure out how possible they are, like solar systems more complex than ours - perhaps the sun is in binary (or trinary) orbit, and the distant stars (perhaps cool giants) produce interference-patterned orbital eccentricities?

Maybe what they call the moon is actually a much larger distant planet - they're on a satellite that has a partial tidal lock, thus interference patterns appear in the length of the day. etc.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:19 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Balna Watya: I think the climate is a reflection of the divine balance of power. [...] When the ice god is resurgent and his people (the wights and white walkers) are awake, the cold stretches across the entire continent and you get 100 foot snow falls. In more normal times, when the moderate faith of the Seven and the maesters rules, you get relatively moderate and normal winters. This explains the title of the book, A Song of Ice and Fire.
Yeah, this has been my assumption- as you say, the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. And it's weird, because at times the Red God seems almost Judeo-Christian, and at other times highly satanic/evil. And there's no perspective that has the winter/cold seen as a positive, by any human character. Not to mention, that we're seeing a resurgence of both ice and fire at the same time: Winter is Coming just as Dany, dragons, and the Red God are stronger than anyone can remember. It's not a push-pull of winter/summer or ice/fire, it's like the tides of magic ebb and rise on both ends.

The part that continues to baffle me is that from everything I can tell, the winter is only something that affects Westeros; that Essos doesn't have the winter spreading from the north. Which... if that's truly the case, why is Winter so horrible- famine, death, etc? Seems like you just turn to a vigorous import/export trade with the southern climate and Essos for food and other needs. The show had a throwaway line from Baelish about how the grain silos are packed for basically up to 5 years of winter, after which... but it seems they'd do more to prepare for long winters.

Granted, the kind of long winters that bring White Walkers are apparently an ancient memory, such that the Watch is a joke. But it seems so utterly solvable: engage in a lot of craft works and manufacturing to trade with Essos when food is more scarce to get through the winter, and the whole point of the Wall is to keep out the White Walkers- but just in case, a few trebuchets filled with sharpened shards of dragonglass, and bob's your uncle!

I also like Sangermaine's take on it; I've also assumed the Doom was some man-made event, such as a nuclear form of magic; I hadn't considered the "ward on westeros" theory, but I'm not sure that it's not simply how long it takes for an empire to expand; maybe they were just finally getting around to crossing the sea when the Doom happened. I've never been clear on how plentiful, airborn, and large dragons were pre-Aegon, when he had 3 and conquered a whole continent. The first dragons were basically firey earth worms found in the mines; at some point they gain flight and trainability, but not right away.

And I also assume we'll find out the White Walkers are much more than just brutish zombiemongers, especially given Craster sacrificing his male children, and the similar story about the Night King. GRRM at least has said in book 6, we'll finally find out what is really, really far north. Looking at the map VTX linked earlier (which is stupendous), it really underscores the two poles of this world- ice and fire- and reinforces those questions I had about how the people in the middle, who seem to go centuries without negative effects, aren't vastly more advanced and rich. Why is there no transcontinental railway in Essos, fergawd's sake!
posted by hincandenza at 3:43 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it would be epically cool if a character spent years tracking down enough clues to make a chart of the seasons for most of the last 100 years, and study revealed that the randomness could be explained with just 3 summed cycles... and using those those cycles to fill in the gaps and predict the future.... worked!

Empires were built on that power - the reality that astrology* could predict the future outright with such massive certainty.

*Which is now astronomy (obviously) - keeping the powerful knowledge of the magic of the heavens while releasing the accumulated cruft of mysticism and wishfulness.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:44 PM on June 7, 2012


>And it's weird, because at times the Red God seems almost Judeo-Christian, and at other times highly satanic/evil.

R'hllor...ism(? ) seems to be a kind of Zoroastrianism, with its stark dichotomy between the God of Light and the God of Dark who fight over the world.

I think it's interesting that of all the religions, the Faith of the Seven doesn't seem to produce any miracles or magic. We've seen believers in other religions (Old gods, R'hllor, even the Drwoned God, I think) do magic stuff, but I don't recall any Septon/Septa ever doing anything.

Anyway, I sincerely hope it doesn't boil down to the God of Evil encroaching on the world. Doing away with that kind of situation is a large part of what separates Martin from Jordan and his clones.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:55 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It seems more like that whatever force drives the white walkers isn't good or evil, it just wants to destroy every living thing. Life encompasses both good and evil so we see that in everything but the white walkers. They're warm and complex. The white walkers are simple, cold, and dead.
posted by VTX at 4:01 PM on June 7, 2012


I don't know--just like the people, it seems like all of the gods are evil, so if there is a showdown between the spiritual forces, I don't think one would come out as the "good" or "right" god to worship. I'm still miffed that the HBO writers decided their audience is too stupid to keep track of the God of Many Faces (since they've turned Jaqen into a Rh'llor follower), one of the more interesting and bizarre and complicated of the gods, in my opinion.
posted by nonmerci at 6:18 PM on June 7, 2012


Also, goddamn it Martin, would you mind revealing to us what the actual big bad of the series is?

