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A Song of Ice & Fire (And Data): Team Reveals Patterns in “Game of Thrones” Deaths

This Sunday, April 14, the final season of "Game of Thrones" premieres, promising an answer to a years-long guessing game: Which character will claim the Iron Throne once and for all? The conclusion of "GoT" may be one of the most tightly held -- and most anticipated -- secrets in showbiz.

Since it premiered in 2011, the fantasy phenomenon has rewritten the rules of prestige TV with its shocking character deaths. With no one safe from an untimely end, "Game of Thrones" raised the stakes of each episode and created a massive fan base that happily waits for the axe to fall -- sometimes literally -- on major characters.

OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING: Plot twists and details of seasons one through seven discussed below.

However, there are clues to the show's secret formula. Math professor Tim Chartier and Cats Stats student researchers George Baldini, David Lee, Fabio von Schelling Goldman and Zach Nussbaum have found patterns in the first seven seasons that may reveal when we can expect major characters to die in the final six episodes.

Quick note about the data: Chartier originally analyzed the first six GoT seasons while he served as Chief Academic Officer for data analytics firm Tresata. "Game of Thrones Death Timeline" is the source of data for seasons one through six and also the source for character classification. Cats Stats analyzed season seven independently.

Who's going to die?
The creators of the show frequently serve as the chief executioners. Deaths of major characters occur almost entirely in episodes penned by creators and showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss. (The only major exception is Joffrey's death in season four.) This is particularly significant this season as they do not author the first two episodes of the last season. However, they take over from there, writing the final four.

Table of Deaths by Author

When are they going to die?
If the show follows the pattern above, our favorite characters may be safe for the first two episodes. But, once the opening credits end for the third episode, should viewers grab a cushion and get ready for the ride? Data shows that major characters haven't died at random times. There are patterns in both the timing of deaths during a season and within an episode.

Graph Time of Death during Episode

First, the Davidson group looked at when deaths occur after the opening credits. This graph shows that on average, major deaths occur at two times: approximately 20 percent into the episode or at the very end.

What does that mean for viewers? Episodes three through six of season eight are super-sized. With an expected run time of 80 minutes, it's probably safe to relax after the opening 20 minutes. But when the episode passes the one-hour mark, you'll want to be on high alert. Of course, that doesn't mean nothing happens between those times. We see from the bar charts in yellow and blue that minor and recurring characters die throughout the show.

When do characters tend to die during the season? Again, the Davidson group worked with percentages, since season seven consisted of only seven rather than 10 episodes. Although major characters die throughout the season, we see below that they die most often at the end of a season. This isn't exactly shocking of course, as most GoT seasons have built toward explosive climaxes every season.

Graph Death per Episode

One thing to keep in mind: We are in uncharted territory. The final GoT book hasn't even been published (much less written, for that matter) so there are no guide posts. One thing has been clear, when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. We don't know who the winner will be, but the data may give us hints of some of the drama yet to come.

Jay Pfeifer
japfeifer@davidson.edu
704-894-2920