SPOILER ALERT: This article contains information about Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Please proceed with caution if you wish to avoid spoilers.
“Winter is coming.” It has been the catchphrase of the Starks in Game of Thrones since the show began. But, finally, winter has arrived in Westeros. While the weather still looked the same in the Season 6 finale, apparently the maesters at the Citadel know better than the average Game of Thrones viewer, and winter has officially set in.
It is this arrival of winter in Westeros that led to the Season 7 premiere being delayed, thanks to HBO having to wait for winter in the real world in order to shoot scenes on location for those areas of Westeros that is usually sunnier than the North where the Starks live.
But why do the seasons last so long in Westeros? Is it just the magic of the world created by George R. R. Martin, or could real life science be applied to Game of Thrones to prove why it has been summer for the longest time?
Apparently summer had already run for nine years when Season 1 of Game of Thrones began, just like it had at the start of the book series the show is based on. Up until the Season 6 finale, it was still summer, even though the Starks kept reminding everyone that winter was coming. For the longest time fans were bemoaning the fact winter was still coming. Now, it seems, winter has arrived without anyone really knowing it.
According to the books Game of Thrones is based on, the maesters keep a close eye on the length of days and that is how it is determined if it is still summer or not. This sounds very much like the way in which the seasons are measured here in the real world. Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and Summer Solstice is the longest day. But, for Westeros, it seems there is no exact length of time for seasons. It is known nine years of summer have passed, so they count time in years, which is different to the length of seasons. So, this means it is the seasons that are unpredictable, not the length of years.
According to Space.com, there might actually be some science behind why Westeros was still in summer up until recently. Seasons occur because the Earth tilts towards and away from the sun. Therefore, when it is summer here, it means the axis of the earth has tilted towards the sun, making the planet warmer. Then, as we reach winter, it signifies the Earth has tilted again, this time away from the sun. So, in Westeros, the reason winter is still coming could be because the planet takes much longer to tilt towards and away from the sun. After all, Space.com points out that Uranus has seasonal cycles that last 42 years, so nine years of it still being summer is within reason.
However, on Uranus, as with here on Earth, the seasons are the same length of time. Sure, some winters are longer than others, just as some summers seem to last for ever, but, generally, the seasons are roughly the same length of time. Greg Laughlin, an astrophysicist at the University of California Santa Cruz, has a possible answer as to why the seasons in Game of Thrones seem to be of differing lengths of time.
Greg Laughlin explains that there is such a thing as a “wobbly” axis. This causes variability in season lengths. However, this variability usually occurs over thousands of years, not over the short year spans that the people of Westeros are recording. Even though it is still summer for most of Game of Thrones, there are older characters who remember winter, and so therefore have lived through the previous summer as well as a winter in order to know what the seasons are really like.
Another way in which science could be used to support the fact winter is coming — albeit slowly — is the advent of another planet nearby that could affect the gravitational pull. “One situation that will lead to wildly variable seasons over long periods of time is if the planet in question is a member of a strongly interacting multiple planet system,” Laughlin explains. Still, this is something that would occur over thousands of years – not decades like in Game of Thrones.
io9 offers up yet another theory as to why winter is still coming in Game of Thrones. Earth has what is considered an elliptical orbit that is circular. But what if Westeros has an extremely elongated orbit? This would mean that instead of Westeros orbiting the sun in a circle, it would do so in an oblong shape, making some seasons significantly shorter than others. Could this account for the fact it is still summer in Westeros? It certainly could, but once more, there is still the question of why the seasons are not predictable. Maybe it is just a part of the magic of Game of Thrones?
Does it even matter to you that winter is still coming in Game of Thrones? Let us know by commenting below!
According to a recent interview with Deadline, Game of Thrones will return to HBO with a shortened Season 7 in 2017.
[Image via HBO]