Clearly it's the thrones themselves. Sentient, psychic furniture that feeds on death.
posted by Sparx at 6:24 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sentient, psychic furniture that feeds on death.

That's the clearest explanation I've heard of to date for the politics of the Holy Roman Empire, so you may be on to something.
posted by frimble at 6:36 PM on June 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


If I may offer my humble theory, I think the Doom was somehow caused by Valyria breaching some magical ward around Westeros.

Wow, this is a great theory. I hadn't considered that the Children of the Forest might have caused the Doom, but it makes perfect sense. They shattered the Arm of Dorne when the First Men invaded, so they certainly have the capability. In fact, on a map, the Stepstones look rather like the remnants of Valyria in the Smoking Sea. Nice speculation!

From everything I can tell, the winter is only something that affects Westeros; that Essos doesn't have the winter spreading from the north.

I don't think I'll be able to provide citations, but if memory serves me, Martin has said that winter does hit Essos, but it is not as severe because most of the major cities are far south. I think there are references to the canals of Braavos freezing over, and I think some character refers to the Valyrian roads being able to even withstand winters.
posted by painquale at 7:16 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Okay, in all seriousness, my theory:

I think it's been well established that magic has a price, and that price is usually blood and death.

Well, there's been quite a lot of that in Westeros in recent times, right? All that blood and power, unleashed, calling for something to claim it.

The Red God has returned to Westeros because it was summoned, like a crow, to feast.

And the power beyond the Wall is indeed coming, to save what it can before the Red God consumes it all.

Fire is the devourer. Ice is the preserver.
posted by SPrintF at 7:51 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, there's been quite a lot of that in Westeros in recent times, right?

Not less than at any time in the past. These are not particularly bloody days.

Martin's strongly suggested that he doesn't want to vindicate any of the religions. If in his mind the story actually involves a battle between Red Gods or Ice Gods or other deities, that will never be revealed to us in the text.
posted by painquale at 8:11 PM on June 7, 2012


I like that theory, SPrintF. I wonder if there is a kind of benevolence in the Others--your theory would support that, I think, especially considering how little we know of them or their customs. They are waging a war, but we don't know against what. Perhaps it is against R'hllor? Particularly since so much magic is concentrated in the area north of the wall (not to mention the 'war' seems cyclical, much like the volume of magic present at a given time in the world)--without giving too much away, I am thinking particularly of the revelation of Bran's destiny as revealed in the fifth book...the two are obviously connected (can I also just say that scene filled me with the most wonder of any in the book to date?), but how?
posted by nonmerci at 8:33 PM on June 7, 2012


What about the dragons' effect on magic? I had been wondering since one of the showrunners mentioned it in a behind the scenes feature earlier in the season if that was explicitly discussed in the books, up until the finale when Pyat Pree talked about the dragons giving the warlocks +10 magic power or whatever. Actually now that it's been stated in the show I don't want to know if the books expand on it, but I'm just suggesting the link since it's kind of technically "confirmed," right? No idea if it's just some specific quirk that doesn't play into the larger magic/gods/mystery cosmology or if it ultimately has some greater significance.
posted by palidor at 9:06 PM on June 7, 2012


It is definitely "confirmed" in the books (scare quotes because just because a character believes it doesn't mean it's true.)
posted by restless_nomad at 9:36 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And who are you, the proud lord said,
that I must sit so low?
Only a seat of a different coat,
that's all the truth I know.
In a cover gold or a cover red,
it's still nice to sit,
And my cushions are well spoken,
though the swords might spit.

And so it spat, and so it spat
that iron throne I fear,
But now the rains weep o'er his hall,
with no one there to hear.
Yes now the rains weep o'er his hall,
and everybody is completely dead
posted by Sparx at 6:13 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


All I know is Melissandre gets on my nerves enough that if it weren't for Jon Snow, I'd be kinda on the side of the wights.
posted by angrycat at 7:12 AM on June 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate to break this to you, but this is all a non-magical misunderstanding. GRRM originally intended the words of House Stark to be "Pinter is coming" but there was a find-and-replace error at the printer.

Pause.
posted by Dr. Zira at 2:16 PM on June 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


Direwolf walks into a bar. Barman says "So why the big paws?" Direwolf says "Pinter is coming."
posted by the latin mouse at 3:27 PM on June 8, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why does magic need so many rules?
posted by Artw at 7:24 AM on June 18, 2012


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