A Year in 'Game of Thrones' Probably Isn't What You Think It Is
We’re about to head into season 7 of Game of Thrones, probably the most ambitious fantasy epic ever put on television. It will be the penultimate season of the series and there’s a lot that’s been discussed about the war that’s likely coming, character analysis, what each and every frame of the trailer means, and how we can totally tell everything about this season from an offhand comment in an interview with Maisie Williams. But I have a more important matter I have to hash out with you, as a professional critic of Game of Thrones who has given panels on in-depth analysis of the world of Westeros: A year in Game of Thrones is definitely not 365 days and that’s weird to think about.
HEAR ME OUT. So, we know that seasons in Westeros tend to last years and don’t correspond to what we would consider a “normal” solar cycle. This probably means it’s on a planet with a wobbly orbit but I’m not actually as interested in the science of it (because, let’s face it: dragons) as in the practical application; there’s no “easy” way to figure out what a year is. The Gregorian calendar that is more or less the global standard for us is based on a solar calendar roughly organized around solstices and equinoxes. In a world where summer can last for years, that would not be the case. There is no summer solstice to determine the midpoint of the year. Same with winter. There are even stories of a night that lasted an entire generation in the depth of the longest winter. Even if that’s an exaggeration and it only lasted a few months, that’s one hell of a winter! More to the point, it’s proof that the Westerosi calendar cannot be based on a solar model. More likely, it’s based on a hard mathematical model. Now the fun part starts.
If a “year” in Westeros has been rounded up to a set number of days, there’s no way to know what numbers would be considered best for that application in their culture. Let’s say that, for example, they decided a year was 500 days. That’s a nice round number. More to the point, it helps make the ages of the younger characters in Game of Thrones a little more understandable. A 14 year old Jon Snow taking his vows with the Night’s Watch? Convert 14 in 500 day years to 365 day years and you get a guy around 19. Still young, but not someone who’s barely hitting puberty. Someone who has the size and strength to wield a sword like Longclaw but might not be able to reliably grow facial hair. A 13 year old Daenerys marrying Khal Drogo? Still probably a bit shy of her 18th birthday, but also probably out of her awkward adolescent stage. That doesn’t make either of these situations great, but it makes them a little less horrifying. It also helps keep up with the aging of the actors on the show in the face of reality vs. TV production schedules.
We also know, though, that seven is a religiously significant number in Westeros and a great deal of social change came to Westeros with Aegon the Conquerer who spread the faith of the Seven through his new kingdom. So if you think that maybe they have seven day weeks like us, maybe they also have seven week months and seven month years. That would give us a year of 343 days and would make everyone slightly YOUNGER than we think they are. And why stop at a year or a month or a week, how do they determine what a day is? The length of a day without a consistent solar cycle has to be artificially determined, right? We know they have time markers. “The hour of the wolf” and all that. There are a million small ways the universe of Westeros could be completely alien to us that we probably never even think about.
My point here, mostly, is that we tend to have a lot of odd assumptions we carry with us into fiction and the length of a year is one that’s easy to poke holes in for this particular story. It’s not just an assumption on the part of the reader either, George R.R. Martin never specifies these things either because well, why would he? Even as he’s writing about seasons that last years, it apparently doesn’t occur to him that this means there would be an entirely different method of keeping time on everything from a macro to a micro level. An hour is an hour. A day is a day. A year is a year. Unless it isn’t. And frankly, he probably shouldn’t have gone into that detail. It doesn’t change the story at all, it just offers us a bit of a window into our preconceptions. I suspect the coming season will be very heavy and there will be a lot of tragedy. Holding onto small, inconsequential debates like this may help keep us in the right frame of mind to process the rest of it. So, let’s have at it. What are your minor and petty quibbles with Game of Thrones that have nothing to do with the story and everything to do with your own understanding of the world?
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