The Mountain vs Prince Oberyn vs science: who will win?
First, this website is not a spoiler-free zone. Never has and never will be. I’m fine with spoilers. Sometimes I even seek them out (I was that kid who opened up his Christmas presents and then re-wrapped them). So, if you HATE spoilers, and aren’t up-to-date on Game of Thrones, stop reading now.
I love science, and I love fiction (and I also love science fiction). Fiction shouldn’t have to live up to the standards of science, especially when we’re talking about fantasy, sci-fi, or supernatural/horror, all of which require a level of disbelief. But sometimes it’s fun to see if what happens on the page (or screen) could happen in real life.
Let’s look at Game of Thrones and the epic battle between The Mountain and Prince Oberyn. Quick recap: Tyrion was accused of poisoning his nephew, the spoiled, vicious King Joffrey. Facing near certain conviction in a sham trial, he chose a duel to decide his fate. If his chosen fighter won, he would be set free. Cersei, Joffrey’s mother, who hated her brother Tyrion, selected The Mountain, a hulking beast of a man.
Prince Oberyn, aka The Red Viper, a fiery, bisexual Dornish prince renown for his fighting skills, volunteered to battle The Mountain on behalf of Tyrion in order to extract a confession from the villain who raped and killed his sister years earlier.
Well, the fight didn’t go too well for either man. The Mountain was mortally wounded, and Prince Oberyn got his confession, but that was just before The Mountain crushed Oberyn’s skull with his bare hands.
It was shocking and gruesome, even for a show like Game of Thrones.
This article asks the scientific question: could The Mountain really have crushed Oberyn’s head like an overripe watermelon?
First the facts. The actor who plays The Mountain, Hafthor Julius Bjornsson, is 6 ft 9 inches and weighs over 400 lb. Bjornsson is the third-strongest man in the world and can deadlift 994 lb. The guy is seriously strong. The strength and size of Pedro Pascal, who played Oberyn, is irrelevant here, but this picture of the actors shows their difference in size.
So could he do it? Probably not. Based on bike helmet crash data, it would take 2x the amount of force to crush a skull than human hands could muster, even hands as strong as Bjornsson’s. But, like much of science, this isn’t settled. One study suggested that it takes as little as 16 lb of pressure to fracture the skull, while another study pushed the skull-crushing requirement to 1200 lb.
My vote? Let’s get Bjornsson a skull to crush (not mine). Then we’ll see if George RR Martin’s words were based on scientific fact, or were pure fiction.