History & classic literature may explain why Game of Thrones truly has something for everyone… **Spoiler Alert** Obviously – Mega Popular – Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
Real and Made-Up Historical Inspirations for Game of Thrones
Fans of the wildly successful book and HBO series Game of Thrones have read about dragons and knights and such before. So why is GOT so popular? Author George Martin’s recipe for success is as follows:
- Take every idea ever used in teenage fantasy literature
- Throw them all into the same world
- Mix well, until everybody is dead
This has proved to be one highly successful formula. And while there have been a few series mixing fantasy concepts, they were usually one-on-one affairs such as Alien vs. Predator (later made into films); Game of Thrones is the first to successfully throw everything into the mix. As a fan of the series myself, I started thinking about all the different elements involved and found it hard to keep track. I decided to brainstorm everything I can think of – feel free to write in if you think I’ve missed anything.
GOT Inspirations from Other Sources, in no particular order
Andronikos Doukas / Roose Bolton: In the never-ending king-of-the-hill game that was the feudal system, it was not unusual to see testy vassals trying to improve their status at the expense of those above them. While there are many examples of this in the real world, perhaps the most Bolton-ish was Andronikos Doukas, given command of the right wing against the Turks at the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 by the Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV. The idea was to expel the Turks who had recently wandered into the Empire. Ordered to cover a withdrawal, Doukas instead led his troops to the capital, where he crowned himself Emperor. Upon his return to the capital, Romanos IV was captured by Doukas, blinded and exiled. Long-term result: the best part of the Byzantine Empire is now called Turkey. Roose Bolton sabotages his king’s military plans, assists in his murder and now lives in his castle with the Starks’ old title of Warden of the North.
Assassins/Faceless Men: It seems that there is a fascination with secret bands of assassins these days. Every video game ad I see seems to feature assassins moving through time, or a secret tournament where people fight to the death. GOT fills this slot with the Faceless Men, a Braavos-based group of unstoppable assassins-for-hire complete with their own unique worldview. Araya seems to be doing well there – can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Atlantis / Valyria: Great cities which mysteriously disappeared beneath the waves — Atlantis into the Aegean, Valyria into what is now the Smoking Sea.
Dragons: Dragons tend to be viewed as dangerous in Europe, beneficial in eastern Asia. It remains to be seen on what side of the line Daenerys’s dragons will fall.
Eden Myths / Children of the Forest: Literature is full of Eden myths: the earth existed in a state of perfect harmony until sinful man appeared. In GOT, the Children of the Forest, small human-like creatures, lived in harmony with rainbows and unicorns until the First Men came over from Essos.
Mythical Beasts: Speaking of unicorns, when are we going to get to see one? There are a few rumored to be on the island of Skagos, where Davos Seaworth is heading to look for Rickon. There are also wooly mammoths, giants and shadowcats (sabre-tooth tigers) north of the Wall. No griffins?
Frankenstein / The Mountain: Raised from the dead by ethically challenged scientists.
Hadrian’s Wall / The Wall: Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep Scots out of the Roman Empire. The GOT Wall is located in about the same location in the British-ish looking continent of Westeros. Martin admitted that Hadrian’s Wall inspired him during a 2000 interview, but “…fantasy is the stuff of bright colors and being larger than real life, so my Wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical. And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots.”
Magic: Who doesn’t like magic? There’s a whole lot of magic in GOT, from whatever Melisandre has in that chest of hers, to the prophesizing fire watchers of the Red Temples, to those blue-lipped warlocks from Quarth and so on. The best news? Dragons make magic more powerful, and they just made a comeback.
Marriage Customs of Egyptian Pharaohs / Targaryens: Throughout history, royals have not welcomed outside bloodlines. The Egyptians took this to a whole new level, marrying brothers to sisters for thousands of years. Ewww. During the last dynasty, which ended in 30 B.C., every ruler took the title King Ptolemy and married a sister named either Berenice, Arsinoe or Cleopatra (the 7th was the one of Marc Antony fame). The practice reinforced certain characteristics but tends to produce mental instability, so – “when a Targaryen is born the gods flip a coin with greatness on one side and madness on the other.”
