A Song of Ice and Fire is slowly but surely replacing The Inheritance Cycle as my favorite series ever, and now that I am finally almost done with the last book and about to start a reread, I’ve also been spending my days on forums and gobbling up numerous fan theories to be my own personal canon. I find this series interesting and compelling for a number of reasons—good characterization and awesome worldbuilding, to name a few—but I also like what it does with the fantasy genre as a whole. Though, like many fantasy stories before it, A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a medieval setting, has dragons, and is probably going to end with an epic battle between the forces of good against the forces of evil, it is not a typical fantasy story. One of the reasons for that is its use of magic.
A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t expose its readers to that many magical elements. There are dragons and skinchangers, but what else? The vast majority of the books have no magic in them whatsoever, so some of the more fantastical parts of the books—such as the Wall—can easily make a reader wonder whether or not it can be explained by magic or science.
To start off, despite taking place in a world that has clearly been shaped and stunted by magic, the characters themselves are more or less removed from the more fantastical elements of their own world. This is because magic “died out” and it’s only now coming back in full force, following the awakening of the Others and the birth of Daenerys’s dragons. But on the whole, magic has played a small role in the story.
The world of Westeros is distinct from our own world for two very big reasons—its seasons can last for years, and in the northern part of the continent is a massive 700-foot-tall wall made entirely from ice. Both the seasons and the Wall have been debated among the fanbase—are they magical or scientific? Well, I’m going to say that they’re both magical. I say that because, though it may be possible to explain Westeros’s seasons through science, the same is much harder to say for the Wall.
[Jon’s] uncle said the top [of the Wall] was wide enough for a dozen armored knights to ride abreast. The gaunt outlines of huge catapults and monstrous wooden cranes stood sentry up there, like the skeletons of great birds, and among them walked men in black as small as ants.
—A Game of Thrones, ch. 19
A 700-foot-tall wall made out of ice is nearly impossible. To start off, it would melt under its own weight. Barring that, it would also crumble apart. Ice simply cannot be formed into such structure because gravity would bring it crashing down.
But what about the seasons that last for years? Yes, that is something that can be explained by science. Three celestial bodies revolving around one another can create unpredictable seasons, but I highly doubt that’s the case. There’s simply not enough evidence in the books to argue that point. The seasons could also be caused by an elongated axis—but then the seasons, while long compared to our own, would be predictable and constant, and that’s definitely not the case either. Tyrion mentions once that he was born during a three-year winter, and as A Game of Thrones starts, we learn that the latest summer has been going on for at least nine years. The odd seasonal changes could be a combination of numerous scientific explanations, but if that were true I think it would only take away from the narrative as a whole. The story constantly refers to battles between ice and fire—summer and winter, dragons and Others—and it would only hurt the story for such a memorable part of that world to not be related to the magical elements that keep other ice-and-fire battles going.
What we know about the Wall is that it was built to keep the Others out of Westeros. In ages past, the Others brought about something called the Long Night—a night that lasted for years. During that time, they froze the world over and almost wiped out all humanity. The Wall was built to keep them at bay and the Others disappeared. Now no one alive believes in them anymore, and if they do believe in them, they think they’re long extinct.
The Others are only a story, a tale to make children shiver. If they ever lived at all, they are gone eight thousand years.
—Jon Snow’s thoughts
We have enough information from the books to also assume that the imbalance between the seasons has something to do with the Others. As House Stark always says, “Winter is coming.” And now that winter is here, the days get shorter, and it’s almost impossible to not think about the Long Night happening again, especially since the Others have reappeared after 8000 years of sleeping. This current winter is something that the books have been building up to for quite some time, and it would seem too much like a coincidence and be poor writing if this winter and the Others’ reawakening had nothing to do with each other. The Others themselves are a magical race—they freeze everything they touch and are near impossible to look at because the air frosts around them—so for this current seasonal change to be connected to them, it would need to be magical as well.
When we look at the Wall and the seasons, we can tell that magic runs much deeper in this world than what we are originally led to believe, and I’d be really surprised if it didn’t end up being relevant to the series’ ending. This is also fascinating because we’ve been given a world where magic starting dying out, but not completely. The Wall and the irregular seasons are leftover artifacts from a time when magic was more apparent, which speaks of good writing and worldbuilding. The series slowly reintroduces magic to the world at such a slow pace that people don’t even believe it’s happening until they start hearing talk about dragons and Others, and even then, most of the characters don’t believe it. That magic has become so hidden adds another layer to the story, especially since magic has had such a huge impact on the world, which only makes A Song of Ice and Fire a much more interesting read.