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Who Will Be Spared in Game of Thrones, According to Science

‘Highborn’ women who have switched sides seem to do best on the fantasy series, while ‘lowborn’ men tend to die violently

smithsonian.com

In April, the HBO sensation Games of Thrones will wrap up the fantasy series, and undoubtedly, there will be blood. This week actress Maisie Williams, aka Arya Stark, told Sky News: “I don't think anyone is going to be satisfied [when it ends].”

For fans hoping to glean some insight into possible outcomes of the eighth and final season of the bloody series, science is at your service. A group of Australian researchers analyzed the existing 67 episodes of the series to see which of the characters are most likely to face death next, according to a study in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

One of the hallmarks of the show, based on—but not an faithful retelling—of the books by George R.R. Martin, is that no one is safe. Villains, fan favorites, the good, the bad and the truly evil are all killed off in equal numbers. The team looked at all 330 “important” characters that have appeared on the series, defined as a human character listed in the credits that were not part of flashback.

Each was categorized according to sex and social status—either “highborn” or “lowborn” in the show’s vernacular. They also considered the character’s occupation—either “silk collar” jobs, like merchant or clergyman, or “boiled leather collar” jobs, like blacksmith or farmer—as well as religious affiliation, and allegiance. The researchers then calculated how long each character lived after being introduced to viewers—the shortest stint was 11 seconds. Lastly, they assigned an alphanumeric death code for each based on the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, as well as noting the location and time of each death.

According to their analysis, by the end of season seven, 56.4 percent or 186 of all the important characters had died, with 73.7 percent of those deaths caused by injuries. Head and neck wounds, including decapitations, topped the list. Only two natural deaths were depicted in the show. Lowborn men were the most likely to meet a violent end while highborn women, on the other hand, seemed to survive the longest.

Study co-author Reidar Lystad, an injury epidemiologist at the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, tells Taylor Pittman at The Huffington Post that there are two independent factors that seemed to up the chances a character will survive. The first is their prominence. The more screen time they get and the more entwined with the main thrust of the story, the longer they survive. Also, changing allegiances—moving from one house to another or to another institution, like the Night’s Watch, seemed to improve chances for making it from one season to the next.

What that means in practical terms is that the Stark sisters seem to have the highest chances of surviving until the end, since they are highborn women who have changed allegiances (willingly or not), with Arya joining the Faceless Men and Sansa moving from House Stark to House Baratheon to House Lannister to House Bolton and back to House Stark.

Lystad also says the chances for Tyrion Lannister and Jon Snow surviving are also almost as high though they are highborn males. Calla Wahlquist at The Guardian reports that Bran Stark, who switched allegiance to become the Three-Eyed Raven and Jamie Lannister, who abandoned his sister in season seven are also in the running to survive.

According to this metric, however, Daenerys Targaryen may not make it to the end since her allegiance has always been with herself. Another project, a machine learning algorithm developed in 2016 that looked at the show up to the end of season five also gave the Mother of Dragons a 95 percent chance of dying. So far, it’s projections have been pretty spot on, predicting the deaths of Tommen and Stannis Baratheon and Petyr Baelish while giving Jon Snow only an 11 percent likelihood of death.

Lystad tells Pittman at The Huffington Post that the show has so many twists it’s hard to predict who will live or die. But he does have his favorite.

“I quite like Tyrion,” he says. “He likes to do research, he likes to read books, and he likes to drink wine. And that’s definitely something I can relate to.”

The paper also offers some public health advice to improve Westeros for whoever ends up on the Iron Throne. The authors suggest that the government implement policies to increase commerce and raise the standard of living for people in the kingdom as well as funding more public institutions, like schools, hospitals and public health departments. Improving the built-environment and implementing evidence-based violence prevention policies would also be a good start, all of which could be implemented with a stroke of a pen instead of a blade, the authors argue. But they are realistic about the chances of this happening.

“However, because this may negatively impact the show’s popularity, it seems unlikely any such changes will occur before the last episode of the final season reaches television screens worldwide,” they write.

But perhaps the shows upcoming prequel will have some gripping storylines about lead paint abatement and Westerosi free trade agreements.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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