(Editor's note: Spoilers for Game of Thrones ahead.)
On last night's episode of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen — Breaker of Chains! Mother of Dragons! — sets fire to a room full of Dothraki warlords and walks out unscathed, her clothing scorched off but her skin and hair untouched.
This wasn't the first time Khaleesi has walked through fire. In the final episode of season one, she walks into her husband Drogo's funeral pyre and emerges as the Unburnt — covered in soot, but unharmed, the new mother to three hatched dragons.
How do you explain organic matter such as human skin withstanding extreme heat? Or Daenerys' silver hair not burning off and falling to ash?
You can't — for humans.
But there is a scientific connection: A real-life creature that may have a lot in common with the Khaleesi. And it lives at hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, where life on Earth may have begun.
This is Alvinella pompejana, the Pompeii worm.
At just 5 inches in length, the Pompeii worm is wickedly cool. It's a kind of polychaete worm, sometimes called a bristle worm for its unnervingly tentacle-like gills, which makes it look like a murder-y Funyun.
The Pompeii worm's neighborhood is incredibly uninviting, much like most of the places Targaryen gets dragged to throughout the current season. Only instead of hot, dry deserts, the Pompeii worm lives in hot, dark, wet thermal vents, which can heat up to about 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
The explanation for being able to survive and even live a regular worm life in such extreme heat may be due to a gray fur-like layer of insulating bacteria living on Alvinella's back. It's a gross superpower relationship: The worm secretes sugary mucus from its back. The bacteria eats the mucus, and then lives on the worm's back, glomming on en masse until it creates a thick insulating layer, resistant against the extreme heat.
The bacteria operate almost like aramids, the heat-resistant synthetic materials used to make fireproof suits for firefighters, race car pit crews and stuntmen.
So who knows? Maybe whatever force that gave Dany her flameproof superpowers works by activating the same type of insulating bacteria, turning the Mother of Dragons into a walking stunt suit. Maybe the Targaryen bloodline includes the genes to grow microscopic, heat-resistant DNA, or the synthetic properties of burn-resistant Kevlar.
Or maybe it's just fuckin' magic.