Who Lives and Who Dies: Statistical Predictions for Game of Thrones Characters

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Olin College of Engineering Students Run the Numbers on A Song of Ice and Fire Characters Spoiler Alert: It Doesn’t Look Good for Cersei

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The five best-selling fantasy novels from George R.R. Martin—upon which the enormously popular Game of Thrones television series is based—contain almost a thousand named characters. The A Song of Ice and Fire books are known for their violence and dark themes -- and for the threat that any character, regardless of popularity or importance, could die at any time.

Two students at Olin College of Engineering, together with professor of computer science Allen Downey, decided to conduct a Bayesian survival analysis on all named characters to see who might make it through the next two books. "It sometimes seems like Martin is playing a game with his readers, dangling a sword over the heads of their favorite characters. think this project is in the spirit of the game, trying to guess when the sword will fall,” says Downey.

Using information from A Wiki of Ice and Fire the students, juniors Erin Pierce and Bernard Kahle, created a dataset of all named characters, what chapter and book they first appeared, if they are female or male, nobility or not. The students then extrapolated the survival probabilities of the characters using a Bayesian model of survival, which predicts the probability of death in the remaining books. Bayesian statistics is a branch of statistics that quantifies randomness and uncertainty using probabilities.

Spoilers and Conclusions:

  • The analysis shows that female characters tend to out-survive their male counterparts by a wide margin.
  • Fan favorite Arya has a slightly better chance of survival than Cersei.
  • If Jon Snow is alive at the end of Book 5, the odds that he will survive the next two books is 30-51 percent.
  • Small folk tend to die more quickly than nobility, but those who do survive the introductions tend to outlive the nobles.
  • Val has a 10-53 percent chance of surviving to the end of the book series; the uncertainty of the prediction reflects the scarcity of data for wildlings.    
  • Lord Walder Frey and Theon Greyjoy look likely to survive to the end of Book 7.

The complete statistical data can be found here.
Of course, statistics can only tell so much; ultimately, who lives and who dies is in the hand (or pen) of Martin, but the analysis shows a pattern of life and death among groups of characters. You’ll have to wait for 2016 – or beyond - to find out for sure.

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Anne-Marie Dorning