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Game of Thrones: The dragons and nuclear weapons nexus
June 3, 2014 6:11 PM   Subscribe

The dragons in Game of Thrones as a metaphor for nuclear weapons is discussed in a recent edition of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. (Spoiler alert)
posted by Rob Rockets (44 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Flying nuclear dinosaurs
posted by brevator at 6:38 PM on June 3, 2014


I wonder where the White Walkers fit into this theory, and how dragonglass stops them.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:39 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is especially true when the objective is to ride your winged beast into battle, like the B-52 pilot riding a nuclear bomb in Dr. Strangelove.

I'm never going to be able to unsee that now.
posted by mstokes650 at 6:40 PM on June 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


dragonglass

Depleted uranium?
posted by mstokes650 at 6:42 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder where the White Walkers fit into this theory, and how dragonglass stops them.

Biological weapons. They can spread their curse to any they kill, can expand indefinitely, alter their environment to make it unsurvivable in the long term, can lie dormant endless ages and emerge again to kill, and only weapons aspected by fire in some form can 'sterilize' the infection.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:48 PM on June 3, 2014 [12 favorites]


And no matter who might try to use them (the King of Night, for example), they are fundamentally inhuman and cannot be controlled.
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:49 PM on June 3, 2014


Book spoiler, or "you need to be up to the latest episode of the show" spoiler?
posted by sparklemotion at 6:49 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


There are some book spoilers relating specifically to Daenerys' arc. They're fairly high-level, but they relate to events in Books 4 and 5.
posted by Pink Frost at 7:01 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


only weapons aspected by fire in some form can 'sterilize' the infection

Interesting theory. Me likey.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:03 PM on June 3, 2014


No - no they aren't. George R. R. Martin novels as nuclear metaphor? Sorry, no.

I'm sorry for pooping on the pop culture lawn. I'll just go inside now and scratch my backside.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:10 PM on June 3, 2014


Rob Rockets, I'm sorry, but I can't click on your link for at least six months.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:13 PM on June 3, 2014


GRRM did literally say "Dragons are the nuclear deterrent". This article does stretch the analogy pretty far though. Like, "the dragon has three heads" is probably not a reference to the "nuclear triad" of ICBMs, bombers, and submarines.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:13 PM on June 3, 2014


What about Melisandre's magical shadow-baby assassins? Are those like SEAL Team Six?

(Tangential side note: One of my friends in college wrote a speculative fanfic (ca. 1997-98, prior to the films) about how Lord of the Rings would have gone if Frodo and Samwise had access to a fully-fueled and armed Apache helicopter. He estimated that the entire War of the Ring would have been done with in time for elevensies.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:20 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


"nuclear triad" of ICBMs, bombers, and submarines.

Not much of a triad if they're all on one body. A triad would require underwater dragons, cave-dwelling dragons, and a fleet of flying dragons, a portion of which is kept aloft at all times.
posted by codswallop at 7:23 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Well, we already know there are firewyrms that burrow tunnels deep beneath the Fourteen Flames (maybe they had something to do with the Doom of Valyria?). All it takes is some kind of underwater arsenal, which I guess merlings?
posted by vogon_poet at 7:35 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


something something precious bodily fluids
posted by The World Famous at 7:37 PM on June 3, 2014


I liked the episode where Bran accidentally warged into the Wall Oracular Premonition Renderer (WOPR) and they took the Horn to three blows, until a little bald maester came running down the stairs crying "its a mummer's farce! It's a mummer's farce!"
posted by condour75 at 7:39 PM on June 3, 2014 [16 favorites]


It's a fucking metaphor guys, not a literal transcription.
posted by wilful at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Due to the poisoning of the king, the show trial against Tyrion, and the recent exile of one of Daenerys' most trusted advisors, the dragon clock has been moved forward to eleven minutes to midnight.

Nuclear winter is coming.
posted by markkraft at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2014 [21 favorites]


Not an original theory, it was actually the premise of a previous fantasy series.
posted by arcticseal at 8:22 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Unsullied as a metaphor for drones: The Happy Slave: or, Khaleesi’s American Dilemma
posted by homunculus at 8:23 PM on June 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


No - no they aren't. George R. R. Martin novels as nuclear metaphor? Sorry, no.

