Mathematics is the language of science. It helps astronomers decipher the machinations of the cosmos, assists virologists in working out how epidemics will spread, and engineers build the most extraordinary of creations. It also helps curious researchers work out which "Game of Thrones" character is the most influential. Spoiler alert: It’s not Littlefinger.
Mathematicians are known for taking time out from their normal occupations in order to delve into the world of popular culture. Recently, one intrepid group picked apart the entire "Star Wars" universe using a series of algorithms called “web scrapers,” which took just two days to sort through every single piece of information about the sprawling sci-fi saga available online.
A separate team has turned their mathematical know-how to the hugely popular fantasy series "Game of Thrones." Andrew J. Beveridge, an associate professor of mathematics at Macalester College, and Jie Shan, his undergraduate, have penned a new paper entitled “Network of Thrones.” Published in the Mathematical Association of America’s special publication Math Horizons, this novel piece of research describes how they created a virtual social network to calculate who really runs the show in Westeros.
Determining who the most influential character is in "Game of Thrones" would, for most people, be a gargantuan task. So many characters cross paths, even briefly, and those you think are in control of the situation tend to die rather abruptly.
Taking a leaf from the intrepid "Star Wars"-obsessed mathematician, they turned to graph theory, which combines multiple numerical-based disciplines to see how data flows through massive systems. When these systems are quantified in such a way, they can be used to project what will happen in the future.
The social network generated from "A Storm of Swords." The size of a vertex (character point) corresponds to a character’s level of connection with other important individuals. The thickness of each line shows how often the connected characters interact. Beveridge & Shan/Math Horizons
For their study, the authors focused on the third book in the series, "A Storm of Swords," explaining, “We opted for this volume because the main narrative has matured, with the characters scattered geographically and enmeshed in their own social circles.”
A plethora of ladies, lords, guards, mercenaries, councilmen, magic-wielders, consorts, councilmen, villagers, savages, dragon-tamers, knights, slaves, kings and queens were all assigned values. Whenever two characters appeared within 15 words of each other, a link was added between them. The links were “stronger” if they appeared more often.
In addition, the importance of each character – their position of power, or their ability to directly influence the outcomes of situations – was also converted into a numerical value. “Betweenness,” the ability of characters to insert themselves into social clans, so that they pick up on and perhaps distort information not necessarily meant for them, was also measured.
These links formed a social network that revealed how each character interacted with everyone else. At a glance, this showed how various clans and groups of people influenced each other throughout the series; in more microscopic detail, this network describes precisely how influential each individual was, altering the fate of others either directly or indirectly through their actions.
Without a doubt, the leader in every single measure except betweenness, was Tyrion. This diminutive, Machiavellian, opportunistic character is certainly running the show.
However, the authors point out that Daenerys’ journey, even by book three, seems to be tending towards something rather grandiose. “Daenerys really represents the future – you can see what’s about to happen based on the people she’s linked with,” Beveridge told Quartz.