Fire and Ice: the real history and science behind the Game of Thrones


Fire and Ice
Fire and Ice

20:45 – Late | Blue Lamp | AB25 1BU
Tickets £6/£4 – booking required, please click here

You might think fantasy is the opposite of science, but comedian Helen Keen and a round table of researchers would disagree. Could wildfire really exist? How similar are the families of the seven kingdoms to the Vikings? Join them for an evening of ice, fire, fantasy and fun.

Jonathan Pettitt is a reader in Genetics. Although fantasy is not usually promising ground for a discussion of scientific concepts, the establishment and maintenance of dynasties is central to George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire saga. Using characters and events from the books and the TV series, he will address questions such as, “What’s so bad about inbreeding?”, and “Is hair colour really a reliable basis for refuting a claim to inheritance?”

Benjamin Harrison will discuss the fantastic feasts of Medieval Europe and compare them with the bountiful banquets of Game of Thrones, asking you whether you’d rather dine at a royal wedding in King’s Landing, or a coronation on the German Rhine. He is an MLitt student studying royal power and the nobility in Medieval Scandinavia. 

Grant Strachan is a PhD student in chemistry he’s interested in the parallels between some of GoT’s “magical” materials and their real-world equivalents. Swords have a special place in the world of Westeros, but some blades are valued more than others. Grant will take a stab at explaining what it takes to make a good sword, and what can make a good blade a legend. 

Claire Organ is a PhD student in Scandinavian Studies focusing on Colour Symbolism in the Old Norse mythological poems. As George R. R. Martin states: ‘In this world only winter is certain’ she is going to discuss the differences between the descriptions in the books and the TV show of the ‘most visually iconic creatures in GoT’ who truly represent winter – the White Walkers. 

Kirstie Rickaby is in the final stages of her PhD. As a chemist she has had many first hand dealings with fire (and sincerely hopes the departmental safety advisor never reads this) and, as such, will delve into the science of fire as well as investigating the parallels between wild fire, which is used to devastating effect in the show, and some fiery tools of warfare used in real life. 

Orsolya Czere will explore historical parallels between some of the most powerful women of Westeros and Medieval Europe. Unexpected events could sometimes forcefully overthrow the female stereotypes of the Dark Ages. Influential women of Medieval Europe often found themselves playing the game of thrones. Dynastic struggle is unisex after all. Orsolya is a PhD candidate in Archaeological Science focusing on dietary change in Scotland from the late Iron Age to High Medieval times. 

Keith Ruiter: With his penchant for cutting the lives of his characters short, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series provides readers and viewers with the opportunity to use his fantasy world to reflect on the complicated and entangled spheres of life and death, nuancing their understandings of real-world histories. Using the characterisations of several of the powerful women of Westeros, this talk will explore the complexity of Viking-Age archaeology and the medieval period more broadly.

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