The Massacre of Glencoe / The Red Wedding: Ah, those English Civil Wars again. After a Scottish revolt in 1691, the clans were offered pardon if they swore allegiance to the crown by New Year. Clan Mclain of Glencoe went to the Governor in December, who sent him to Clan Campbell to take his oath. The Campbells had supported the King and had lost property and livestock to the Mclains. The Campbells deliberately waited until January to meet with the Mclains, giving them a pretext for what was to follow. In February, Captain Robert Campbell was sent to Glencoe to quarter his troops. For two weeks, the Campbell leader dined with the Mclains and enjoyed their hospitality. Then, after receiving sanction from the government, on the morning of February 13, 1692, Captain Campbell and his men massacred their hosts. Seventy-eight men and women died during or after the massacre. To this day, Glencoe houses have signs which read “No Campbells Allowed.” I’m sure the Freys will be equally popular in the North for the next 300 years. GOT episode “The Rains of Castamere” was reportedly inspired from this chapter in history.
Mongols / Dothraki: Nearly-invincible horse warriors who range where they want over the steppes of Eurasia / Essos.
Others / The Others: UFO abduction theories postulate a group of otherworldly humanoid beings called “the Others” who visit Earth for mysterious purposes (see “Independence Day”, or South Park Season 1, Episode 1). In GOT, the Others live north of The Wall, have human form but are not human and have advanced technology.
Pirates and Mercenaries / Pirates and Sellswords: Pirates and their landside equivalents, the mercenary bands who roam the Riverlands during the War of the Five Kings, don’t have a curfew and don’t have to do their homework. As such, they have fascinated tween boys for millennia. It makes sense that they have a place in GOT, although they are definitely not glamorized. Unfortunately, history offers far too many examples of the devastation caused by undisciplined troops among a civilian population – The Sack of Rome in 1527 or the Forty Years’ War come to mind.
Richard III / Tyrion Lannister: Last King of England during the War of the Roses, Richard III was of short stature. Like Tyrion, he was reported to be intelligent and efficient, even by his critics. He introduced the concept of bail, reduced legal costs for the poor, banned restrictions on the printing press and founded several educational institutions. However, like Tyrion, he was rumored to have murdered his nephew in order to become king. History is written by the victors and after his defeat, a number of writers – including Shakespeare – portrayed him as a deformed monster – like poor, nose-less Tyrion.
Telepathy / Greenseers: Perhaps “telepathy” is the wrong word to describe the Greenseers’ abilities. Greenseers’ can see past and present events through the weirwood trees found mostly in the North, they can communicate through dreams and can control the minds of animals. Did you see “Beastmaster?” Younger readers and those with sophisticated taste probably have not. You can Google it – you get the idea.
War of the Roses / War of the Five Kings: One of the bloodiest of the many English Civil Wars. Went on for about 30 years between the Houses Lancaster (Lannister) and York (Stark). Both houses are located in “the North” of England. The war ended when a ruler from another house crossed the sea from France with a foreign army and supplemented both houses (hmm…that sounds familiar, too).
Were-beasts / Wargs: European mythology contains stories of people who can change into animals – werewolves are the best known. In GOT, ordinary people think that wargs can do this but really these people are leaving their bodies and sharing the mind of an animal.
Vikings / Iron Islands: Fearsome raiders with longships and territorial aspirations.
Zombies / The Undead: In GOT, the Others are able to control the dead. It is implied that they are able to control them similar to the way Greenseers or Wargs control animals.
Every Girl Power Book Ever Written / Daenerys Targaryen: Girl is orphaned at a young age, girl has to live with abusive brother, girl is traded to barbarian chief, girl finds her strength, girl finds her inner Targaryen, overcomes adversity, rocks the ancient world. Other characters overcoming problems their teenage readers may relate to:
Check out our Definitive Game of Thrones Chart here:
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