Actually, the article struck me more as "here's a cool way to link up a pop culture phenomenon with some rather important concepts relating to nuclear weapons. Let's see if we can get people interested."
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:41 PM on June 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Anyone who reads GRRM's blog knows that all metaphors in ASOIAF are football metaphors. Life is meaningless and full of pain, y'all.
posted by lovecrafty at 8:50 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


As a lede for your click-exploitation piece, the awkwardness of this is priceless:

On the surface, Game of Thrones is merely another cable television series with the requisite battles, backstabbing court intrigue, and scantily clad (or unclad) characters. But it has deeper meanings with a surprising number of lessons about peace and security for real life.

Too-something; DR
posted by zbsachs at 9:02 PM on June 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


This post was not written in a way that justifies me leaving my book-informed spoiler-y observations from S4E8 and therefore is deficient.

In all seriousness, this is silly but interesting.
posted by norm at 10:56 PM on June 3, 2014


I've been binging on Game of Thrones and have watched almost every episode in the last month. My theory is this: we have an invasion of beings from the north that are vulnerable to fire, and a pretty lady in the east with dragons which would be the ideal sort of thing to deal with such a threat.

What if... every thousand years or so, the gods present Westeros with some sort of test, a struggle that they could easily deal with, if only people could put aside their petty hatreds and work together? White Walkers and wights -- easily taken care of by our heroic Targaryen family, those golden-haired dragonlords, who wisely eschewed power and serve the common good of the realm, and who are beloved by all.

....but this time, humanity will fail the test. Daenerys and her dragons will be killed, just as King Robert impulsively and selfishly wanted back in the beginning, and Westeros will have destroyed its only hope of survival. Eternal winter comes and it ends with a White Walker on the Iron Throne.

I thought this might be all far-fetched, but recent things in the show (shadow-baby, Barric Dondarrion resurrecting people, Bran's powers) seem to indicate the the gods exist in some form or another.
posted by ELF Radio at 11:04 PM on June 3, 2014


Nah. While it's conceivable that Martin might kill Daenerys, I'd put 50:1 odds against. It's virtually guaranteed that with her the risk is potentially becoming the villain of the tale.

That said, the only completely and utterly death-proof character in the series is Arya.
posted by Ryvar at 2:22 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Arya and Danerys team up for to trounce the White Walkers and the Lannisters. Then they spend the next fifty years squabbling about their "special relationship."
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:13 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


The history of nuclear weapons is one where we are always a few steps from destruction. I don't think has really changed. While ASOIAF does capture some aspects of nuclear power: in particular its vunerability to unconvential tactics (subterfuge and guerilla warfare), as well as the respect with which nuclear powers get accorded, it ignores MAD.

I know I'm not the first person to say this, but MAD is just so MAD. If Russia launched nukes at us then we would be annihilated. A tiny minority of human society would probably survive, but civillisation as we know it would be over for centuries in the west. And our response would be to annihilate Russia in return? To ensure human civillisation was definitely kaput? I do understand the game theoretical underpinnings of why we need to set up this prisoners dilemma in quite the way we do.

Almost worse is imagining a tinpot dictator getting hold of a nuke and launching it at another nation. It will kill hundreds of thousands of people/millions, but not annihilate the country in question. Do we retaliate by making their country no longer exist? That would be punishing the individual rather than the nation, most of whom will be innocent of this crime. Worse yet, tinpot might hightail it from the nation, knowing what must be coming.

The super weird thing about MAD is that we set up this system on the argument that nobody would be mad enough to use the damn things. We have somehow talked ourselves through logic into a position where the human race now possesses the power to pretty much eradicate itself (and most other life) from the globe.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 3:47 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


While i really began to hate the Sword of Truth series after.... well, probably the first book, i do think that Terry Goodkind's "Boxes of Orden" were a pretty clever stand-in for nuclear weapons.

If you open the right one, you gain power over the entire world. If you open the wrong one, you die. And if you open the other wrong one, the world is destroyed. Pretty much sums up the options open to a would-be nuclear dictator.
posted by ELF Radio at 3:53 AM on June 4, 2014


That said, the only completely and utterly death-proof character in the series is Arya.

You just cursed her.

