It looks like celebrity astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s been binge-watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, and now he’s got some fascinating insights about that zombie dragon to share. He threw some major shade on an important scene from the last season but also praised things the show got right, and he may have solved a major mystery that fans have been pondering since Season 7’s breathtaking final episode aired.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s a frequent talk show guest, best-selling author, director of New York City’s renowned Hayden Planetarium, and host of the radio show Star Talk. But what you may not know about him is that he loves pop culture and often takes to Twitter to point out parts of our favorite shows and movies that make no sense from a scientific standpoint. For example, he had a field day with 2017 summer blockbusters Alien: Covenant, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Baywatch on Late Night with Stephen Colbert back in May.
So, of course, it was only a matter of time before Neil DeGrasse Tyson got around to Game of Thrones and the Night King’s newly-turned zombie dragon. For starters, there’s that scene from Season 7, Episode 6, “Beyond the Wall,” where the undead army uses long, industrial-strength chains to drag Viserion’s massive corpse out of the icy lake.
Turns out this scene not only left Game of Thrones fans baffled, it defies the laws of physics.
“Bad Physics in #GameOfThrones,” Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted. “Pulling a dragon out of a lake? Chains need to be straight, and not curve over hill and dale.”
You don’t need to be a Harvard-educated astrophysicist like Neil deGrasse Tyson to notice several major things that seem wrong in that scene.
As Mashable pointed out, fans immediately wondered, “Where do the Night King and the other White Walkers get those big, industrialized chains?”
NIGHT KING: Get the chains— Paul Tassi (@PaulTassi) August 21, 2017
WHITE WALKER WHO HAS BEEN STOCKPILING ENORMOUS CHAINS FOR 10,000 YEARS: Yessssss
Zimbio ventures the Night King can see into the future and was prepared.
And then there’s that other burning question about how the wights got those chains around the dragon when they couldn’t even swim across 10 feet of water? Nerdcore Movement’s Damon Martin tweeted out a plausible answer.
“The wights can’t swim,” he explains, “but they don’t die either so they can just sacrifice themselves to attach the chains underwater.”
The wights can’t swim but they don’t die either so they can just sacrifice themselves to attach the chains underwater
— Damon Martin (@DamonMartin) September 24, 2017
Neil deGrasse Tyson didn’t address these questions, but he did shed some light on the red vs. blue fire mystery.
Neil deGrasse Tyson on Game of Thrones‘ zombie dragon: Blue dragon breath hotter than red dragon breath.
With the matter of the white walkers and the chains they used to retrieve their zombie dragon out of the way, Neil deGrasse Tyson also answers another burning question Game of Thrones fans keep debating: In the Season 7 grand finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” is the zombie dragon breathing ice or fire?
“Intriguing Thermal Physics in #GameOfThrones,” he tweeted. “Blue dragon breath would be at least a factor of 3X hotter than Red dragon breath.” If only this brilliant scientist could also explain how Viserion is able to fly with all those holes in his wings.
In their article “What Are the Colors of a Fire & How Hot Are They?,” Sciencing explains the color of a fire’s flames depend on how hot they are. Flames glow red at 1,112-1,832 degrees Fahrenheit, burn orange at 1,832=2,192 degrees Fahrenheit, and blaze yellow at 2,192-2,552 degrees Fahrenheit. When the fire gets hotter, “the flame color moves into the blue/violet end of the visible spectrum.” In other words, it turns blue.
Is Viserion an ice dragon or a fire dragon?
But whether Viserion blows hot or cold likely depends on whether he’s a fire dragon or an ice dragon. In his “A World of Ice and Fire” companion book for the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series Game of Thrones is based on, George R.R. Martin wrote, “Whereas common dragons (if any dragon can truly be said to be common) breathe flame, ice dragons supposedly breathe cold, a chill so terrible that it can freeze a man solid in half a heartbeat.”
This seems to contradict Neil deGrasse Tyson’s theory, as does a Vanity Fair feature on Paula Fairfield, the Game of Thrones sound designer who created the zombie dragon’s eldritch scream. When asked whether Viserion demolished the Wall with ice or with fire, Fairfield answers, “He’s just going at it and slicing with this. It’s kind of like liquid nitrogen. It’s so, so cold. So imagine if that’s what it was, but it’s so cold it’s hot. That kind of thing.”
And there’s also that fan theory going around that John Snow — the ice to Daenerys Targaryen’s fire — may wind up capturing, taming, and flying on Viserion. As covered by The Inquisitr shortly before the season’s epic finale, this would also suggest the Night King’s zombie dragon’s breathing ice, not fire.
Although we’ve never seen anything resembling an ice dragon in the TV show, George R.R. Martin’s books often refer to them. His 1980 children’s story “The Ice Dragon” — written well before he dreamed up what became the Game of Thrones universe — even features one who is befriended by a “winter child” named Adara. Together they save her homeland from attacks by fire dragons.
Here’s a post from Facebook with a sample of the book’s incredible artwork by fantasy illustrator Luis Royo.
GRRM’s ice dragons are portrayed as even rarer, purer, and more powerful than those run-of-the-mill fire dragons, as described in “A World of Ice and Fire.”
“These colossal beasts, many times larger than the dragons of Valyria, are said to be made of living ice, with eyes of pale blue crystal and vast translucent wings through which the moon and stars can be glimpsed as they wheel across the sky.”
Then again, the Game of Thrones series often departs from the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books. And there’s also always the possibility that the zombie dragon’s flames are blue because of chemicals or magic. For example, the wildfire that first appears in the Battle of Blackwater from Season 2, and which Cersei Lannister uses to destroy the Sept at the end of Season 6, is green. The highly flammable substance was devised by members of the Alchemists Guild using ancient magic.
In real life, we can use chemicals to turn flames blue. “Most types of alcohol burn as blue fire, such as ethanol, methanol, and isopropyl alcohol,” ThoughtCo explains. “Natural gas also burns with a blue flame.” You can also try copper chloride for the same effect. The acetylene found in blow torches for welding also turns fire blue. According to Yahoo! News, “The blowtorch is essentially a metal tube that mixes acetylene – an odorless colorless hydrocarbon gas – and oxygen to create a very hot pinpoint flame.”
Arsenic and various lead compounds can also create a blue flame, but they’re highly toxic. While the Night King would have no scruples about having Viserion spew forth toxic blue flames, you wouldn’t want to try that at home.
Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Good biophysics in Game of Thrones.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson also notes the biophysics of Game of Thrones‘ dragons are spot-on.
“Good Bio-Physics in #GameOfThrones,” he noted on Twitter. “The Dragon Wingspans are sensibly large, as their body weight would require for flight.”
The dragons are also correct from an evolutionary biology standpoint.
“Good Biology in #GameOfThrones,” he praises. “As in #LordOfTheRings, Dragons forfeited their forelimbs to make wings, like birds & bats.”
Game of Thrones fans have to wait until 2019 to get their next fix, but a Neil deGrasse TV special on the science of this much-loved and sorely-missed HBO hit would ease the pain.
[Featured Image by Michael Campanella/Getty Images and HBO]