When you play a game of thrones, there are only two outcomes: you either win or you die. The question is, who amongst us has the iron dice stacked in their favour?
If you are a male of low birth with a penchant for unwavering loyalty and an insistence on living, you will probably have your work cut out for you.
After hours of viewing, this is the verdict of two injury epidemiologists, who carefully researched what it actually takes to survive in a medieval world like Game of Thrones (GOT).
Of course, this was only one of their goals; the other was far less selfless.
“The secondary aim was to give the authors an excuse to re-watch the first seven seasons before the final season reaches television screens worldwide,” admit the authors, who are both affiliated with Macquarie University in Sydney.
With the final season of HBO’s hit television series just around the corner, the new research offers a tempting glimpse into the life and death of our favourite characters.
Tracking the fate of the show’s most important human players, the researchers have offered some compelling new theories. Their study included a total of 330 characters, the majority of which were male and lowborn with ‘boiled-leather-collar jobs’.
By the end of the seventh season, more than half of these characters had met their end, and this was usually brought about by violent means, such as fatal war injuries, executions, burns or poisonings.
In all 67 episodes, only two natural deaths were recorded. That’s hardly a comforting statistic for the remaining characters, and judging by the show’s current trajectory, these violent ends are only likely to multiply.
Taking into account as many variables as possible, the researchers were able to make some keen predictions about which characters might outlive the final and, in all likelihood, brutal eighth season.
By far the two most important factors for survival were how prominently the characters were featured in the show and whether they had a history of switching sides.
While GOT is known for its unpredictable deaths, the probability of dying within the first hour of being introduced on screen was only about 14 percent. This means that most of the deaths have so far occurred among characters whom we have known for at least an episode.
Compared to characters who offer little to the plot, the researchers found that those with leading roles were roughly 2.5 times more likely to die. Plus, in contrast to moderately prominent characters, these stars were 6.5 times more likely to meet a gruesome end.
This doesn’t bode well for many audience favourites, although it doesn’t have to be a death wish. Switching sides appears to reduce a character’s chances of being killed, which means that those who are blindly loyal are only making their doom more likely.
In the end, the authors argue that continued survival is hardest for those who are male, lowborn and fiercely loyal to their allegiances.
This means that because Sansa and Arya Stark are both highborn women with very little allegiance to anyone other than themselves, they have better chances of survival than many of the other characters.
While it’s true these young women remain loyal to the House of Stark, they have both switched sides on different occasions: Arya when she went to train with the Many-Faced God, and Sansa when she married Joffrey Baratheon.
Daenerys Targaryen and Cersei Lannister, on the other hand, are highborn women with allegiances that have wavered little throughout the show, which doesn’t bode well for their survival.
In fact, loyalty was shown to be such an important factor, that this actually places both of these women further down the rung than Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister.
Even though both of these men have questionable statuses in their families, thus making their road to victory steep, the authors argue they are still in the running, mostly because their allegiances are far less rigid.
Tyrion has been flip-flopping all over the place since season one, and even though Jon Snow is considered one of the most virtuous players, he had no problem abandoning the Night’s Watch.
Of course, all of this assumes that GOT will play out in a logical manner, and any fan of the show knows that is rarely how things go down. We’ll just have to wait until April to find out.
This study has been published in Injury Epidemiology.