Friday, 9 March 2012

Game of Thrones

Ok, for my first commentary on science in fiction I'm going for HBO's "Game of Thrones" based upon the amazing "A Song of Ice and Fire" series by George RR Martin. But that's fantasy, I hear you all cry. Well you'd be right but there's still a surprising amount of genetics in it, so much so that it's the key to one of the show's central mysteries.
So what are these tenuous connections with biology that I'm claiming the show features? Well in order to do that I'm probably going to have to spoiler warning the following as it does contain a discussion of plot elements from the series. So be warned if you click on the following and haven't seen the first season of the show there are some big spoilers!!!

The most obvious relevance to biology is that the show has genetics in it. Not just casual genetics but absolutely essential to the show's central mystery of "why was John Arryn murdered".
You see John's enigmatic last words were "the seed is strong" and detective Ned (played by Sean Bean) has to try and work out what that meant. He has two leads - a dark haired bastard of King Robert and a big book of genealogy for all the noble houses. Poor Ned stares at both for a long time and it's only when his daughter, Sansa, mentions she's going to have blonde babies and that her fiance the blond haired (mega-git) Joffrey Baratheon looks nothing like his dark haired father Robert that Ned has another look at the book and discover that all of the Baratheons have dark hair regardless of whether the mother was fair haired or not. The "seed is strong" is essentially John Arryn's discovery of dominant genes in the fantasy land of Westeros. Unfortunately for Ned, his wisdom does not extend to dealing with others and in a classic case of "never tell other scientists about your findings until your paper is published" he tells all of the wrong people and before he can even get reviewers comments he finds himself minus a head. Hopefully later in the series his and John Arryn's ground-breaking work will be recognised and they will become the Gregor Mendel's of their world.

On a related note the show could really benefit from DNA tests. There are a lot of bastards and false pretenders kicking around in the show and a paternity test could solve a lot of disputes. In Jon Snow's case a maternity test would come in handy.

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