Game of Thrones climate and weather: Defining the world
A series on the weather and climate of the ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ world
As a fanatical watcher on the couch of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the past few weeks have been bittersweet. With the eighth and final season airing, the anticipation of waiting two years only marginally outweighs the pain and emptiness I know I’ll feel once it all ends. Although I wasn’t on the bandwagon from the beginning, the story and world created by George RR Martin in his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ (ASOIAF) novels has completely consumed my imagination for the past six years.
I also happen to be an unabashed weather and climate nerd. Although I’ve never comprehensively studied meteorology or climatology (beyond a few classes), the natural processes of the world have always driven my academic and personal research, and granted me unfettered wonderment. So it wasn’t long after I started watching Thrones years ago that I began to speculate on the similarities and differences between their world and ours regarding natural geography—weather and climate in particular.
This post is the first in a series exploring that. Following posts will focus on each region throughout the realm — starting with ‘The North’. Once I get through all of Westeros, I hope to move on to Essos, and perhaps even beyond.
Here I will outline the parameters that must be set and general assumptions that must be made about similarities between Earth and the planet Game of Thrones is set on.
Defining the ASOIAF world
There are disparate seasonal variations between summer and winter in ASOIAF (probably due to magical influences), but much of the climate and weather is quite familiar to here on Earth. And this is unsurprising. In fact, George RR Martin has been quoted as saying that his story takes place on a round (or more accurately, an oblate spheroid) planet not too dissimilar from our own world, if not just a bit larger. According to the ‘Atlas of Ice and Fire’ blog, which has crunched the numbers, the planet ASOIAF is set on is approximately 8% larger than our own.
Operating with this assumption, we can go a step further: it is safe to assume that the GOT planet behaves somewhat similarly in its celestial rotation about its solar system’s central star, as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. We also know that the known world is located in the northern hemisphere, which has also been confirmed by Martin.
But then, why the abnormally long and short seasons, you might ask? One explanation could be that it’s larger, or that it’s farther away from a more powerful star, thus it rotates more slowly. Yet, that doesn’t explain shorter seasons, nor why they vary so drastically. So actually, I’ll just chalk that and all the other holes in my theory up to magic and move along.
Some facts and comparisons: Westeros vs. Earth
Agreeing that the GOT world is mostly* like Earth (*besides magic), here are some general facts about Westeros to make it more relatable:
- Westeros is 3,000 miles from southernmost Dorne to the Wall, and some 900 miles at its widest point east to west
- Lands beyond the wall are presumed to go all the way (or nearly) to the north pole, similar to the North American continent. (George RR Martin has also said that the Lands of Always Winter are similar in area to Canada.)
- In total, Westeros’ land mass is estimated at approximately 5,000 miles from southern Dorne to the North Pole, assuming a similar-sized planet to Earth. For comparison: South America is 4,443mi long.
- It is located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere, with Dorne bordering the tropics at approximately 23.5°N and the Wall not quite within the arctic at approximately 62°N. For comparison: Miami, FL, USA is 25°N and Helsinki, Finland is 60°N.
- Sunspear is near the theoretical Tropic of Cancer (~23.5°N), Hardhome is near the theoretical Arctic Circle (~66°N).
- King’s Landing is at about 35°N, which is a similar latitude to the Mediterranean Sea, North African coast and central California (Los Angeles = 34°N, Malta = 35°N).
- Winterfell is at about 55°N, similar to Edinburgh and Moscow.
- Much of the continent experiences a westerly weather pattern most of the time, with the exceptions of the south (Dorne, parts of The Reach) and the far north (beyond The Wall).
- This might look broadly similar to that of Western Europe or North America, with some distinct differences (i.e. Westeros, unlike Western Europe, is connected to the north pole via land, and thus has more influence from very cold, very dry, continental polar and arctic air masses. And Westeros isn’t nearly as wide as North America, thus such air masses will struggle to push as far south).
- The south is likely affected by subtropical high pressure, and potentially tropical cyclones (low pressure) from the Summer Sea.
- The north is likely affected by polar high pressure surging southwards from the arctic, as well as a meandering polar jet stream guiding surface lows from west to east.
- The presence of the Sunset Sea to the west, the Summer Sea to the South, and the long, narrow, nature of the continent all have a significant influence on weather patterns and overall climate.
- The relatively close proximity of Essos to the east also plays a role.
This post will serve as a point of departure for all upcoming regional breakdowns. If and when I make it to Essos, I will add more information and background here for reference.
As mentioned, you can expect the first in-depth regional breakdown—on The North — in the coming days.
In the meantime, enjoy the season 8 trailer #WinterIsHere.