(Warning: Game of Thrones spoilers ahead!) If you watched Game of Thrones on Sunday, you were surely affected by that epic duel between the Red Viper and the Mountain. I was on the edge of my seat cheering Oberyn on, totally reminded of the triumphant moment when Inigo Montoya finally confronted the six-figured man. "You raped my sister, you murdered her, you killed her children ... prepare to die!"
Well, that's how I felt for a little while, anyway. Then I was, you know, completely horrified.
The scene everyone was talking on Sunday night about has spiraled into a deeply entertaining Internet debate: could that battle truly have ended the way it was shown? Let's review the (totally gross) evidence.
I am of course talking about the moment when Gregor Clegane, better known as The Mountain, gruesomely crushed Oberyn’s head with his bare hands. Now speaking personally, I was far less interested in whether or not such a feat was physically possible than I was in mourning Oberyn, because I loooooooooooved Oberyn, but the topic has gained traction online and now I too would like to know: CAN a man's skull be splattered like a grape using nothing more than a powerful grip?
According to TIME, the answer is yes, given The Mountain's superhuman strength. In the books, he's described as being nearly eight feet tall and upwards of 420 pounds. Time points out,
He also has the advantage, within the context of the fight with the Viper, of not relying on muscle strength alone; he has the assistance of gravity and is leaning his entire upper-body weight on Oberyn Martell’s head.
However, The Washington Post begs to differ. In their research, they queried Tobias Mattei, a neurosurgeon and the lead author of a study on the effectiveness of children's bike helmets, who said,
It would be impossible for even the strongest human to break the skull through compressive forces exerted by any means (either with their hands bilaterally or by stepping [on] it) in any portion of the skull.
A biomedical engineer at the University of Southern California also weighed in on the subject, writing,
My knee jerk response is that there is no way to get the head to ‘explode’ by applying pressure from the eyes. You would need to create pressure inside the cranium. Even if you could generate pressure by squeezing the outside of the head, once the cranium is breached at the orifice where the eye nerves enter, this pressure would be greatly diminished.
Even if you were able to hand-crush a guy's head, Mattei says there's no way it would have looked quite like it did onscreen:
I would say that it would be almost impossible ... to ‘blow up’ the head’s top from inside (even if you connect a firefighter’s water pump in it) because the skull base as well as the squamous portion of the temporal bone ... would blow out (sideways) first.
In conclusion, I now feel slightly less depressed about Oberyn's death because this debate is so hilariously (disgusting and) awesome. I hope we get some more scientific experts weighing in on the biological possibility of dragons, White Walkers, and the most realistic toilet situation for all those Unsullied.
PS: If you'd like to live in denial for a couple minutes, here's a fan-created video on how the episode SHOULD have ended:
Image via HBO