Almost worse is imagining a tinpot dictator getting hold of a nuke and launching it at another nation. It will kill hundreds of thousands of people/millions, but not annihilate the country in question. Do we retaliate by making their country no longer exist?

The point in MAD is if some tinpot dictator did get a nuke, they'd be faced with the choice of sitting on it or using it, and if they used it, both the US and USSR would destroy the dictator's country. In this case, Mutually Assured Destruction means "If you use a nuke, the US and USSR will mutually assure your utter destruction." Between that and the Non-prolifieration efforts*, we've kept things from going badly.

And while it may be insane, look at it this way. When one country had nuclear weapons, two of them were used against cities.** Since two countries have had nuclear weapons, none have been used by anybody. MAD has worked. Indeed, it has worked so well that times where it almost didn't work scared people enough into looking at the command and control systems to make sure that it didn't happen accidentally. Though, lord, SAC did everything they could to get around them. If you want a miracle, there it is -- that SAC didn't kill us all.


* Thankfully, getting weapons grade fissionables is really hard *and* it's really obvious that you're trying to do so. The rest of the technology is simple -- fission weapons are from 1945, multistage fusion weapons date from 1952.

** Which, getting back on topic, is exactly the situation that Westeros finds itself in.
posted by eriko at 5:01 AM on June 4, 2014


That said, the only completely and utterly death-proof character in the series is Arya.

I said this here before, but Arya's going to die and Nymeria is going to finish the job for her.
posted by Cyrano at 5:56 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


Martin risks spending the rest of his life on the couch if Arya dies and he admits it. She will become the first official assassin to the Queen.
posted by Ber at 6:24 AM on June 4, 2014


Arya, Daenerys and Tyrion ride into King's Landing on the backs of the dragons in the penultimate chapter of the series. It is known.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:33 AM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


But why ride a dragon when you can just warg into one? For someone like Bran, dragons aren't nuclear weapons, they're EVA Units.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:48 AM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]


They took the premise a little far, but then didn't include R+L=J. How can this possibly be credible?
(don't google that if you're avoiding spoilers)
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2014


It's a fucking metaphor guys, not a literal transcription.

Sure, but not every bad-ass weapon in fantasy has to be tantamount to nuclear bombs. I don't get the impression that having dragons is a literal world-ending threat. They are big and bad and pretty scary, probably the worst thing available in this world, but that doesn't make them a metaphor for the bomb.
posted by Hoopo at 9:49 AM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


I agree it's a pretty shitty analogy.

A dragon is an animal (I assume) with at least a modicum of consciousness. In the books, Daenarys can't control them.

They can also be killed (not replicated, like nuclear weapons). They also don't have the massive killing properties of nuclear weapons, which are actually more akin to the wildfire in King's Landing (perhaps a spoiler, dunno).
posted by mrgrimm at 11:30 AM on June 4, 2014


Did everyone miss the part where TFA quotes Martin as intending the metaphor?

Dragons are the nuclear deterrent, and only [Daenerys Targaryen, one of the series’ heroines] has them, which in some ways makes her the most powerful person in the world,” Martin said in 2011. “But is that sufficient? These are the kind of issues I’m trying to explore. The United States right now has the ability to destroy the world with our nuclear arsenal, but that doesn’t mean we can achieve specific geopolitical goals. Power is more subtle than that. You can have the power to destroy, but it doesn’t give you the power to reform, or improve, or build.”
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:56 PM on June 4, 2014




Hodor.
posted by homunculus at 6:46 PM on June 4, 2014


But why ride a dragon when you can just warg into one? For someone like Bran, dragons aren't nuclear weapons, they're EVA Units.

A friend of mine suggested that the (theoretically) Targaryen-descended Jon could be the first Dragon Warg of Westeros (assuming warging is a "blood of the First Men" thing, and the Valyrians didn't have access to it back in the day).
posted by AdamCSnider at 8:14 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Not an original theory, it was actually the premise of a previous fantasy series.

The Shannara books, I am firmly convinced, were intended to be nuclear weapons aimed at turning impressionable kids off fantasy. Christ on a small cracker they were awful.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:21 AM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


The most accurate metaphor would be to one side developing clear air superiority, like in the first Gulf War.
posted by drezdn at 8:25 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]


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